Thursday, 13 November 2008

Oldest Hebrew Text Found

David and Goliath by Caravaggio (c. 1599) at the Prado in Madrid. Image from Wikipedia.

Joel Kontinen

Archaeologists have found the earliest known Hebrew text near the area described in the Bible as the battlefield where the young David defeated the Philistine giant Goliath. In June 2008 archaeologists began excavating a tenth century B. C. fortress 5 kilometers (3 miles) south of present-day Bet Shemesh.

In a recent press release, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced that they had found an old pottery shard (known as an ostracon) with five lines of writing on it. While the inscription has not yet been deciphered, a preliminary examination suggests that the text at least contains the roots of the words “judge”, “slave” and “king”.

The excavations were led by professor Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University. They discovered the shard in a building at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the site of a huge Jewish fortress with a 700-meters (0.4 miles) long city wall built of massive stones. The ostracon contained some organic material, enabling it to be carbon dated. A carbon-14 analysis at Oxford University and a comparison with other ancient pottery indicated that it was approximately 3000 years old.

According to the Hebrew University’s press release, the find “is thought to be the most significant archaeological discovery in Israel since the Dead Sea Scrolls”.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, found in 1947 at Qumran by a Bedouin shepherd, contained hundreds of religious documents and biblical texts including the entire book of Isaiah on a single scroll. Old Testament scholar Samuel J. Schultz says these discoveries confirmed that the Jewish scribes who copied the biblical texts were extremely careful, since the earliest Hebrew Bible (i.e. the Old Testament) dated from A. D. 900 and although the Qumran texts were a thousand years older they were almost identical.

The ostracon resembles pottery found at other sites in Israel. The existence of a huge fortress suggests that there indeed was a strong central government in Israel at the time of King David.

Some archaeologists known as minimalists have doubted the historicity of the Old Testament account of King David and Solomon. However, recently a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggested that the remains of King Solomon’s mines were found near Petra in Jordan.

The recent discovery supports the view that David was no mere legend but that the Old Testament writers described their times accurately.

This would be no surprise. We would expect the Bible to be a record of true history.

Recently, an old seal impression found in Jerusalem indicates that the old Testament writers recorded history meticulously and accurately.


The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.2008. Earliest known Hebrew text in Proto-Canaanite script discovered in area where David slew Goliath. News Release 30 October.

Schultz, Samuel J. 2000. The Old Testament Speaks. 5th ed. San Francisco: Harper SanFrancisco.