Known Hebrew Text Unearthed
at 3,000 Year Old Judean Fortress
Elah Fortress at Khirbet Qeiyafa.
The earliest known Hebrew text has been discovered in an
ancient city overlooking the area where David slew
Goliath. The finding predates the Dead
Sea Scrolls by 1,000 years.
to Professor Yosef Garfinkel, the Yigal Yadin Chair of Archaeology
at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, this is the only site
in Israel where one can experience a story of the Young David
in its historical context. "The chronology and geography
of Elah Fortress at Khirbet Qeiyafa create a unique meeting
point between the history, historiography and origins of the
early Davidic Kingdom," said Garfinkel. "This is
the oldest Judaean city uncovered to date, and its very construction
has unprecedented implications on our understanding of this
(pottery shard inscribed with writing in ink) comprises five
rows of text divided by black lines and measures 15 x 15 cm,
written in a Proto-Canaanite script. It was discovered within
the outer fortifications of the Elah Fortress site. Dating
to the 10th century B.C.E., the Elah Fortress is the earliest
known Judaean fortified city of the Biblical period. The sophisticated
engineering indicates a strong central government in Judaea,
supporting descriptions and narratives found in the books of
Samuel and Chronicles.
Why is this
inscription so special?
of organic material found with the ostracon, administered by Oxford
University, along with pottery analysis, dates this inscription
to ca. 3,000 years ago – predating the Dead Sea Scrolls by approximately
a millennium, and placing it even earlier than the famed Gezer
Calendar. It is hoped the text inscribed on the ‘Elah Ostracon’ will
serve as an anchor in our understanding of the development of all
view of the excavation site at Khirbet Qeiyafa.
While the inscription has yet to be deciphered, initial interpretation
indicates the text contains the roots of the words "king," "judge," and "slave." Epigrapher
Dr. Hagai Misgav, an expert on ancient Hebrew script and inscriptions at Hebrew
University, maintains that it was clearly written as a deliberate message by
a trained scribe.
What is the
23 dunams (23,000 square meters or 2.3 hectares), the Elah
Fortress was situated on the border between Philistia and the
Kingdom of Judah. It is thought to have been a major strategic
checkpoint guarding the main road from Philistia and the Coastal
Plain to Judaea.
square meters of the Elah Fortress have so far been unearthed.
A four-chambered gate, 10.5 meters across, is the dominant
feature of the massive fortifications. Surrounded by a 700
meter-long massive city wall, the fortress was built with megalithic
stones – some weighing up to eight tons. Archaeologists estimate
that 200,000 tons of rock were hewn, moved and used in the
construction of these fortifications in the city casemate wall
and gate. To date, only four percent of the site has been excavated,
promising many more exciting discoveries in the future.
engineering of the site and its artifacts all indicate that
there was most likely a strong central government in Judah
– earlier than any discovered until now – rather than a number
of small villages with limited administration. The early Hebrew
ostracon, Judean pottery similar to that found at other Israelite
settlements, and the absence of pig bones, all point to this
fortress being a Judaean city.
jar handles bear distinct impressions which may indicate a
link to royal vessels. Such a large quantity of this feature
found in one concentrated location is unprecedented.
of Khirbet Qeiyafa is situated among what archaeologists identify
as four biblical cities in Judah’s inheritance (Joshua 35:15)
– Azeka, Socho, Yarmut and Adulam. The biblical narrative locates
the battle of David and Goliath in the Elah Valley near Socho
and scientific analysis are being led by Professor Yosef Garfinkel,
the Yigal Yadin Chair of Archaeology at the Hebrew University
of Jerusalem, on behalf of Foundation Stone, a developmental
educational organization. Additional support is provided by
J.B. Silver, the Berman Center and the Brennan Foundation.