Ophel-inscriptionA team of Israeli archaeologists, led by Eilat Mazar of Hebrew University, made an important discovery in 2012 at the Ophel in Jerusalem, which is located between the Temple Mount and the City of David. They uncovered the foundations of a building that roughly dates to 1000–900 BC. This building was constructed on bedrock, but since there was a dip at one point in the bedrock underneath it, 7 large storage jars (called pithoi, singular pithos) were placed in this depression in order to help stabilize the building.

One of the storage jars, Pithos 1 (see drawing left), was inscribed with writing along the rim. This is now called the Ophel inscription. The text was written in a script with parallels from a number of other sites in Israel during the Israelite monarchy. Strangely enough, several very qualified scholars called this script Canaanite, and Mazar suggested that the inscription likely was written by one of the non-Israelite residents of Jerusalem, such as the Jebusites.

However, the Ophel inscription clearly was written in a form of Hebrew that far predates the script found in any Hebrew Bible. This early Hebrew script actually follows approximately 22 Egyptian hieroglyphs, though the ancient Hebrews assigned their own sounds to the hieroglyphs—which became letters for them—and adopted a simpler way of writing these hieroglyphs than the Egyptians drew them. Only 6 of these letters are found on what remains of the Ophel inscription, though originally there were more letters to the right and left of them.

Two of the six letters were repeated, giving a total of 8 letters that have been preserved. Two of the letters (letters 2 and 3) were poorly preserved, due to a break in the storage jar that left the majority of these letters impossible to see or read. The brilliant work of an Israeli scholar named Gershon Galil, a professor at Haifa University, has helped us to restore these letters properly. The letters are two Hebrew yod’s, which make a sound no different than the English y.

Galil also correctly proposed that the inscription reads from right-to-left, and that it represents a label for a commercial product, using this formula: (1) year-date of a king’s reign, (2) kind of product, (3) place of production, and (4) owner’s name. This type of labeling was used in Egypt from the 15th –12th centuries BC and in Israel during the time of the monarchy. As an example, one Egyptian wine-jar label reads, “Year 5: Sweet wine – from the Estate of Aton”.

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