Friday, July 23, 2010

Oldest Writing Discovered in Jerusalem

From the Jerusalem Post: "Oldest written document ever found in Jerusalem"

Hebrew University archaeologists unearthed a tiny clay fragment etched with the oldest writing ever discovered in Jerusalem.

CBN put together a short video clip summarizing the major components of the discovery.

Todd Bolen has several more good links on his Bible Places blog if you want more of the backstory about this interesting discovery. (Have I mentioned lately how much I appreciate Todd's blog?)

Just to add a couple points here. Although this fragment is the oldest written text discovered in Jerusalem, other texts from the same era originating from Jerusalem have been found in Egypt among the Amarna letters.

Also, there is an important academic issue lurking behind-the-scenes here that wasn't really highlighted in the CBN report. A group of archaeologists called "minimalists" have suggested that Jerusalem was a backwater, podunk sort of place and that David wasn't really ruling a kingdom. Instead, maybe he was ruling over a group of shepherds or something like that.

But this discovery of writing that pre-dates David directly undermines that theory. The interpretation of the artifact that is currently being advanced is that it was most likely part of a message sent from a then-king of Jerusalem (probably a Canaanite) to the pharaoh in Egypt. This would have required a first-class scribe, which provides evidence that Jerusalem was a city of relative importance even before David. Only someone like a king would be affluent enough to employ a scribe, a person with the ancient equivalent of a Ph.D. in writing.

This discovery fits nicely with previous artifacts and augments our understanding of the scope and stature of Jerusalem before David.

UPDATE (7/24/2010): My daughter and I were discussing this earlier today and she asked me a good question, "How did they date this artifact?" Based on what I've read, my hunch is that it's based on the type of clay used, the type of writing/language, and the layer in which it was found. I haven't read anything about carbon-14 being used to date it.

UPDATE (7/27/10): I found a great podcast on the Book & the Spade web site discussing this discovery. Here is the direct link: "The Oldest Writing in Jerusalem" with professor Keith Schoville.

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