Historians believe they have decoded the oldest inscription ever found in Jerusalem, made up of just eight letters carved on the remains of a large clay jar.
The message is believed to have been written some 3,000 years ago during King Solomon’s reign and is believed to be 250 years older than any other engraving ever found in the area.
The inscription was discovered in July during archaeological excavations south of the Temple Mount in an area called Ophel, but the meaning of the message had stumped researchers to now. The dig was directed by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology
Haaretz reported on Wednesday that scholars had speculated initially that the letters were written during the 10th century B.C. in an ancient language that was not Hebrew.
However, Prof. Gershon Galil of the Bible Department at the University of Haifa wrote in the Hebrew journal “New Studies on Jerusalem” that he believes the eight letters were in fact in early Hebrew and included the word for wine, or “yayin.”
Galil believes that the words engraved on the jug classified the type of wine that was stored inside. A cheap wine.
The Bible scholar suggested that laborers recruited for one of King Solomon’s building projects in Jerusalem would have drunk the poor quality wine, known as “lowly.”
If it was written in the middle of the tenth century, that would be “after King Solomon built the First Temple, his palaces, and the surrounding walls that unified the three areas of the city — the Ophel area, the city of David, and the Temple Mount. These tremendous infrastructural projects contributed, Galil said, to the sudden need for copious quantities of poor-quality wine,” the Times of Israel wrote.
Galil contends that the first of the eight letters on the inscription was the last letter of a word that had been broken off which he believes referred to the date. The middle letters referred to the low quality wine, and the final portion referred to the place of the wine’s origin. Due to letters having broken off at the end of the message, it is unknown where the wine was produced.
The message attests to the literacy of at least some of the population and to the organization of the ancient kingdom, specifically that someone was categorizing wines according to date, quality and place of origin.
“This wine was not served on the table of King Solomon nor in the Temple,” Galil wrote. “Rather it was probably used by the many forced laborers in the building projects and the soldiers that guarded them.”
“The ability to write and store the wine in a large vessel designated for this purpose, while noting the type of wine, the date it was received, and the place it was sent from, attests to the existence of an organized administration that collected taxes, recruited laborers, brought them to Jerusalem, and took care to give them food and water,” Galil added.
“Scribes that could write administrative texts could also write literary and historiographic texts, and this has very important implications for the study of the Bible and understanding the history of Israel in the biblical period,” he said, as translated by the Times of Israel.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz wrote that like with many archaeological finds, this too could spark controversy.
“Galil’s interpretation is sure to add fuel to the archaeological fires regarding the magnitude of David and Solomon’s kingdom,” Haaretz wrote, adding: “Some archaeologists believe that Jerusalem was a small, unimportant town, contrary to its biblical description. Galil and others view the Bible as a reliable historical document. For them, the inscription is proof of a significant, well-administered kingdom that received goods from afar and expanded during Solomon’s time from the City of David toward the Temple Mount.”