Posts Tagged Jewish History
King David Era Pottery Shard Supports Biblical Narrative
by Avi Yellin
A breakthrough in the research of the Hebrew Scriptures has shed new light on the period in which the Bible books of the Prophets were written. Professor Gershon Galil of the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa has deciphered an inscription dating from the 10th century BCE (the period of King David’s reign) and has proven the inscription to be ancient Hebrew, thus making it the earliest known example of Hebrew writing.
The significance of this breakthrough relates to the fact that at least some of the Biblical scriptures are now proven to have been composed hundreds of years before the dates presented today in research and that the Kingdom of Israel already existed at that time.
The inscription itself, which was written in ink on a 15×16.5cm trapezoid pottery shard, was discovered a year and a half ago at excavations that were carried out by Professor Yosef Garfinkel near the Elah valley, south of Jerusalem, and west of Hevron.
The researchers dated the inscription back to the 10th century BCE, which was the period of King David’s reign, but the question of the language used in this inscription remained unanswered, making it impossible to prove whether it was in fact Hebrew or another Semitic language.
Professor Galil’s deciphering of the ancient writing testifies to it being authentic Hebrew based on its use of verbs particular to the Hebrew language and content specific to Hebrew culture not adopted by other regional cultures at the time.
“This text is a social statement, relating to slaves, widows and orphans. It uses verbs that were characteristic of Hebrew, such as “asah” (did) and “avad” (worked), which were rarely used in other regional languages. Particular words that appear in the text, such as “almana” (widow) are specific to Hebrew and are written differently in other local languages. The content itself was also unfamiliar to all the cultures in the region besides the Hebrew society: The present inscription provides social elements similar to those found in the Biblical prophecies and very different from prophecies written by other cultures postulating glorification of the gods and taking care of their physical needs”
Galil added that once this deciphering is received at research centers, the inscription will become the earliest Hebrew inscription to be found, testifying to Hebrew writing abilities as early as the 10th century BCE. This stands opposed to the dating of the composition of the Bible in much current academic research, which does not recognize the possibility that the Bible or parts of it could have been written during this ancient period.
Galil also noted that the inscription was discovered in a provincial Judean town, explaining that if there were scribes in the periphery, it can be assumed that those inhabiting the central region and Jerusalem were even more proficient writers. “It can now be maintained that it was highly reasonable that during the 10th century BCE, during the reign of King David, there were scribes in Israel who were able to write literary texts and complex historiographies such as the books of Judges and Samuel.” He added that the complexity of the text, along with the impressive fortifications revealed at the site, refute theories that attempt to deny the existence of the Kingdom of Israel at that time.
The contents of the text express social sensitivity to the fragile position of weaker members of society and the inscription testifies to the presence of strangers within the Israeli society as far back as this ancient period, calling on native Hebrews to provide support for these strangers. It advocates care for widows and orphans and encourages the king – who at that time had the responsibility of curbing social inequality – to be involved in improving Israeli society. This inscription is similar in its content to Biblical scriptures (Isaiah 1:17, Psalms 72:3, Exodus 23:3, and others), but according to Galil it is not copied from any Biblical text.
This week we observe the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch who, in my humble opinion, articulates the outlooks and insights that offer the most hopeful solutions to the problems facing the modern Torah community.
May we find inspiration and guidance from his teachings.
An ultra-conservative friend of mine posted my article The End of the Age of Reason on his facebook page, eliciting some interesting responses from his ultra-liberal friends. Here are three excerpts:
1) Rav Dessler’s point of view that the Holocaust was divine retribution is so revolting as to be beyond belief. American Jewry was far worse in terms of abandoning religion in prewar times than German Jewry, which often gets far more exagerated (sic) descriptions than real ones. For one, reform judaism (sic) was far more widespread in america (sic) than germany (sic), and it was far more radical in america (sic) than in germany (sic). Since the greatest victims of the shoah were eastern european (sic) Jews, among them greatly pious hassidim and misnagdim, [Rav] Dessler’s view is all the more disgusting: this might have been true for a small fragment of German Jewry, but it certainly wasn’t true for the vast majority of working class and impoverished Jews in not only Germany, but Poland and beyond, and certainly is ridiculous when discussing the Jews of the Soviet Union.
2) Sorry if I get a bit uneasy when anyone (of any faith) suggests to me that the [A]lmighty is playing with us as if a child would play with a doll. When the nut-cases like Falwell claim that hurricane Katrina was retribution for the sins of the homosexuals and abortion providers (as proof, he shows satellite images of the hurricane looking like a fetus…).
Only when we take responsibility for our own actions can we work to fix our worldly problems.
3) We do not have true prophets to tell us what is devine (sic) retribution for our sins and simply disaster that we may have brought upon ourselves by not taking better care of our world that He gave us. I am not suggesting that G-d doesn’t care for a moment. I do believe that G-d does hand down retribution, but who decides what is retribution and what is not? are those who are suffering suffering because they deserve it? this is the danger of theosophy.
To my way of thinking, what is truly “revolting” and “disgusting” is the notion that G-d doesn’t care, that He created a world and, according the insidious Deist philosophy of the nation of Amoleik, takes no hand in man’s fate and really doesn’t care. This was the error of Job, who could not explain the justice behind his own suffering and therefore concluded that G-d either isn’t in control, which is only one step away from concluding that He isn’t interested in our fate, that nothing we do makes the slightest difference at all. How ironic that some people find comfort in such thinking.
It is fundamental to Jewish philosophy that even the most seemingly insignificant events are ultimately directed by Divine Providence. Catastrophes of extraordinary magnitude, whether natural or man-made, provide us the opportunity to shake ourselves out of the illusion that life is either predictable or random.
This is the most profound way in which the Almighty communicates with us. The late tennis star Arthur Ashe reported said, after learning that he had contracted HIV via blood transfusion, that if he asks why this happened to him, then he has to question everything good that happened to him. As I’ve written elsewhere, he should ask both, as should we all.
I’ve also written elsewhere that the Hebrew word for miracle — neis — also means banner. Extraordinary events are meant to get our attention, not so that we can say authoritatively why they happened but to prod us toward more sincere self-reflection, both as individuals and as a society, to identify our own shortcomings and misdeeds. Jerry Falwell discredits himself because he is seen (for the most part accurately) as responding with knee-jerk reactionism (or, perhaps, reactionary-ism) and not with reasoned introspection.
The sages tell us that all Jews are responsible for one another. When a problem is systemic, even those Jews who appear neither responsible nor influenced by the problem will suffer because of it. We are one people, and none of us can divorce himself from any other. Rav Dessler witnessed first hand events too inconsistant with the rational cause and effect of history to be attributed to natural causes. He saw the hand of G-d clearly revealed and searched for reason amidst the insanity. Similarly, the events of our world today are becoming increasingly difficult to explain away as happenstance — if we view them with a discerning eye.
G-d does not play with mankind like a toy doll. He speaks to us through nature and history, teaching us to take responsibility for our own actions so that He can shower us with His blessings rather than chide us with His rod of discipline. Today this is called tough-love. But it’s no cliche. Responsible parents know that it is the only kind of love that works. Irresponsible parents eventually learn the same lesson, the hard way.