November 10, 2005

A Goliath Ostracon? - Not Too Fast

Dr Cathy and Jim West direct us to two articles in Hebrew that describe the discovery of a potsherd at Tell e-Safi which may or may not have an allusion to Goliath written on it. The excavators sure think it mentions Goliath (see below). I have not read the two articles in Hebrew (I'm way too lazy to even try) but I have reproduced a slightly enhanced version of the picture in Walla News below.

Lobby Charts

I read gtlwt wlt[ (גתלות ולת). But I wouldn't want to swear by any of this and particularly the gt at the beginning of the sequence I transliterate gtlwt. I would also note that while I have no other suggestion, the ls look both strange and strangely different to me. Now where is Goliath, glyt (גלית) in Hebrew, in all this? Don't worry about the w for a y. That might be explainable but what about the first letter, the g. Well if I squint just right, I can see a g but by squinting that way, I also see a t after the g and before the l. Try as I may, I cannot see a g directly before the first l. For the record, the excavators and many others see an aleph where I see gt. But that doesn't make the word Goliath any more than my reading.

The word gt means "winepress." It may (or may not) be relevant that place names beginning with gt are fairly common in the Amarna Letters (for example algin-ti-ki-ir-mi-ilki in EA 288:26 and 289:180). It is also found at Ugarit in association with place names. It likely has a broader meaning, something like "estate," at Ugarit (See KTU 4.243:12 as just one of numerous examples). It shows up in the Hebrew Bible as a place name, Gath, one of the principle Philistine cities, as well as in compound names like Gath-Hepher and Gath Rimmon.

Please don't take any of this to the bank. First, it is far from my field of expertise. And, second, pictures are notoriously hard to work from. You need to be able to move the potsherd around so light hits it from different angles. My reading of the first two letters is little more than a guess.

Jim West following Yitzhak Sapir directs us to a piece (in English) from Jewish Exponent from "several months back." I quote at some length from that article.

An important archaeological discovery made in Israel could shed more light on the ancient culture of the Philistines, a seafaring people that left the area of Greece in about 1200 BCE and landed on Israel's shores. At a dig in late July at Tell es-Safi, a site approximately halfway between Jerusalem and Ashkelon, a young woman found a pottery shard inscribed with what appear to be ancient Hebrew letters, though it also records a Greek name.

While the initial stage and later stage of Philistine settlements are well-represented in the field of archaeology, the middle stages - in which the Grecian Philistines began to assimilate with the local Semitic people and customs - remain more of a mystery. The find at Tell es-Safi may illuminate that intermediary period.

"There are very important aspects of this dig that are helping us learn things that we didn't previously know," said Linda Meiberg, a Connecticut-born Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania who joined teachers and students from Tel Aviv's Bar-Ilan University working at the site.

Beneath the hard-packed soil is believed to be the ancient city of Gath, one of the five cities of the Philistine Pentapolis, home to such biblical figures as Goliath and Achish. Settlement at Gath ended at about 1000 BCE; the Philistines, likewise, disappeared from recorded history in 600 BCE.

According to Meiberg, the discovery of the inscription supports her group's working hypothesis that after the Philistines settled in southern Israel, they began using the local language as part of adopting some of the area's culture.

So what do I make of all this? As is so often the case, it is just too early to tell. The process of study and interaction between scholars needs to run its course.

Update: November 10, 2005 (7:00 P.M.)

Jim West has posted the press release from Bar Ilan. Perhaps the most important sentence in the release is,

The sherd, which contains the earliest known Philistine inscription ever to be discovered, mentions two names that are remarkably similar to the name "Goliath".

I have highlighted the most important two words of this important sentence. "Remarkably similar" means not exactly the same. I agree.

Update: November 11, 2005

Christopher Heard has a long post on this sherd with links to many posts and articles that discuss it. One of Prof. Heard's insightful comments reads,

The sherd has nothing whatsoever to say about the historicity of the David and Goliath story, only about the plausibility of Goliath's name in a tenth- or ninth-century BCE coastal plain context.

And even then, I'm not sure that it says anything about Goliath or his name.

Update: November 13, 2005

I have written a new post that talks about the second word on the shard.

Update: November 14, 2005

See my new post on this potshard here.

Posted by DuaneSmith at November 10, 2005 03:20 PM | Read more on Archaeology |

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