December 11, 2006

The Lachish Ewer

Lachish EwerStarkey discovered the sherds of Lachish Ewer, pictured to the left, in 1933 in a pit or rubbish dump near the Fosse Temple at Lachish. The iconography on this painted pitcher contains a number of figures and designs including a stylized rams/ibexes, several other zoomorphic figures, branched objects, two(?) seven branched "trees" plus an inscription in a very old form of Canaanite script. The form of the pitcher is without clear parallels but shows Late Bronze Age affinities. Sass, 151, dates it to the 13th century BCE. The text of the inscription reads from left to right and as can be seen in the picture, the other graphics sometimes intrude into the text area around the shoulder of the pitcher.

The text reads mtn . šy [xxx]ty ’lt, where [xxx] represents three letters that would fit in the area of the missing sherd, in white, on the left side of the pitcher.

The text, free of other graphic intrusions and presented as if it were written on a flat surface, reads as follows:

Text on Lachish Ewer

The letters in blue are reconstructed following a suggestion by Cross, 20. The reconstructed letters are in a reverse late Phoenician script. If extant, the original letter would not look much like these. Notice the reconstructed l and the l that is the next to last letter. The diagonal black lines approximate the edges of the missing sherd. The inscription may have once extended to the right. A curved shape, somewhat reminiscent of the left portion of an "r" can be seen before the break to the right. However, it is the case that drawn objects occasionally intrude into the line of text.

In transliteration it would read,

mtn . šy [lrb]ty ’lt

Only the first y (after the š) has been disputed (Cross, 20) but both Cross and Sass, agree on reading a y. Cross, 20, translates the inscription "Mattan (PN), a tribute for my lady 'Elat." However, I think his alternative interpretation, "A gift: a lamb to my Lady 'Elat" is better. Cross himself cites the Ugaritic text KTU 1.39:2 which he (and Gordon, 159) slightly miss parse as reading mtn tm nkbd . ’lp . š . lil, but it is better to read mtnt mn kbd . ’lp . š . lil with Hedner, 118, and the Ugaritic Data Bank, "Gifts, whatever is honorable, cattle (and/or) sheep for El." Dietrich, Loretz and Sanmartin, 74, read, mtntm wkbd . alp . š . lil, "Gifts and honor(s) of cattle (and) sheep for El." A careful look at Herdner's, pl XXXIX, photograph indicates that the disputed letter is a n rather than a w.

On the restoration [lrb]ty see the much later (2nd century BCE?) Throne of Astarte inscription from Tyre, KAI 17, which begins lrbty l‛štrt. One can reasonably assume the equation 'Elat = Lady = Astarte. See for example Ugaritic KTU 1.4 II:28; III:25, 26; KTU 1.6 I:44, 45, 47 and 53 and Hestrin's discussion.

Unfortunately, the preposition l, if there was indeed one, cannot be read on the Lachish Ewer. While Cross' reading in reasonable, it sheds little direct light on questions of the use of this preposition.

The above photo of the pitcher is from a website where Harris and Hone discuss its graphics and suggest that ’lt is an archaic form indicating El himself, even Yahweh. I find their whole discussion dubious at best. First, Harris and Hone require a multidirectional reading of the text. Part they read left to right and part they read right to left. I see no justification for this seemingly arbitrary approach. Second, they see the ram and the tree as ideograms meaning "ram" and "tree" respectively within the otherwise alphabetic text. While not impossible, I find this unlikely. I also feel such an interpretation provides opportunity for any isogesis one might desire. They do not account for the other ram, most broken, that faces the tree from the other side. Third, they take the cross that is between the "ram" and the "tree" as a t and include it in their interpretation. While this cross may be a letter its association with the remainder of the text is far from clear. Fourth, they read yhgt where I (and others) only see yt. It is not at all clear where they see the other two letters. Finally, as far as I can discern, they have no account of the first five letters of the inscription. A more sober, if still fairly speculative discussion, of the relationship between the inscription and the other graphic elements on the Lachish ewer can be found in Hestrin. See the references below.

Update: December 13, 2006
Fixed Error in References below.


Cross, Frank Moore, "The Origin and Early Evolution of the Alphabet," Eretz-Isreal, 8, 1967, 8*-24*

Dietrich, Manfried, Oswald Lorenz, and Joaquín Sanmartin, The Cuneiform Alphabetic Texts from Ugarit, Ras Ibn Hani and Other Places (KTU:second, enlarged edition), Abhandlungen zur Alt-Syrien Palästinas (ALASP), 8, Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 1995

Gordon, Cyrus, Ugaritic Textbook, Analecta Orientallia, 38, Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1965

Harris, James R. and Dann W Hone, "The Origins and Emergence of West Semitic Alphabetic Scripts" online

Herdner, Abdree, Corpus des tablettes en cunéiformes alphabétiques, découvertes à Ras Shamra-Ugarit de 1929 à 1939 (CTA), Mission de Ras Shamra, 10, Paris: P. Geuthner, 1963

Hestrin, Ruth, "Understanding Asherah—Exploring Semitic Iconography," Biblical Archaeology Review, 17:05, Sep/Oct 1991, 50-59 (online for subscribers)

Hestrin, Ruth, “The Lachish Ewer and the Asherah,” Israel Exploration Journal 37, 1987, 212

Sass, Benjamin, The Genesis of the Alphabet and its Development in the Second Millennium B.C., Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1988

Starkey, James. L., "Excavations at Tell el Duweir 1933-1934," Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement, 67, 1934

Posted by DuaneSmith at December 11, 2006 07:41 PM | Read more on Archaeology |

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Thanks for an interesting post. But it's Sass, not Bass. You get his name right in an earlier post.

Posted by: JohnFH at December 13, 2006 09:39 AM


Thanks, I fixed it. I have no idea what I was thinking. I got it right in the body of the post but not in the references.

Posted by: Duane at December 13, 2006 11:54 AM

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