How Much Weight Can An Inscription Bear?

For the two of you who perhaps haven’t seen it, yesterday Eurekalert published an article on Gershon Galil’s (University of Haifa) interpretation of the Qeiyafa inscription. There are discussions of this article on the Biblical Studies, the ANE-2 and the Biblicalist discussion groups. All three groups require registration.
I wish I had time today to discuss Galil’s interpretation with the seriousness it requires. I may find time to take it up later. Much of Galil’s interpretation appeals to me; it generally supports many of my own prejudices concerning literacy and scribal activity in 10th century BCE Judah. But even given Galil’s interpretation, my prejudices remain only that. Perhaps the Qeiyafa Inscription itself does reinforce these prejudices to some extent. Far more evidence is required to support many of Galil’s suggestions and I’m concerned that he is wrong on a couple of points. But remember, this is a news article and not a scholarly paper. I do worry that some, myself included, are asking this inscription and the very few others from the same period to carry more linguistic, historical, theological and even political weight than they can bear.

9 thoughts on “How Much Weight Can An Inscription Bear?”

  1. Hello,
    I have read prof. galil’s reading in the hebrew press. the reading “שקמו ביד מלך” (=rehabilitate by the king) strange. Im no xpert but to the best of my knowledege שקם (SQM) is from the root קום (QWM) in שפעל. שפעל is an aramaic. to the best of my knowledge שקם (SQM) is not attested in the bible nor שפעל.
    Intresting to see how prof. Galil deals with this in the article.

  2. I just hope that those inscriptions would really shed light especially in terms of determining when the Bible had been written. I am writing a historical essay paper and it is imperative to say that any new development will be deemed helpful for my study.

  3. In the interest of academic integrity, I have removed a link to a paper mill from Aaron Casas’ comment. To the substance of his comment: I cannot understand why “it is imperative to say that any new development will be deemed helpful for my study.” Some new developments, even in the general neighborhood, just aren’t helpful when it comes to the history of the Bible or the peoples it describes. And without knowing exactly what light something might shed on the Bible or its history but demanding certainty that it does appears dangerous.

  4. Duane, read the PNAS article on Edom and copper smelting/mining (biblicalist). The evidence of a 10th century BCE solid basis in actual history is mounting.
    Ho, hum.
    Sorry, but I do have a different point of view: the biblical texts are ordinary literature, extremely well written, and in many parts beautifully written literature, but literature nonetheless.
    Example: Gen: 1 is the *prologue* to the book. Prologues are run-of-the-mill ordinary in all originally oral lit — even in literary lit, such as Chaucer. Hey, you have to tell the audience what this book, article, paper, etc., is going to be about. Prologues can be lengthy, e.g., Beowulf, and they can also be quite short, e.g. Prologue to the Iliad, Biblically, Numbers.
    Modern abstracts of papers and introductory paragraphs are still prologues. Repeat: you have to inform the audience what X is going to be about.
    As I have repeatedly said: you have to know the genre or you are going to screw up royally in interpretation. A prologue is a genre.
    When you throw in the religious angle (which I do NOT), you get everything except what is actually there.

  5. Rochelle,
    I actually agree that the evidence is mounting for a 10th century kingdom. But I don’t think it has reached the level where I would consider it perverse to think otherwise. Based more on the analogies provided by Mesopotamia and Egypt (but mostly Mesopotamia) I actually think a/the written tradition in Judah goes back a very long time indeed. Also based on that analogy and some internal evidence (if you don’t think the Torah provides evidence, [or clear evidence] think of the book of Isaiah or the differences between Samuel/Kings and Chronicles for example), I am convinced that it evolved over that time.
    I’m not sure why you are beating me up about genre. While we may disagree about the exact genre of a passage here or there (its not always easy to tell), with regard to Genesis 1 as integrated into the book as a whole we do not disagree. I think genre identification, while a bit of an iterative process is central to any interpretation that seeks to understand a text beyond its surface philology. And in most cases, good philology depends on the genre of the literature too.

  6. I just can’t bring myself to get all that excited about this new, tiny little inscription. Maybe I should read more about it. But from what I’ve seen, it’s not revolutionary. Biblicists get WAY too worked up over ANY new objects with writing on them. It’s like they’re starved for evidence.

  7. From what I’ve seen of the inscription it doesn’t merit a whole lot of excitement. I think Alan’s right that people are far too excited about anything that gives a historical blush to biblical Israel. For orthographic and perhaps philological reasons it may be important, but as a biblical scholar I don’t see a whole lot in it that changes things one way or the other.

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