Jerusalem 1: The First Cuneiform Tablet Found In Jerusalem

In the just released issue of Israel Exploration Journal, Eilat Mazar, Wayne Horowitz, Takayoshi Oshima and Yuval Goren publish the archaeological context, the philology and the mineralogy of a fragment of a Late Bronze Age cuneiform tablet that Mazar uncovered on the Ophel during the 2009 to 2010 season. The authors dubbed the tablet Jerusalem 1.
First, I must say that the interdisciplinary publication team is to be congratulated for the rapid publication of this find. Second, the tablet is so fragmentary that, other than a few general observations, no meaningful interpretation is possible. As Horowitz and Oshima say, “. . . it is clear that we know next to nothing about the original contents and circumstances of the letter. The main significance of this new find does not lie in what we can learn by reading the tablet, but in the historical and archaeological context of the tablet itself.”
The readable text on the fragment consists of the left hand portions of three lines on the obverse and three lines of the reverse. No line has more than five readable or partially readable signs. Three other lines have unreadable traces of signs. It is reasonably clear that the first line of the fragment is not the first line of the original text.
While discovered in an Iron Age fill, there can be little doubt that the tablet is from the Late Bronze Age. While recognizing inherent difficulties when dealing with so few signs, the authors do a good job in supporting a Late Bronze Age date for the tablet largely on epigraphic evidence.
The paper refers to the text as a letter or letter fragment. While I think this is the most probable interpretation, the internal evidence for it being is letter is weak. And the authors seem to assume that it is a letter fragment rather than argue for it being one. As far as I can see, the only internal evidence for it being a letter is “you were. . .” plus “that(?)” (tab-ša am-m[u . . . ]) in obverse line 2’. But many other genres use the second person. Saying “You were,” if this is indeed what it says, does indicate some sort of a narrative and may therefore point to it being a letter. The authors correctly point out that the morphology of the signs and the possible use of ammu have parallels in the Amarna letters. But this is at best circumstantial evidence. Perhaps somewhat stronger are the specific parallels, also noted by the authors, between the epigraphy of this tablet and the Amarna letters from Abdi-Heba of Jerusalem.
Perhaps the most significant finding is that, on mineralogical grounds, the fragment appears to be of local origin, the clay is from “the Central Hill Country of Israel.” The authors believe that the highest probability is that a scribe produced the tablet in Jerusalem. However, the clay of this tablet is not the same as the finer clay used in the majority of the tablets that Abdi Heba sent to the Pharaoh. One of the Abdi Heba letters was not made for local clay. According to the authors, the clay from the majority of the Abdi Heba tablets came from a source local to Jerusalem but somewhat more distant than the clay of Jerusalem 1. As the article tell us, the fragment is likely the remains of an archival copy.
What is abnormally interesting about this tablet fragment is what in may say of scribal schools and scribal practice in Late Bronze Age Jerusalem. I’ll take that up in another post.
Thanks to Jim West for his timely announcement of this publication.
Reference:

Eilat Mazar, Wayne Horowitz, Takayoshi Oshima and Yuval Goren, “A Cuneiform Tablet from the Ophel in Jerusalem,” IEJ, 60:1 (2010), 4-21