Monday, July 19, 2010

Rollston’s reflections on the fragmentary Ophel tablet

Rollston Epigraphy (Christopher Rollston)

With comments included.

Rollston’s Reflections on the Fragmentary Cuneiform Tablet from the Ophel:

A Critique of the Proposed Historical Context


In IEJ 60 (2010): 4-21 a cuneiform tablet (written in Akkadian) from recent excavations in Jerusalem has been published (it will be referred to henceforth as “Jerusalem 1”). It was not found in situ, but rather during the process of “wet sieving,” something that was done “for the contents of loci holding special significance.” The editio princeps was produced in a most timely fashion under the title “A Cuneiform Tablet from the Ophel in Jerusalem.” The authors (Eilat Mazar, Wayne Horowitz, Yuval Goren and Takayoshi Oshima) are to be congratulated for a most expeditious, detailed, and useful publication of this find.


Within the article, the tablet is affirmed to be from the Late Bronze Age (and this seems reasonable, based on the data provided). The soil of the tablet has been analyzed and it was determined that the soil was from the region of Jerusalem. That is, the soil is local and so the tablet was written in Jerusalem (and, thus, not written in some distant region). The obverse and the reverse are inscribed. Very few signs are preserved. According to the editio princeps: the legible words are (as translated into English):


1. [ ]; 2. “You were…[ ]; 3. “a foundation/after for. […]; 4. “to do. […]; 5. [ ].


1. [ ]; 2. [ ]; 3. “they [ ]; 4. [ ];


Of course, within the Amarna Corpus, there are several letters from a certain King Abdi-Heba of Jerusalem (Moran, The Amarna Letters, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992; see letter numbers 285-290). This can be, and has been for more than a century, considered a reliable basis for arguing that there were trained scribes in Jerusalem during the Amarna Period (i.e., the reigns of the Egyptian Kings Amenophis III and Amenophis IV). The “Jerusalem 1 tablet” (just published) is of special interest, as it was discovered in Jerusalem and it was also written in Jerusalem; therefore, it constitutes corroborating evidence for a scribal apparatus in Jerusalem during (at least a portion of) the Late Bronze Age, arguably under royal aegis.

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