Oldest Hebrew Text Is Evidence for Bible Stories?

Mati Milstein in Elah Valley, Israel
for National Geographic News
November 3, 2008

What may be the oldest known Hebrew text, found on a hilltop above the valley where David is said to have battled Goliath, could lend historical support to some Bible stories, archaeologists say.

The 3,000-year-old pottery shard with five lines of text was found during excavations of the Elah Fortress, the oldest known biblical-period fortress, which dates to the tenth century B.C.

It is the most important archaeological discovery in Israel since the Dead Sea Scrolls, according to lead researcher Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology.

His team believes the text may provide evidence for a real-life King David and his vast kingdom, the existence of which has been long doubted by scholars.

Carbon-14 dating of olive pits found at the archaeological site, as well as analysis of pottery remains, also place the text to between 1000 and 975 B.C., the time King David, head of the Kingdom of Israel, would have lived.

"This means that historical knowledge of King David could pass from generation to generation in writing—and not just as oral tradition."

The exact nature of the text— believed to be Hebrew written in Proto-Canaanite script, a type of early alphabet—has yet to be determined, but a number of root words have already been translated, including "judge," "slave," and "king."

But the archaeologist's claims are disputed by an Israeli colleague, who says there is not enough scientific information to reach definitive conclusions.

Strategic Valley

The fortress is located southwest of Jerusalem on what was the border between the Israelite-run Kingdom of Judea and the coastal Philistine territories. Philistines, who possibly came from Crete, settled the southern coast of Palestine around the same time as the Israelites in the 12th century B.C.

(See a time line of early Christianity.)

During the biblical period, the Elah Valley was the main point of passage between the two territories.

Continued on Next Page >>


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