report: cuneiform tablet preserving portion of a law code discovered at hazor

Tel Hazor, IsraelWhere was this in 2006 when I was digging there? lol.

Potentially great news: according to Dr. Jack Sasson:

Hazor Law Code Fragments

The Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations in Memory of Yigael Yadin have
recovered two fragments of a cuneiform tablet preserving portions of a
law code at Hazor.

The text parallels portions of the famous Law Code of Hammurabi, and,
to a certain extent even the Biblical “tooth for a tooth”. The team is
presently working its way down towards a monumental structure dating
to the Bronze Age, where more tablets are expected to be found.

The tablet is currently being studied at the Hebrew University. More
details to follow as soon as possible.

The excavations are sponsored by the Hebrew university and the Israel
Exploration Society, and take place in the Hazor National Park.

Now this has the potential of being something big. Drs. Amnon Ben-Tor, Sharon Zuckerman, and the excavation team have been looking for some sort of text archive for some time there. But to uncover a law code, well, that will get scholars and sensationalists alike buzzing.

Congrats to the excavators. Now that the story has broken, I’d love to see some photographs and some preliminary comments from the excavation team. A blog would be a great way to show some images to scholars and get their initial feedback.

The next question is: how long until a major news outlet gives us some sensationalist headline like ‘Biblical Law Code Found in Israel’ or ’10 Commandments Discovered?’ and who will be the guilty party?

More on the Hazor excavation here.

UPDATE:  See photos here.

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on the cuneiform text recently discovered in jerusalem

This small fragment of a clay tablet, inscribed with Akkadian cuneiform text, is the oldest written document ever discovered in Jerusalem, dating to the 14th century BCE.

This small fragment of a clay tablet, inscribed with Akkadian cuneiform text, is the oldest written document ever discovered in Jerusalem, dating to the 14th century BCE.

Dr. Christopher Rollston has published an excellent examination of the small cuneiform text that was recently discovered in the Jerusalem Ophel, and a critique of some of the claims made by its discoverer, Eilat Mazar, who recently published the findings with others in Israel Exploration Journal (Eilat Mazar, Wayne Horowitz, Takayoshi Oshima, and Yuval Goren, “A Cuneiform Tablet from the Ophel in Jerusalem,” IEJ 60:1 (2010), 4-21.)

Rollston’s “Reflections on the Fragmentary Cuneiform Tablet from the Ophel” is a careful, reasoned analysis of the inscription and a much needed cautionary response to some of the sensational claims that we’ve begun to hear regarding this fragmentary text.

The Jerusalem Post’s Ben Hartman reported the story here.

Voice of America’s David Byrd has a nice article and audio report on the find here.

Ferrell Jenkins and Bible Places Blog have posted about the tablet.

Jim Davila has offered reflections on the discovery and the reporting of it here.

I’ll make only a few summary notes regarding the discovery of this inscription.

  • It is an administrative text, very fragmentary in nature, and wholly non-descriptive.
  • While one could understand it as a part of a correspondence between Amarna and Jerusalem, there is nothing other than the approximate date of the fragment and the location of its discovery that supports this. As Rollston points out, “There are no personal names that are preserved on this tablet… There are no titles (e.g., “king”) preserved on this tablet… There are no place names (e.g., “Egypt”) preserved on this tablet.” It could have been written to another administrator in Jerusalem. This is contra Horowitz, who argues that the high quality of the writing and the object suggests that it was a message sent from an early king of Jerusalem to a Pharaoh in Egypt.
  • This fragment demonstrated that there was someone capable of writing and giving orders in Jerusalem long before the rise of Israel.
  • It proves that someone (we don’t know who) was writing to someone (to whom we don’t know) in Akkadian in Jerusalem in the 14th century BCE. That’s about it.

thoughts on the new hoard of bar-kokhba coins discovered in a judean hills cave

A hoard of Bar-Kokhba coins recently discovered in a Judean desert cave.

A hoard of Bar-Kokhba coins recently discovered in a Judean hills cave.

the discovery of a large hoard of roman and jewish coins dating to the period of the bar-kokhba revolt was announced wednesday, sept 9, 2009 at a press conference at hebrew university in jerusalem.

congratulations to boaz langford, amos frumkin, boaz zissu, hanan eshel, and earlier cave explorer gideon mann on their work over the years and this recent find.

the discovery:

stephen smuts over at biblical paths has an excellent blog about the hoard of bar-kokhba coins discovered in a cave in the judean desert. i shall not attempt to replicate it here. avi joseph at gnews and brian blondy at the jerusalem post have also reported on the find. according to the jerusalem post:

The massive discovery marks the first time Israeli researchers have ever found a large hoard of ancient coins from this era. The gold, silver and bronze coins, 120 in all, were discovered in an undisclosed location within the ‘Green Line’ of Israel. The unlocking of the almost inaccessible cave also yielded iron weapons, storage jars, oil lamps, a juglet, a silver earring and a glass bottle.

many personal treasures left by jewish refugees were discovered. however, there was one particularly glaring object that was absent from this cave: there were no scrolls. (at least the archaeologists have not reported the discovery of any scrolls or written documents tucked away with this obvious cache of domestic valuables.) i found the absence of scrolls striking, especially since the article repeats the interpretation of the cache of objects as the remains of fleeing jewish refugees:

The artifacts are believed to be solid evidence proving the theory that Jews found refuge in the Judean Hills during the time-period.

and:

Prof. Frumkin added “this discovery verifies the assumption that the refugees of the revolt fled to caves in the center of a populated area in addition to the caves found in more isolated areas of the Judean desert.” The researchers believe that the Judean Hills cave served as a hiding place, with its proximity to the ancient city of Betar, for a dozen or more Jewish fighters.

interesting. again, there were no written manuscripts discovered hidden and among all of the other personal ‘valuables.’ this begs the question: did jewish refugees carry with them scrolls while fleeing jerusalem? were scrolls as common as ‘weapons, storage jars, oil lamps, a juglet, a silver earring and a glass bottle’ among jewish residents fleeing jerusalem? were scrolls not considered valuable? or were they so valuable that they were not carried and buried with the rest of a fleeing jewish refugee’s personal possessions?

most poignantly: what does the absence of scrolls say about the minority theory that claims the dead sea scrolls are not the product of a qumran community, but rather the belongings of jewish residents fleeing jerusalem?

Coins dating to the period of the Bar-Kokhba Revolt.

Coins dating to the period of the Bar-Kokhba Revolt.

now of course, absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. but, there is no doubt that jews fled the roman suppression of both the great revolt of 70 ce and the bar-kokhba revolt. archaeologists have discovered dispatch letters from bar-kokhba himself, marriage contracts and land deeds, weapons, storage jars, oil lamps, juglets, jewelry, glass bottles, textiles, and many, many coins. but the fact that there is evidence of jews fleeing jerusalem and hiding objects in the desert does not necessarily mean that the dead sea scrolls discovered near qumran are among the objects hidden by jerusalem residents. when one couples this new discovery, in which just about everything but scrolls was discovered among the hidden personal treasures of jewish refugees, and one adds in the years of research demonstrating the congruity of ideology within the dead sea scrolls (especially the sectarian manuscripts), and one couples with this the evidence of obvious reoccupation and expansion at qumran, it all bolsters the tested, albeit aged and still not disproved majority theory that the dead sea scrolls are indeed a product of the jewish residents of qumran.

but i digress.

political undertones:

as always, one cannot help but sense that political undertones of the statement in the jerusalem post article that reads:

With this find, Prof. Zissu said that the distribution of the coins in the region helps to further “indicate the geographical extent of the Jewish presence outside of Jerusalem” during the Roman occupation of the land of Israel. Prof. Zissu further explained that “since there is not a definitive historian (from the era), we have to rely on the information we find from the coins and discoveries.”

it seems that every archaeological discovery made ‘within the green line of israel’ offers some evidence on jewish presence in the holy land. jewish presence in israel and palestine in ancient times from the iron age through the bar-kokhba revolt is undisputed. however, it is always interesting to observe that this presence is regularly, yet not so subtly highlighted as rationale for a continued presence in the west bank today.

some thoughts and predictions:

fun fact: bar-kokhba (and his coins) was my initial choice for a dissertation topic before the qumran visualization project came along. that decision determined my (and unfortunately, another’s) fate for the last four years.

let me guess: jimmy barfield will revise his ‘scientific’ arson investigation-inspired methodology and claim that this is one of the lost treasures of the copper scroll.

i can’t wait: norman golb (this time, without the assistance of his son) will self-publish some pdf and slap it up on his university of chicago website attempting to link this find somehow, someway to his slowly dying theory that the dead sea scrolls aren’t really from qumran. just wait for it…  it’s fascinating to see golb’s support disappear with his son’s 80+ aliases. but again, i digress…

congratulations again to archaeologists langford, frumkin, zissu, eshel, and the rest of the team and the university!

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