The May-June, 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) has two articles which I highly recommend to readers (first link, second link). The first makes a very plausible case that an ancient inscription found in Israel confirms the biblical account of the transition from the last Judge, Samuel, to the first King of Israel, Saul. The author of the article bases this conclusion on the interpretation of the ancient inscription by a very credible and prestigious French epigrapher. The article states that the inscription is “likely referring to the installation of the first Israelite king, Saul…”
The inscription contains instructions from a higher authority to a local magistrate in language that strongly implies the local magistrate is being told to follow the rules issued by a new king of Israel instead of a previous system of rulership. While the text is short, it “…contained all the essentials’ that are in the Biblical text…” I find the article’s conclusions persuasive.
The second article does an exemplary job of showing the linguistic roots of the Hebrew language and the linguistic challenges scholars face in properly applying ancient inscriptions into a correct time period and context. It explains that Hebrew did not emerge as a recognizable language until approximately just prior to the establishment of the Israelite monarchy. Hebrew descended from an earlier Semitic language/script which the article’s author calls ”Early Alphabet.” That precursor language gave birth to the later languages called “Hebrew, Moabite, Ammonite, Ugaritic, Aramaic, etc.” The article explains why it is difficult to determine which language is represented in ancient inscriptions because they did not write vowels and the consonants of root words in these languages are so similar. This makes it difficult to determine whether a particular inscription is Hebrew or Phoenician for example. This is a difficulty I describe in my books about the history of the ten tribes of Israel.
Modern generations really do not grasp, I think, how languages are changeable over time. For example, if you were to be given an ancient document written in the English language about a millennium ago, you would be very challenged to make any sense of it. When doing research for my four book set, I had the opportunity to access and study original English-language books from the 16th and 17th centuries. In reading those books, it was very helpful to know some of the German language as English was written in a very “German” looking manner at that time. Modern English, German, Dutch, Norwegian, etc. are languages that descended from the Indo-European language brought into Europe by the migrating Scythians and Parthians (the ten tribes of Israel) even as ancient Hebrew was one of a family of languages/scripts which descended from an earlier Semitic language.
The article particularly mentions the difficulty in identifying whether an ancient inscription is Israelite or Phoenician because the languages were so similar. The Bible confirms this fact. The great Israelite/Phoenician Empire began with the strong friendship of King David of Israel and King Hiram of Tyre (I Samuel 5:11-12). This alliance continued between King Hiram and King Solomon of Israel after David’s death. Indeed, it became even stronger. I Kings 9:26-27 records King Hiram shared all the seafaring and maritime skills of the Phoenicians with the Israelites as their people were merged into a common navy. I Kings 5 and 9:10-14 record that Solomon’s and Hiram’s subjects worked extensively in each other’s territory and this would have inevitably further merged them culturally and linguistically as my books point out. This explains the considerable “overlap” between Israelite and Phoenician inscriptions as these peoples remained allied long after Solomon’s death.
The fact that Hebrew did not really emerge as a distinct language/script until almost the time of the Israelite monarchy has important ramifications. For example the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived approximately from 2000-1700 BC (Bible reference sources will disagree on specific dates). However, it means that Abraham did not speak Hebrew when he spoke to the Creator or anyone else. Nobody spoke what we call “Hebrew” until many centuries later. If someone in David and Solomon’s time was handed a document from Abraham’s time to read, they likely would have been able to make out only a few words which had not changed over the centuries. If you were given a text in English as it was written from the time of Chaucer (“1340?-1400″ according to one source I consulted), you would be very challenged to make much sense of it either.
I highly recommend reading both the articles. They will be well worth your time!
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