Oldest Known Hebrew Script, Recently Deciphered, Links Worship and Justice

By Duane Shank 01-08-2010

I've long been interested in archaeology, particularly biblical archaeology. So it caught my eye when the Jerusalem Post reported this morning that the oldest known example of written Hebrew was discovered about eighteen months ago and recently deciphered. Written on a piece of pottery shard, it was dated to the 10th century BCE, the time of King David.

Prof. Gershon Galil of the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa, who deciphered the text and determined it was an ancient form of Hebrew, explained that "This text is a social statement, relating to slaves, widows and orphans." While not definitively determined as a biblical text, the inscription certainly could be. Prof. Galil's reconstructed translation reads:

1' you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2' Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]3' [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
4' the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
5' Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

I'm not surprised to learn that this three-millennia-old inscription links worshiping the Lord to pleading for the poor. From the earliest days of humanity writing down God's instructions, worship and justice were linked. It was true then, and it is still true today.

Duane Shank is the senior policy advisor for Sojourners.

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