Ancient alphabetic writing from Tel Lachish and the historicity of Moses
Evidence the Semitic alphabet was in use at the time of Israel's exodus from Egypt
Sunday, April 18, 2021
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This week we turn back in time in light of a report on an exciting archaeological discovery in Israel that supports the historicity of the Biblical record with clear evidence of a Semitic alphabet existing at the time of Moses. This discovery supports the synchronization of the Biblical text with Egyptian history. A tiny pottery shard inscribed with ink unearthed at Lachish in Israel dates to 3,500 years ago and is the oldest Semitic text from the Southern Levant to use alphabetic writing, rather than pictographic.
“An alphabetic inscription written on a jar fragment found at the site of Tel Lachish in Israel and dating back around 3,450 years may provide a ‘missing link’ in the history of the alphabet, a team of researchers said.
‘Dating to the fifteenth century B.C., this inscription is currently the oldest securely dated alphabetic inscription from the Southern Levant,’ wrote the researchers led by Felix Höflmayer, an archaeologist at the Austrian Archaeological Institute, in a paper published April 14 in the journal Antiquity.
The recently discovered inscription, dating to around 1450 B.C., is being called a ‘missing link,’ because it fills a gap between early examples of alphabetic writing from Egypt and later examples found in the Levant, wrote Höflmayer's team. The inscription also provides clues about how the alphabet may have been transmitted to the Levant, with the team suggesting that the Hyksos, a group from the Levant that ruled northern Egypt until around 1550 B.C., may have helped to bring the alphabet from Egypt to the Levant.
The newly found alphabetic inscription is quite short: The first word in the inscription contains the letters ayin, bet and dalet, while the second word contains the letters nun, pe and tav. All of these letters are part of the early Semitic alphabet used at one time on the Arabian Peninsula; they can also be found today in the Hebrew language, although the modern-day symbols look different…
The inscription was uncovered by archaeologists in 2018 near an ancient fortification at Tel Lachish. The researchers also found the remains of barley alongside the jar fragment holding the inscription, and radiocarbon dating indicated that the barley was grown in around 1450 B.C.” (livescience.com April 14, 2021).
The researchers have suggested that the reading for the first line may “be עבד, meaning ‘slave’, and could be part of a personal name” and their suggested reading for line two is “נפת, which in Hebrew means ‘honey’ or ‘nectar’.”
It is suggested that this Semitic alphabet may have been brought from Egypt to the Levant (i.e. the Eastern Mediterranean) by the Hyksos, and based on Bible history we can also consider that it was the Israelites since they followed a similar path around the same time.
Of interest to us is that this is a 22 letter alphabet, perhaps an earlier form of Hebrew, that could have been used by Moses, and which was in existence at least as early as the 15th century BC, a time which harmonizes with the numbers in the Biblical record.
As Douglas Petrovich, Professor of Biblical History and Exegesis and author of The World's Oldest Alphabet, has stated:
“Two views dominate the landscape for the dating of the exodus: the early date view (15th century BC) and the late date view (13th century BC). The candidate for the late date view is Ramses II (ca. 1290-1223 BC), while the candidate for the early exodus view is Amenhotep II (ca. 1455-1418 BC).
Many scholars now date the exodus to the 13th century BC, a step that requires a redefinition of concrete numbers in biblical passages that, if taken literally, would indisputably place the exodus in the 15th century BC.” (Amenhotep II and the Historicity of the Exodus-Pharaoh, Douglas N Petrovich).
Petrovich summarizes the argument for an early exodus date based on the Biblical record as follows:
“The central text for this crucial historical event, 1 Kgs 6:1, connects the exodus to later Israelite history by noting that Solomon began constructing the Temple in the 480th year after the exodus, signifying an elapsed time of 479+ years. All but the minimalists agree that the counting of the 479+ years should begin with May of 967 or 966 BC, depending on whether one accepts Young’s or Thiele’s version of Solomon’s regnal dates. Thus the 479+ years began either in 1446 or 1445 BC, either of which can be substantiated by the biblical text…” (Amenhotep II and the Historicity of the Exodus-Pharaoh, Douglas N Petrovich).
Nonetheless, it is important to note that we reject the whole notion of language coming about through gradual evolution. In the context of this secular world view, scholars reject the historicity of the Bible, including the books of Genesis and Exodus, containing the records of creation, the flood, and the exodus of the Hebrews out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses. They claim that these accounts are mythological.
Through the research that Petrovich has done since 2012 on inscriptions which had sat for decades untranslated, he states he has uncovered archaeological and epigraphical evidence of Israelites in Egypt, finding support for the patriarchs Jacob, Joseph, Ephraim, Manasseh and even Shechem.
The Bible teaches that man was created intelligent and literate from the beginning, and so in Genesis 2 we are told that “…out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.” (vs. 19-20). Adam and his offspring were not primitive cave men.
The first use of the Hebrew word for a writing or book occurs early in the record in Genesis chapter 5 to inform us that the family of Adam, in the context of the creation, was recorded in a book: “This is the book (Heb. cepher) of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him…” This informs us that a written language was in existence from the beginning.
If we accept that the Bible is the inspired word of God as it claims to be (2Tim. 3:14-17), and as we believe it is, we must go further than Dr. Petrovich and also accept that language was not invented through an evolutionary process, but was given by God at creation. This is in harmony with the account of Genesis chapter 11 where we are told that “the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech” (v.1); however, this was changed by God in Shinar (or Babylon) where “the LORD confused the language of all the earth” and from there people were scattered in different language groups.
When we come to the book of Exodus we find that Yahweh, the God of Israel, commanded Moses to write down what He told him. We have an example of this following the battle between Joshua and Amalek:
“And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” (Exo. 17:14).
In addition to Moses writing down what God told him, Moses was also able to read and understand the ten commandments that God wrote down for Israel:
“And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God” (Exo. 31:18; also 34:1).
This means that Moses and God both spoke the same language and understood the same alphabet. Literacy was not limited to the leaders of Israel but was common since Israelite parents were to not only teach the words of Yahweh to their children, but also to write them on their door and gate posts:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD… these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart… And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up… And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates” (Deut. 6:4-9).
Preservation of what God had communicated to His people was not left to the chance of oral tradition, but was carefully written down and stored inside the ark of the covenant:
“And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished, That Moses commanded the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying, Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee (Deut. 31:24-26).
Later Joshua wrote out his own copy (just as had been commanded of the kings of Israel in Deut. 17:15,18), no doubt using the original autograph preserved in the ark, and read it all to the people:
“And [Joshua] wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel… And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law” (Josh. 8:32,34).
This pattern established in the early books is seen to be characteristic of all the Bible. Critics have argued that Moses could not have written down all of Deuteronomy since his death is recorded at the end of the book. Since it is the word of God given by inspiration, and not Moses’ own words, this is not really a problem. However, it is possible that this was added later by Joshua also through inspiration of God.
It is of note that the discovery announced this past week, as well as several other inscriptions previously, and the announcement last month of the discovery of more ancient Dead Sea scrolls from the prophets, has been made public at this time. Petrovich makes an excellent observation on this point in a lecture he gave in September last year after speaking about another 15th century BC inscription (Sinai 349):
“For some reason, I do not know why, God has hidden all of this for 3,450 plus years folks. He’s hidden all of it. Now, he’s brought it to light. I think I understand a little bit about why he’s doing it, but I can only barely scratch the surface in what I know. What I do know is, he has many great things to do as a result. Number one among all of them is this: God did what he did with the pharaoh and with his army and with Egypt and with their gods and the devastation in the plagues, he did it all to make his Name known throughout the world, and if that is his stated goal and it is stated that way in scripture (you can read it in my book, you can read it in the Biblical text) then is that not part of the reason why he’s doing this today to bring it all back for God to make his Name great on the earth that all people would know he has done what he said he did? This book demonstrates to the Jewish people that the stories they read about, about their history that are most important to them, more important than any of their other stories, those stories are all true. The world is telling them, the university professors are telling them, the scholars, the biblical scholars are telling them it’s all fantasy. These inscriptions tell us it happened. God did what he did, and he did it to make his Name great.” (Was Hebrew the First Alphabet? – D. Petrovich).
Indeed, these things are all true, and the time is quickly coming when God will send his son the Lord Jesus Christ, back to this earth as He promised, and His name will be great throughout all the earth, and there will again be one language as the prophet Zephaniah says:
“For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent.” (Zeph. 3:9).
We pray this day will soon come and in the meantime, we continue to watch for the Bible in the news. This has been Daniel Billington with you this week. Come back next week for another edition and perhaps at some point we’ll know what is going to happen with the Israeli elections!