MEGIDDO SIGNET RING
Brian E. Colless
This gold ring with an inscription was found at Megiddo, in a tomb of the Late Bronze Age, 13th century or earlier (Sass, Genesis of the Alphabet, 1988, 101) The photograph and drawing are from Sass (figures 264, 265), but they have been inverted here, because in my view this is how the inscription should be read (a larger drawing is reproduced below). Sass considers it to be "a pseudo-inscription", because he cannot identify the signs; Hamilton (see below) confidently but incorrectly interprets it as an "Old Proto-Canaanite" alphabetic text; Giovanni Garbini (Introduzione all'epigrafia semitica, 2006, 63), although he uses the term "pseudo-hieroglyphic" to describe it, has recognized it as the same script as on the Byblos syllabic inscriptions; this is my view also (Colless, Abr-Nahrain 1996-7, 45-46; 1998, 33, 46).
(Click on the table to enlarge it)
The table ('Gubla Syllabary') shows my proposed sound-values for the syllabograms on the Byblos documents, following George Mendenhall's original decipherment closely, but with a few changes. It will enable us to identify the characters on the ring. Note that this exercise will be a test of Mendenhall's system, providing either falsification or verification. Clicking on the chart will enlarge it for increased legibility. Another table with additional information is available at West Semitic logo-syllabary.
The direction of writing is from right to left (though when it is stamped on clay it will be reversed). The first sign on the right is a stick figure, possibly HI (a person rejoicing) but probably NU (a bee). The second syllabogram is obviously HhU (H.u, KhU), though the two triangles are not neatly joined. Third, the two vertical strokes must be TA with the top bar missing through damage to the ring. The fourth letter is MA (a sickle). The vertical line must be a divider. So the resultant word is NU-KhU-TA-MA.
Assuming that the language is West Semitic, specifically Canaanite, we see here the root Hh-T-M, which refers to 'sealing' with a 'seal'; the initial n- syllable indicates that it is a passive participle, hence 'sealed'; nukhutama would correspond to the Hebrew form nekhtam, as found a millennium later in a statement about Shah Xerxes of Persia in the Book of Esther (3:12): "written in the name of Ahasuerus (Xerxes) the King, and sealed (nekhtam) with the King's ring.
The next sign, on the other side of the divider, is ShU, a simplified version of the the Paharaoh's regalia; it goes with the word shubttu, 'rod' or 'scepter', and I think this is a case where the symbol represents the whole word, functioning as a logogram.
The sixth character, of zigzag shape, is ShA (from shad/thad 'breast'); it will be understood as 'of'.
The seventh sign is another MA (a cramped sickle in the reduced space). The eighth syllabogram is GA (a boomerang, gamlu).The ninth character is problematic, perhaps anothe KhU, but I take it to be DU (from dudu), an ointment jar, tied at the top with string. The tenth symbol is a door on its post, DA (daltu, door).
These four syllables produce MAGADUDA, which seems to be an older form of the name Megiddo (Hebrew). In answer to the question whether MA-GA-DU-DA is attested anywhere for Megiddo: in my published articles I offer Assyrian Maga/idu, and Magidda in the Amarna letters (sent from Canaan to the Pharaoh); if the boomerang is GI not GA (cp. Hebrew Gimel) then Magid(u)da is exactly right for the Bronze Age.
The sum total is thus: "Sealed: the scepter of Megiddo".
The name of the place where it was discovered is written on the object, and its function as a ring for stamping seals on clay is confirmed in the text.
This signet ring thus puts the seal of authenticity on Mendenhall's decipherment of the West Semitic logo-syllabary.
Here is another opinion on how the inscription might be understood, as naming the owner of the ring, in alphabetic writing, and upside down.
(Click on the text to enlarge it)
In this interpretation of the Megiddo Ring (Near Eastern Archaeology, 2002, p.38b) Gordon Hamilton uses the word 'certainty' twice, with reference to his reading of the inscription; ultimately he wisely refrained from including this item among the Proto-Canaanite inscriptions, in his book on The origins of the West Semitic Alphabet in Egyptian scripts (2006). Nevertheless, he has decided to resurrect it here: An Eye for Form (Festschrift for Frank Moore Cross, 2014) p. 50.
WWW publishing allows an author to change any incorrect details and add clarifications; if the article or book appears in print, the errors are set in stone! Please tell me if you detect gross mistakes in my presentation above.
One responder has agreed with Hamilton that the MA could be seen as alphabetic N; that is, a snake, and the N of the Phoenician alphabet in the Iron Age can look like that, but not in the Bronze Age; nevertheless, the serpents of this syllabary are not like that (see NA on the table). Notice that Hamilton takes the second (or first in his inverted reading) MA as B (with the roof or a wall of the house blown away). MA is the kingpin of Mendenhall's decipherment. It is obviously a sickle, maggal, hence MA, and it is the most frequent sign; by way of confirmation, MA is also the most frequent syllable in Ugaritic texts.
NU, as I said, might be H (a human not a bee ) but the syllabic HI has a round head, and consonantal H has forearms.
Two-thirds of the proto-alphabetic characters are already in the syllabary, and here we have the boomerang (Gaml) and the door (Dalt); but there is no sickle, bee, regalia, moon, oil-jar in the proto-alphabet, so any mention of alphabetic forms is irrelevant here.
Considering the importance of the ring it is surprising that the engraver was not an excellent scribe. The KhU does not have its two triangles connected; its Egyptian original was a bisected circle, and it represented the moon; but the Semitic instances we have are angular.
It is unfortunate that its owner did not reveal his name, but he bequeathed an invaluable document to posterity: it is the key that unlocks the door to the library of West Semitic logo-syllabic writings. The corpus of texts is still small but gradually growing, and will be archived here. The oldest-known inscription (in duplicate) is described at: