Qeiyafa Ostracon



Brian E. Colless

Note that this is "work in progress" and is continually being modified.


The Qeiyafa Ostracon is a potsherd, bearing five lines of fairly legible writing; it was found on the floor of a room in a building at Khirbet Qeiyafa, which is a fortress situated SW of Jerusalem; it looks out over the  Elah Valley ("Vale of the Terebinth"), where David slew Goliath (according to 1 Samuel 17). The ostracon  is now housed in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The site has been identified by Yosef Garfinkel as Sha`arayim ("Two Gates", an unusual feature which is present at Qeiyafa);  Sha`arayim is a place mentioned in the account of the confrontation between David and Goliath, as being on the way to Gath and Ekron (1 Samuel 17:52); but this identification is not certain.

The history of the discovery of the document (by the expedition led by Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor) is recorded at the Qeiyafa Ostracon Chronicle Part 1; and Part 2 gives an account of the attempts by various scholars to decipher the five lines of faded writing, with three excellent and essential photographs: two by Clara Amit (Israel Antiquities Authority), and another by Megavision Laboratory;  and also drawings by Haggai Misgav (the official epigraphist of the expedition), Ada Yardeni, Gershon Galil, and Émile Puech. George Grena also provided a copy of his own drawing to me personally.

                       Infrared photo of the ostracon (by Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority).


FQeiyafa Ostracon
The upper left corner of the ostracon (by CRI laboratory).

Qeiyafa Ostracon
 ostracon in full flattened contrast (by Megavision laboratory)

This drawing by BEC is tentative and flawed.

After examining all the available pictures and drawings, and trying numerous possibilities for each of the five lines, and literally joining up the dots to reconstruct the faint letters, I have produced this preliminary sketch of what I see on the sherd (it differs from the more advanced copy stored in my head). There may have been a sixth line: there are many dots, and a white 9-shaped B can be seen at the start of the phantom line 6. Note that in line 1, for example, dots (middle and end of the line) are the remains of letters (B and M), and are not to be regarded as punctuation marks. The writing is on the concave side of the potsherd, so it is an ostracon, and not a piece of an inscribed jar (as with the Eshbaal jar inscription from the same site, see below) .

Tentative translation:

[1] You have cursed ('lt), Anakite (`nq), against (b) the servant of God (`bd 'lhm);
[2] the servant of God (`bd 'lhm) has judged you (sha-pa-t.a-ka), with (b) judgements of Yahu (mi-shi-pi-t.i ya-hu);
[3] Goliath (glyt), you are dead (mtt); David (dwd) is master (b`l) for ever (lns.h.m);
[4] I arise ('qm) and we raise up (nrm) the foundation (ysd) of my kingdom (mlky);
[5] I raise up ('rm) the people (`m) of my servant (`bdy) for his virtuous acts (`l s.dqtw).

The basic source for this research is Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor (eds.) Khirbet Qeiyafa Vol. 1: Excavation Report 2007 – 2008 (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2009), particularly the introductory Chapter 1 (by the editors, pp. 3-18); Chapter 4 (by David L. Adams, pp. 47-66) on the identification of Khirbet Qeiyafa as Sha‘arayim; Chapter 14 (by the epigraphist Haggai Misgav and the editors, pp. 243-257) on the ostracon, with a photograph, a drawing by Misgav, and his observations on the script and the text, with a comparative chart of letters from various inscriptions dating from the eleventh to the ninth centuries BCE; Chapter 14A (by Ada Yardeni, pp. 259-260) offering another drawing and comments on the text; Chapter 15 (by Greg Bearman and William A. Christens-Barry, pp. 261-270) providing enhanced photographs of the inscription, notably Fig. 15.12, “in full flattened contrast, enhanced 3% (produced at Megavision laboratory)”, and that is the reproduction on which my drawing is based (http://qeiyafa.huji.ac.il/ostracon/Fig6.jpg). Several other pictures and drawings of the inscription appear on the Qeiyafa website:
http://qeiyafa.huji.ac.il, specifically

    Other scholars, besides Haggai Misgav and Ada Yardeni, have published interpretations:

Gershon Galil, “The Hebrew Inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa/Neta'im: Script, Language, Literature and History,” Ugarit-Forschungen 41 (2009), 193-242.

William Shea, “The Qeiyafa Ostracon. Separation of powers in ancient Israel,” Ugarit-Forschungen 41 (2009), 601-610.

Emile Puech, “L’Ostracon de Khirbet Qeyafa et les débuts de la royauté en Israel,” Revue Biblique 117 (2010), 162-184.

Alan Millard, “The Ostracon from the Days of David Found at Khirbet Qeiyafa,” Tyndale Bulletin 62.1 (2011), 1-13. Millard (6-7) conveniently summarizes the observations made by specialists who preceded him in this endeavour: Haggai Misgav accepts it as a Hebrew text, a message with continuity of meaning, not a set of unconnected words; Aaron Demsky supposes it is a scribal exercise, a list of words; Shmuel Ahituv also thinks it is a practice text; Ada Yardeni considers that it is possibly Hebrew and perhaps a list; Gershon Galil finds in it a social statement, instructions relating to slaves, widows, orphans, and aliens; Émile Puech recognizes a similar situation, and highlights the institution of kingship, as does William Shea; Millard thin it is a list of personal names, and invokes Judges 8:14 (a list of the names of 77 men).

Christopher Rollston, “The Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon: Methodological Musings and Caveats”, Tel Aviv 38 (2011), 67-82, simply urges caution, and does not offer a reading of the text.

Aaron Demsky, "An Iron Age IIA Alphabetic Writing Exercise from Khirbet Qeiyafa", Israel Exploration Journal 62 (2012) (p 186 etc)

Matthieu Richelle,  "Quelques nouvelles lectures sur l'ostracon de Khirbet Qeiyafa", Semitica 57 (2015), 147-162. The first two lines may contain a list of personal names.

    For a record of my own struggles with the inscription (earlier “work in progress”), with details of the various readings I have tried for the letters in the text,  refer to these sites:

http://cryptcracker.blogspot.com/ (Two Goliath Ostraca, and Qeiyafa Ostracon),


Identification of signs

'A ('alp "ox", 'Aleph, Alpha) shows three variants (all are among the examples from other sources on my table of signs, below and here): near the end of line 1 and in the middle of line 2 we can see the ox-head with its horns; the first letter in the top line has the head reclining; at the beginning of line 4 (and 5, apparently) the head is completely inverted like the Greek Alpha and Roman A; the total number is 5.

B (bayt "house", Beth, Beta) was originally square, representing a house with a doorway; one ancient variation had the bottom line of the square radiating up to the top right corner, and here,
in the middle of  line 1, it has a counterpart, almost triangular with a projection curling round and downwards at the top on the right-hand side; then there is the sixth character (by my reckoning) in line 2; beneath that one, in line 3, is yet another B; a fairly clear B is located towards the middle of the bottom line;  and a collection of dots in line 2 (under the second B in line 1, and superscript between two cases of M) may constitute another B; in the middle of the top line the dots on the left side of the dotted circle may be joined to reconstruct another form of B  (shaped like a square 9); a ghostly white B of this type is visible in the apparently empty space below line 5, at the beginning of a possible 6th line; total 7.

G (gaml, Gimel, Gamma) was a boomerang, or throw-stick; one example, uncharacteristically inverted, appears near the start of line 3;  total 1.

D (dalt "door", Daleth, Delta) was a door with a post, and sometimes with panels (as on the Raddana handle: Sass 1988, fig. 154 and 155; Colless 1991, fig. 25); like B it became more triangular; there is an example in the middle of line 3, with its doorpost on the right, and a horizontal line (marked by a dot at each end) indicating  panels, while the bottom line of the door untidily crosses the post line;  another such D can be reconstructed
in line 2, from dots between B and 'Aleph; in the top line, likewise standing between B and 'Aleph, there is a comparable D, if we allow that the top of its post has been broken off, and accept that the bottom part of it, and also the panel-dividing line, are obscure; a simple triangular D (like the letter Delta) appears in line 3, separated from the door-D by a Y-shaped Waw,  and there is another such instance in the middle of line 5; the one in the latter part of line 4 is  like an oblique Roman D (D) with the door post on the left side; in line 5,  the second D (the one standing immediately below the D in line 4) is also oblique and rounded. Daleth is not a frequent letter in Hebrew, and yet it has a very high total here; but three of the instances are in a word that occurs three times (`bd); total 7.

(He, Epsilon) was first represented by a person jubilating (hll), generally with both arms raised (sometimes the image was inverted), and this figure was turned on its side leaving only E, and becoming Greek Epsilon; there is a reversed E with the middle stroke projecting rightwards, in the top-right corner (actually at the end of line 2); and another (as E with a vertical projecting line at the bottom) at the end of the text of line 1, preceding the final m, as also in line 2, but obscure, in the same word 'lhm; total 3.

W (Waw) was a hook or peg or nail (waw) in the proto-alphabet, basically a circle on a stem
(--o), but it opened out into a form resembling Y; one example (with D on either side of it) is in line 3; another in line 4 (in fourth position); apparently there is one at the very end of line 5; total 3.

Z (Zayin, Zeta) was originally two joined triangles (|><|), apparently representing a shackle (ziqq); it is a very infrequent letter, but it is attested on the Izbet Sartah Ostracon; total 0.

(Het, Eta) was a mansion with two rooms and a courtyard (h.as.ir), often with a rounded wall; but it was reduced to a bisected rectangle; the inner line is usually horizontal; the proposed Het at the end of line 3 is based on the weak ink marks, and it apparently has a horizontal line inside the square;
a possible example in line 4 seems to have the original semicircular courtyard and a vertical line, but it could be a fish, and thus S, and the semicircle of dots above it is the tail of the fish; total at least 1.

T. (Tet, Theta) began as the Egyptian nefer sign (t.ab "fine", nfr as in Nefertiti); it was a circle with a cross (o-+), and, apparently, the cross moved into the circle; it became Theta in the Greek alphabet, but it was not taken over by the Romans; line 2 has two cases of it (both in the sequence sh-p-t.); it is very rare; total 2.

Y  (yad "hand", Yod, Iota) is an arm with a hand; there are three different stances; (1) the clearest is in the middle of line 4, with the arm upright and the hand pointing leftwards; (2) the example below it, in line 5, and  another instance at the end of line 2, have the hand on the right of the arm and pointing downwards; at the very end of line 4 there is a small right angle which can be reconstructed as a third example of this form of Yod; (3) another type (although small and faint) is observable near the beginning of line 3 (between L and D,
and beneath a cross-sign, Taw); it has a short arm, and the hand on the left is  pointing downwards; total 5.

K (kap "palm of hand", Kap, Kappa) is a hand, sometimes with a wrist; here
, at the end of line 4, it is just a simple stick-figure, with merely three fingers;  and there seems to be a K with a stem (now reduced to a few dots and 2 faint lines for the angle section of the K) in fourth place in line 2; in an extended text there would normally be relatively more occurrences of this letter; total 2.                                                                                                                                                                                       
L (Lamed, Lambda) was a shepherd's crook (perhaps also a rope for tethering animals); there are three kinds of L in this document; (1) an inverted crook (an attested stance for this letter) follows the inverted G at the beginning of line 3; (2) the coiled type, shaped like a 6 or a G, is found in line 3 (centre);
another L of type 2, looking like 6 or G, stands near the end of line 4, in a sequence mlk; (3) its opposite,  like a reversed 6, appears in the middle of line 2, in the word 'lhm, and can be detected in the same set of letters at the end of line 1;  the second sign in line 1 may be a  another G-shaped L, truncated by damage to the top of the shard, or else an inverted crook with its stem broken off (as with the damaged Taw and `ayin which follow it); in the bottom line there is a gap after Y, with ink marks showing, possibly L; total 8.

M (maym, mu, running water or falling water, Mem, Mu) has a vertical stance in all cases, not the horizontal set of waves which will become Greco-Roman M; the examples are in line 2 (2x, separated by a superscript B); line 4 (3x); line 5, third letter, and another below the M in the middle of line 4 and above the D in line 5, which has taken a depressed position to make room for the M; it is possible that the three dots at the end of the top line of writing are the remains of a Mem, rather than punctuation marks; there are dots and traces of M at the beginning and and at the end of line 3; possible total  10.

N (nah.ash "snake", Nun, Nu) was clearly a snake, sometimes a cobra, sometimes a viper, but the erect cobra was the victor; a clear case is lurking in line 4; an unclear example is possible towards the end of line 3, beneath the triangular D; and in line 1, the fifth letter is N (it might be an instance of Shin, like the one at the start of line 2, but the top curve is missing here); total 3.

S (samk "fish" or "support", Samek, Xi) is a controversial subject, as the fish is commonly identified as D (since W.F. Albright publicized the idea) because dag is the common West Semitic word for "fish" (Emile Puech and I,
swimming like salmon against the current, both recognize the fish sign as S); but samk is another Semitic "fish" word (in Arabic but not Hebrew); samk also means "support", and an alternative sign was used for S (Samek), namely the Egyptian djed pillar (spinal column as the "support" for standing upright), and this eventually became the standard letter in West Semitic scripts; the fish and the spine were both used for s-sounds in the cuneiform alphabet, and the fish survived as S in Arabia; here it is tempting to see a fish in the middle of line 3, but it is one of the many forms of D (Dalet, door) on the ostracon; but Samek is a very infrequent letter; nevertheless there is an example in line 4 between Y and D (with a fan-tail at the top, dorsal fin on the right side, and head at the bottom); there is no trace of the "telegraph pole" (--|-|-|), but a startling vision of it may be seen in the putative line 6, under the D of line 5; total 1 (or 2). (The emergence of the backbone Samek, replacing the fish, marks the adoption of the Phoenician alphabet in Iron Age Israel; the fish also appears on the Izbet Sartah ostracon and the Beth-Shemesh ostracon.)

`O (`ayn "eye", `Ayin, Omikron) was originally an eye (with or without the pupil), and it was reduced to a circle (with or without a dot); here all cases are circles with a dot; two examples in the top line; a faint one in the next line; a clearer one in line 3; and I find two together in the last line (the second one above the Beth) and perhaps a third above L, following Y ; total 6 or 7.

P (pu "mouth", Pe, Pi) is a mouth, as shown by every example on the table (including the Arabian), but allowing that one of the lips has been removed along the way; there is an example of Pe at each end of line 2, facing in opposite directions though looking towards each other; total 2.

S. (s.irar "tied bag", Sadey, San) was a bag tied at the top (the same word as for the money-bags of Joseph's brothers in Genesis 42:35); the bag became deflated in some cases, and torn open in others; there is one in line 5 (like the type found on the Gezer Calendar inscription); and another near the end of line 3; total 2.

Q (qaw "line", Qop, Qoppa) was a cord wound on a stick, and in the Iron Age its upper one or two projections were omitted, making it look like Waw, which consequently had to open up its top; a clear example stands near the end of the bottom line; there is a possible instance in the middle of the top line (its stem is obvious enough, and the circle is discernible); the character between 'A and the M at the start of line 4 is extremely obscure, but I propose Q for it; immediately below it in line 5 is a much clearer circle on a stem, likewise between 'A and M, but this may be R (or even Z), as also the example in the middle of line 4; R is a frequently occurring letter, and Q is not, and if we accept all these as Q there will be no cases of R (note that we have the same difficulty distinguishing Q and R on the earlier Izbet Sartah ostracon); total 3.

R (ra'sh "head", Resh, Rho) is a human head, usually with a neck; see the notes on Q, for the possibility that the two cases of R are in lines 4 and 5; the normal difference is that R has a somewhat triangular head on its stem, while Q has a circle or oval on its stick; total  2.

Sh (thad/shad "breast", Shin and Sin, Sigma) was a human breast (thad), standing for Th, while Sh had various representations of the sun (shimsh),  a circle as the sun-disc, or a circle with a serpent, or a serpent (or two) with no disc; but the breast-sign prevailed. At the beginning of line 2 is a vertical example (like Sigma), and towards the end of the line a horizontal form (W-shaped) which became the standard Shin ("tooth"!) and Sin; total 2.

T (taw "mark, signature", Taw, Tau) has always been a cross (+ or x); one example stands near the end of the inscription; another is in the third position at the top; there is another possible case of T between L and B in line 3 (above Y); there is a faint possibility of one or two instances at the start of  line 3; total 4.

Relative Frequency Test
To test whether the occurrences of each letter in this text are commensurate with their relative frequency in a typical Classical Hebrew document, a comparison has been made with Psalm 18 (17 of the 51 verses), which is attributed to "the servant of YHWH, David".

The two most frequent letters to emerge from this exercise on Psalm 18 are Yod (in first position) and Waw (in second place), and this is very surprising, because in documents in other ancient West Semitic languages (Ugaritic and Phoenician), W is among the infrequent letters, and Y is in or around tenth place. One part of the explanation for the anomaly is that Y and W are also used as vowel-letters (matres lectionis) in Biblical Hebrew (and modern Hebrew); another factor is the ubiquity of the Divine Name, which includes Y and W, and also H (twice).  H occurs in the Qeiyafa inscription (in the combination YH, and also in 'LHM); thus the Sacred Name is not present in its full form (YHWH), nor is the definite article ha (which was not used in early West Semitic languages).

The most infrequent letters in Hebrew are: Zayin (here 0), Sin (0), Samek (1), Tet (2 but in a recurring root ShPT.), Gimel (1); so this is an acceptable result.

Also rare are: Sadey (here 2), Pe (2 but in a recurring root ShPT.), Het (1), Qop (3, an unusual outcome, appearing in three different words).

Less rare (at the halfway mark) is  Dalet, and yet it holds a top place (3rd) in this text (7x), but in the same word `BD three times, and in a name which begins and ends with D; this word also raises the frequency of Bet.

Resh, with only 2 instances, is irregular, sitting in the middle of the scale, not on the upper rungs; it shares the 14th position with five other letters which make two appearances.

The full results are (with positions from Psalm 18 in brackets, and apparent anomalies marked with an asterisk*):

'A 7 (5) *B 3 (9) G 20 (17) *D 3 (11) H 14 (13) *W 11 (2) Z 22 (21) H. 20 (14) *T. 14 (22)
7 (1) K 14 (15) L 2 (3) M 1 (4) N 10 (10) S 20 (20) `O 5 (7) P 14 (16) S. 14 (19) *Q 10 (18) *R 14 (6) Sh 14 (12) Sin 23 (23) T 8 (8)

The correspondences are mostly unobjectionable, and the deviant cases  have been explained above. The figure 14 appears frequently because many letters have two occurrences. If the ostracon had more lines (and it appears that a sixth line has been lost at the bottom) we would have had a larger sample and the relative positions of the letters would have been clearer.

A syllabic alphabet
A curious feature of the Qeiyafa ostracon inscription is that the scribe does not write his characters consistently. This might be a personal whim on his part, an attempt to add variety to his text.

However, the  possibility arises that the variations in the signs are not arbitrary but significant. Consequently, this would be a syllabic alphabet, with not 22 letters (as in the later Phoenician and Hebrew consonantal alphabet) but 66 characters.

Is it a three-vowel system (as is the West Semitic syllabary and the cuneiform alphabet) or are five vowels shown (as in Masoretic Hebrew pointing, or in Linear B of the Aegean syllabary)? Three seems right (though the forms for D and L seem to show more than three?). Each letter would have three variants ('a, 'i, 'u; ba, bi, bu), and so this alphabet functions as a syllabary. We could call it the Neo-syllabary, a new West Semitic syllabary, as distinct from the original West Semitic syllabary of the Bronze Age, and the international Phoenician alphabet, which had only consonant signs.(The inscription on the Qeiyafa jar shard has similarities with the ostracon text, but it runs in the opposite direction, leftwards, and its signs are used consistently, not syllabically, but not using the forms of the Phoenician alphabet; thus `ayin has a dot, B is a reversed BA, Shin is SHA, D is DA, 'alep is 'U...)

An example is the two forms of Sh P T. ('judge') in line 2, which might be sha-pa-t.a and shi-pi-t.i.
In the latter case, the three characters have counterparts in the Phoenician inscriptions, and this leads to the supposition that the letters of the Phoenician international consonantal alphabet corresponded to the -i syllabograms of the Neo-syllabary, while the letters in the copy of the alphabet on the Izbet Sartah ostracon (line 5) would be the -a syllabograms (as with the set sha-pa-t.a on the Qeiyafa ostracon) . This hypothesis will be explored here and elsewhere.

Izbet Sartah Ostracon (BEC)

Qeiyafa Ostracon
                 The Qeiyafa ostracon in full flattened contrast (by Megavision laboratory)


We need to remember the problems that confront us in approaching such ancient texts:
    (1) the aging and fading of the writing over 3000 years;
    (2) the idiosyncratic handwriting styles of the scribes;
    (3) the lack of spaces or points to separate the words;
    (4) the absence of signs for vowels (usually only consonants are shown, but syllabograms here);
    (5) the intended meaning of the text is known only to its author.

The direction of the writing is dextrograde (from left to right, sinistrodextral); this is shown by the underlining (the first of the four line separators runs upwards at the right-hand end, leaving space for the last two letters of the second line.

The proposed reading of each whole line can be seen by looking down the columns of bracketed letters, below.

The source of our knowledge for identifying the letters is shown on the table of signs (appended below);
   the first column has transcriptions in Roman letters;
   the second has Egyptian hieroglyphs which were borrowed for the protoalphabet;
   examples of the original forms of the letters from the Bronze Age appear in the Sinai and Egypt column, and in the left-hand side of the Canaan column;
   the BS [Byblos syllabary] column shows the forms of the corresponding letters in the West Semitic syllabary, which preceded and influenced the protoalphabet;
   a selection of  letters from the Iron Age is found in the Canaan and Phoenicia columns, and these can be compared with the forms on the Qeiyafa ostracon.

Note that there were more than 22 letters in the proto-alphabet (Dh, H, Z., Gh, Th) and two forms of Samek (fish and spinal column).

The ostracon inscription includes Samek (in line 4); it appears that the fish is Samek in early Israelian writing (Beth-Shemesh, Izbet Sartah) while the spinal column/backbone (Egyptian djed) becomes the standard form when the Phoenician alphabet was adopted internationally (10th century BCE in Israel). Was it si in the syllabary?

The initial letters in round brackets indicate others who have supported the proposed reading for each consonant (though not the syllables):

G: Gershon Galil   M: Haggai Misgav  P: Emile Puech  R: Matthieu Richelle  S: William Shea  Y: Ada Yardeni

IS: Izbet Sartah Ostracon (its abagadary in line 5 shows the consonant + a forms)

TZ: Tel Zayit Stone (has the Phoenician-style international consonantal alphabet)

1.1   [] ’a (G M P R S Y) (same as IS ’a)

1.2  [L] li (G M P R S Y) (has lost its top part;  same as 3.4 [li] or 3.9 [la]?)

1.3  [T] ta (G M P R S Y) (same as IS ta, with crossbar pointing NE)

1.4  []  ‘a (G M P R S Y) (same as IS ‘a, with centre dot)

1.5  [N] na? (all others restore it as Sh)  (not quite the same as IS na)

1.6  [Q] qa?  (M P) (stem penetrating circle for qi? but has projecting mark at top for qa?)

1.7  [B]  bi  (same as Phoenician and TZ B, and the white instance at line 6)

1.8  []  ‘a (G M P R S Y) (smaller than 1.4; significant?)

1.9  [B] ba (G M P S Y) (but not the same as IS ba)

1.10 [D] da (G M P S Y) (similar IS da, but damaged at top, [0000000000000000000 and with crossbar?]; cp 2.7)

1.11 []  ’u? (G M P S Y) (equivalent to 2.8)

1.12 [L] lu (P) (a small version of 2.9)

1.13 [H]  hi (faintly discernible, and should be equivalent to 2.10, in the same word; as an E-shape with a projection at the bottom, it is a reverse form of the Phoenician H)

1.14 [M] mi (faint, but should be the same as 2.11, in same sequence 'lhm)


2.1  [Sh] sha (G M P R S Y) (same as IS sha)

2.2  [P] pa (G M P R S Y) (reversed form of 2.15 and of Phoenician P)

2.3  [T.] t.a (G M P R S Y) (same as IS t.a)

2.4  [K]  ka (fairly discernible K, like Greek and Roman K;  same as IS ka )

2.5  [] ‘a (G)  (below 2.4; small, like 1.8)

2.6  [B] ba (G M P R S Y) (same as 1.9, in same sequence,bd)

2.7  [D] da (G) (same as 1.10, but with protruding marks at top)

2.8  []  ’u (G M P R S Y) (same as 1.11)

2.9  [L] lu (G M P S Y) (form neither 9 nor 6 shape, but reverse of 3.4)

2.10 [H] hi? (faint lines between 2.9 and 2.11; should be like 1.13, in the same word)

2.11 [M] mi (G M P R Y) (1.14)

2.12 [B]  ba (superscript)

2.13 [M] mi

2.14 [Sh] shi (G P R S Y) (VV shape, as on TZ and the international consonantary)

2.15 [P] pi (G R S Y) (has a shape like [ ) ], as in Phoenician alphabet)

2.16 [T.] t.i (G M P R S Y) (the cross in the circle has the same stance as TI)

2.17 [Y] ya (G R Y) (similar to 4.14 and 5.9)

2.18 [H] hu  (reversed E shape with middle stroke protruding rightwards)


3.1 [M] ma?  (only dots remain visible)

3.2 [T] ta (faint marks to the left of the crook of 3.3; possibly double ta)

3.3  [G] gu (G M P Y) (inverted g, not IS ga, nor IS gi, which is reverse of ga and corresponding to Phoenician G)

3.4  [L] li (M, others read r) (close to TZ Lamed, therefore li)

3.5  [Y] yu (reverse of 2.16 ya, and different stance from 4.8 yi)

3.6  [T] tu (above 3.5; stance differs from 1.3 ta and 5.14 ti)

3.7  [B] ba (G M P Y) (matches 1.9 and 2.6)

3.8  []  ‘a (G M P Y) (has centre dot, like 1.4)

3.9  [L] la (G M P Y) (same as IS la)

3.10 [D] da (like 2.7, with one protrusion at top, and curved side on left)

3.11  [W] wi (vertical stem with branch pointing NW)

3.12 [D] di, triangular, like 5.8, and Phoenician D)

3.13 (L) la? (faint, above 3.14, same as 3.9?)

3.14 [N] ni? nu? (written below 3.12 di)

3.15 [S.] s.- (a Sadey is possible, reconstructed by joining dots)

3.16 [H.] h.a? h.i? (P) (a box with a horizontal dividing line, like IS h.a; but the right-hand side may extend downwards at the bottom, indicating h.i)

3.17 [M] (ma? mi?) (dots can be joined to show a curving line)

4.0 [ ] Enough space for a letter, W?

4.1  [] ’i? (G M P S Y) (apparently 1 p. sg. verb imperfect; Ugaritic has 'a/'i/'u)

4.2  [Q] qu? (dots form a circle with a stem, possibly like 5.13)

4.3  [M] mi (G M P Y) (like 5.3)

4.4  [W] wa? (M P S) (not the same shape as 3.11; its branch points NE)

4.5  [N] na (G M Y) (like 1.5

4.6  [R]  ri (P)

4.7  [M] ma (G M P Y) (same as IS ma)

4.8  [Y] yi (G M P Y) (same as TZ  Y, hence yi?)

4.9  [S] su (P M) (fish with tail at bottom and dorsal fin on right)

4.10 [D] du (G M P Y) (same as 5.12)

4.11 [M] mu? or ma? (G M P Y) (like IS mu?)

4.12 [L] la (G M P Y)  (6 shape, like 3.9)

4.13 [K] ki (G M P S Y) (without stem)

4.14 [Y] ya (partly faded, but discernible; same as 5.9)


5.1  [] ’i? (G M)  (like 4.1, but not exactly the same shape)

5.2  [R] ri (M P Y)

5.3  [M] mi (M P Y) (like 4.3)

5.4   [] ‘a (superscript, above 5.6 ‘a; it includes a dot in its circle)

5.5  [M] ma (M) (superscript, above 5.8)

5.6   [] ‘a (G M P S)

5.7  [B] ba (G M P S) (slightly different stance from 1.9 and 2.6 in bd sequence)

5.8  [D] di (G M P S) (like 3.12)

5.9  [Y] ya (like 2.16)

5.10 [] ‘a (dotted circle, above 5.11)

5.11 [L] la (small version of 3.4)

5.12 [S.] s.i? (M)

5.13 [D] du (M P) (others see g, ignoring the curved side on the right, like 4.10)

5.14 [Q] qu?

5.15 [T] ti (G M P Y) (not ta 1.3, nor tu 3.6, but ti, having same stance as Taw on Gezer Calendar)

5.16 [W]  wu?

6.1 [B] bi

 Qeiyafa Ostracon

The ostracon in full flattened contrast (by Megavision laboratory)

1] 'a li ta `a na qa bi `a ba da 'u lu hi mi

2] sha pa t.a ka `a ba da 'u lu hi mi ba mi shi pi t.i ya hu

3] ma ta ta gu li yu tu ba `a la da wi di la ni s.a h.i mi

4] ( ) 'i qu mi wa na ri ma yi su du mu la ki ya

5] 'i ri mi `a ma `a ba di ya `a la s.i du qu ti wu

Tentative translation:

[1] You have cursed ('lt), Anak (`nq), against (b) the servant of God (`bd 'lhm);
[2] the servant of God (`bd 'lhm) has judged you (sha-pa-t.a-ka) with (b) judgements of Yahu (mi-shi-pi-t.i ya-hu);
[3]  You are dead (mtt) Goliath (glyt), David (dwd) is master (b`l) for ever (lns.h.m);
[4] I arise ('qm) and  raised up (nrm) is the foundation (ysd) of my kingdom (mlky);
[5] I raise up ('rm) the people (`m) of my servant (`bdy) for his virtuous acts (`l s.dqtw).

[In transcribing the characters I sometimes use 'A for 'aleph (ox) and `O for `ayin (eye) for ease of distinguishing the two guttural sounds, rather than their simple transcription with ' and ` (remembering that they are the original sources of the letters A and O);] Emphatic consonants have the dot next to them not under them (H. T. S.); Shin is shown as Sh.

[1] '  L  T  `  N  Q  B  `  B  D  '  L  H  M
[1] 'LT `NQ B `BD 'LHM  
[1] 'alita `anaqa bi `abada 'uluhimi
Anak, you have cursed against the servant of God.

The first sentence could start with 'L as "El/God" (or 'LT as "Goddess"); or 'L as "not" ('L T`N. "Do not answer", or "Do not worry"); 'L as the preposition 'el "unto". But the syllabic writing seems to restrict the choices to 'alita
"curse" or "cursing" or "curses" (Hebrew 'alah, plural 'alot); but `alita would be second person singular verb from the same root, "you have cursed", or "you have uttered a curse" (against the servant).

Note that the Philistine Goliath is said to have "cursed (qll, not 'lh as here) David by his gods" (1 Samuel 17:43).
`NQ  "Anak"
(`anaqa), or "Anaki" (`anaqi, gentilic form);`Anaqim were a "tribe" of giants who were located in Ashdod, Gaza, and Gath,  all Philistine towns, as noted in Joshua 11:21-22, and it has often been assumed that Goliath of Gath was one of them; this seems to confirm that supposition, as GLYT is named in line 3.
B (bi) "in" (here "on" or "against"; note the Hebrew expression ns' 'lh b ("lay a curse on"), in 1 Kings 8:31).
`BD (`abada, Biblical Hebrew `ebed) "servant" or "slave".
'LHM ('uluhimi)"Elohim, God". In Biblical Hebrew this would be `bd ha-'lhm (Dn 9.11,  Neh 10.30, 1 Chr 6.34, 2 Chr 24.9, referring to Moses in each case), and the absence of the definite article here and in line 2 suggests that it was not in current usage.

[2] Sh  P  T. K `  B  D  '  L  H M B M Sh  P  T. Y H
[2] ShP T. K `BD  'LHM  B MShPT. YH 
2] shapat.a ka `abada 'uluhimi ba mishipit.i yahu
[2] The servant of God has judged you with judgements of Yahu

ShPT. K (shapat.aka) "he has judged you" (3rd person singular masculine, perfect tense, with 2nd p. m. pronominal suffix); the suspicion here is that it means "has passed judgement on", and the implication is that the death penalty has been executed; the next line apparently begins with MT GLYT (indicating that Glyt is dead).
`BD 'LHM (
`abada 'uluhimi) "the servant of God" (as in line 1); "my servant" (`abadiya) in line 5.
[ ] The letters in the space are
B (ba) and M (mi).
ShPT. YH (shipit.i yahu) "judgements of Yahu"; the word shepet.("judgement", Akkadian shipt.u) is here in its plural construct form, shipit.i, apparently; compare the use of the plural of this word in Exodus 6:6, "I YHWH ... will redeem you ... with (b) great judgements" (sh-p-t.-y-m). However, the MI is clear enough, yielding mishipiti (mishpt.é), "with judgements of Yahu".

[3] M  T  G  L  Y  T  B  `  L  D  W  D  L  N  S.  H.  M
[3] MT   GLYT  B`L  DWD  LNS.H.M
[3] mata guliyutu ba`ala dawidi la nisah.ama
[3]  You are dead, Golyat

There is a space before G and some ink marks, possibly M T T, written vertically.
MTT (matata, BH matta) 2nd p. sg. m. pf.; this reading is rather intuitive, but it fits the context, and the prophet continues addressing the giant posthumously, as in the previous two lines.
GLYT (guliyutu) "Golyat" (Goliath from Gath, or the Gittite), the champion of the Philistines in the battle against Israel in the Elah Valley (1 Samuel 17:4); elsewhere it is reported that another Goliath the Gittite was slain by Elhanan the Bethlehemite (2 Samuel 21:19) though the Chronicler has Elhanan killing Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite (1 Chronicles 20:5).
B`L (ba`ala) "Ba`al", a title, meaning "Lord" (applied to the weather-god Hadad);
as an epithet it could refer to Goliath here; as a verb it means "be master" or "possess", and it could have the following name DWD as its subject, "he has become the master".
DWD (dawidi) "Dawid" (David), a unique name in the Hebrew Bible, belonging to Dawid of Bethlehem, who became the second king of Israel; he is called "the servant of the LORD" (Psalm 18:1), and the word of the Lord to David was, "By the hand of my servant David I  will save my people Israel  from the Philistines and all their enemies" (2 Samuel 3:18).
LNS.H.M is not a clear reading, but if
NS.H. is  a verb it would mean "he has prevailed", and as an adverb it would say "ever" or "enduringly" (lânes.ah., or lns.h.ym)

[2-3] The servant of God has judged you with the judgements of Yah.
Goliath is dead (or: You are dead, Goliath); David is the master for ever.

[4] '  Q  M  W  N  R  M  Y  S  D  M  L  K
'QM ('iqumi ?) "I arise" (1st person singular, imperfect tense, root qwm, "stand up").
W (wa) "and"; the conjunction is connecting two verbs, both possibly imperfect tense, in which case it would be merely coordinating; but if the second verb is perfect tense, this could be an early case of "waw-conversive".
NRM (narimi ?) "we raise" (1st p. pl., imperfect tense, hip`il, root rwm, "be high"); or nip`al "is raised up".
YSD "foundation" (yisudu = Hebrew ysôd); the final -u would be silent and synharmonic with the syllable su; if the case endings were functioning it would be -da, accusative, as the object of the verb NRM.
"my king" (malakiya), or "my kingdom" (mulakiya, root mlk, "reign"); "my king"  might be Saul, though he had been rejected by the LORD (1 Sam 16:1), and David had been anointed as the next king (1 Sam 16:2-14); so the king mentioned here might be David, to be "elevated" to kingship, and the internal war is imminent (2 Sam 3:1) between the "house of Saul" and "the house of David" (a term found in the Tel Dan Inscription). If the text was written down at the time of the battle of the Valley of Elah, then the reigning king was indeed Saul. However, if mulakiya is the correct reading, then it says "the foundation of my kingdom", and the implication is that the current king, Saul, would be replaced by David, "my servant", "the servant of God". The same word mulakiya is attested in Tablet D of the Byblos/Gubla documents, line 4: "they will guard for me the boundary of my empire" (Colless 1993:8-9); cp. Arb. mulk, Ugr. mlk.

[4] "I rise up and we raise up (or: raised up is) the foundation of my kingdom"

[5] '  R  M [`O  M ] `O B  D  Y  L S. D Q  T W

[5] 'RM  `M  `BDY  LS.DQTW 

'RM  ('irimi ?) "I raise up" (1st p. sg., imperfect tense, hip`il, root rwm, "be high"); if there is a second M in the space, it could be polel, with the same meaning of "uplift".
`M (`ama) "people" (`am), or "with" (`im); this is written between the lines and is not easy to detect, but if there is nothing there why do the letters of line 5 dive down at this point?
`BDY (`abadiya) "my servant"; the same person as "the servant of God" in lines 1 and 2, identified as David in line 3. The people of David are presumably the tribe of Judah
LS.DQTW (li s.iduqutiwu),  the L (preposition "to" or "for") is small and not certain; it may have an `ayin above it, and thus `L ( if the final Waw is really there, it would say "for his righteousnesses (acts of righteousness)"; compare this affirmation, "YHWH rewards me (ygmlny) according to (k) my righteousness" (2 Sam 22:21).

[5] "I raise up the people of my servant for his acts of righteousness."


Is shwa represented? by -u? ('u-lu-hi-mi) ('elohim)

Same vowel for prepositions b- and l-? Always the same (-a? -i?)  or -i before –a, and -a before -i (as in Byblos syllabic inscriptions)? Examples bi`abada (1), ba mishipit.i (2).

 Are case endings still used? Possibly, but apparently they are obsolete in this text. In line 2, `abada 'ulihimi ("the servant of God") is the subject (nominative case) of a verb ("judged"), and so we might have expected the ending -du (nominative) rather than -da (-a is the singular accusative vowel). In line 1, `abada 'ulihimi is preceded by a preposition (b), and -di (genitive) would be called for; but `bd is in the construct state, and no vowel at all might be the pattern, as in Massoretic Hebrew; in this syllabic setting, the -a in `abada could be a "dead vowel", not pronounced, but the syllabogram bears the same vowel as the preceding syllable (ba) according to the rule of "vowel harmony" that applies in syllabic writing; but the form `abd is required in Hebrew and Arabic (`Abdullah, "servant of God") so the -a- and the -a are both silent, written with the same vowel as in the first syllable.

The name dawidi is the subject of the verb ba`ala, so the -i must be a "dead vowel", and likewise the final -u  in guliyutu.

The Izbet Sartah abgadary (line 5 of the ostracon) presumably has -a forms of letters. The others are to be found in the text (lines 1 -4).

 If we assume that is the case, we can establish the forms ba, ga, da, and so on, and seek the -i and -u forms in both inscriptions (and in the shorter texts also). This does not work as an absolute rule, unfortunately. Examples: his B is more like Qeiyafa bi, his own bi in bin in line 4, and Phoenician B; his Tet has the stance of Qeiyafa t.i and as in his own word t.it.i ("clay", end of line 2); his Y......

This search has led me to the hypothesis that when they decided to not show the vowels, and reduce the number of signs from 66 to 22, by dropping two of the three columns (A, I, U) it was the 'i, Bi. Gi, Di (etc) column that survived. The Q ostracon with its five lines of writing showed me that the letters were used syllabically by having 3 different stances for each of them (representing ba, bi, bu, for example).

On the other hand, the -i column may have been the original set of signs and two other sets were devised for the -a and -u syllables. The Mesopotamian Sealand signature-graffiti are supposed to be Late Bronze Age, and they have the letter-forms of the Phoenician alphabet of the Iron Age.

So the Zayit abgadary shows the -i characters, as used on the Gezer calendar and the Ahirom sarcophagus

The prophet who delivers this oracle is not named (but his name might have appeared in the lost text at the bottom of the document). Three prophets (each accorded the title nabi') reportedly had a connection with David: Shemu'el (Samuel, 1 Samuel 3:20; 16:1-13) secretly anointed David to be the next king; Gad gave David counsel and direction (1 Samuel 22:5); Natan (Nathan) was the official prophet of King David (2 Samuel 7:2, for example); all three are designated as recorders of David's doings (1 Chronicle 29:29, where Samuel is a seer, Nathan a prophet, and Gad a visionary); and there were others, notably the band of prophets which Saul met (1 Samuel 1o:1o). David also consulted priests in Nob (1 Samuel 22:9-23), namely Ahimelek, who "gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine" (22:10), and his son Abiathar, who fled with David when Saul had all the priests in Nob slaughtered. Incidentally, Nob is near Jerusalem, and this might partly explain the statement that appears immediately after David had cut off the head of Goliath with the giant's own sword: "David picked up the Philistine's head and took it to Jerusalem" (more precisely to Nob?), though "he placed his weapons in his tent" (1 Sam 17:51, 54).

Another possibility for the prophet-scribe is Eshbaal, the son of Saul. This name appears on the other Qeiyafa inscription, where he is dscribed as BN BD`; the sequence BD` is not a known personal name, but B D` could be "house of knowledge" (B as logogram for bayt, "house", or "temple"); so Eshbaal might also have been "among the prophets". This might explain why he was not with his father and brothers at the battle of Gilboa: he was not a warrior, and he was holding the fort on the road to Gath at that time. (See further part 2 below, on the jar inscription.)

It is a pleasant surprise to see in this inscription two characters who are known in the Bible doing what they did in the Bible story, at the very place where it is said they did it, and at the very time in history when it happened, during the reign of King Saul, near the end of the 11th Century BCE.

It must have been Saul who built the fortress at Sha`arayim (Khirbet Qeiyafa). The headlines we have been seeing about this inscription are wrong. This is not about the kingdoms of David and Solomon, and the tribe of Judah, but about the reign of King Saul of the tribe of Benjamin.

Israel Finkelstein and Émile Puech connect Khirbet Qeiyafa with Saul, not David.

Saul was the king of Israel who mustered the army against the Philistines (1 Sam 13:2-3; 14:52), and he eventually appointed David as an officer (18:5). Possibly Saul was in this fortress when he summoned David into his presence, as there is no mention of a tent (17:31-40), though the account says (17:2) that “Saul and the men of Israel were gathered and encamped in the Valley of the Terebinth (Elah)”.

The length of Saul’s reign is not recorded (it is given as “ ___ and 2 years” in 1 Samuel 13:1), but he must have had at least twenty (or “[twenty] and two”) years on the throne of Israel, before 1000 BCE. In Saul’s time Jerusalem was not the capital of Israel; but when David became the ruler, he chose Jerusalem as his city (2 Sam 5:4-10).

Saul had his centre in the citadel of his hometown, namely Gibeah of Benjamin, or Gibeah of Saul (1 Samuel 10:26; 14:2; 14:16; 22:6; 26:1). This was possibly on the prominent mound now known as Tell el-Fûl, situated three miles north of Jerusalem (so Albright and Schniedewind, but denied by Finkelstein, though reinstated by Horton Harris).  So the main entrance of Sha`arayim (Qeiyafa), the east gate, looked to Gibeah rather than Jerusalem. Both Gibeah and Sha`arayim were bastions against Philistine attacks (especially from Gath and Ekron). When the Philistines saw David had slain their champion, they fled in panic, and “the men of Israel and Judah” pursued them along the way to Gath and Ekron (17:52); Sha`arayim is mentioned, apparently as the starting point of the pursuit. Both of these Israelite strongholds, Gibeah and Sha`arayim, were eventually destroyed, and presumably they fell when Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in battle by the Philistines, who then occupied the land (1 Samuel 31:1-7).

 The Qeiyafa ostracon is certainly a document about David, but not King David. Rather it is a record from the time of King Saul, and it is Israelite, not specifically Judahite.

It is indeed a Hebrew inscription, with regard to its language, though its handwriting is not the official Old Hebrew script. However, it is not the oldest Hebrew inscription we possess, as is often asserted, nor the earliest known Israelite inscription. For the present, that distinction belongs to the Izbet Sartah ostracon, which was found at the site of an earlier battle between Israel and Philistia, namely Eben-ezer (1 Samuel 4).

 Please remember, this is "work in progress" and not my last word on the subject. There is a possibility that the Qeiyafa shard is broken at the top, and that there was more writing preceding the present line 1 . Also, the space at the bottom has many dots that could be the remains of letters.

However that may be, this text seems to merit the title "the David and Goliath inscription from Sha`arayim".

Khirbet Qeiyafa as Sha`arayim

Khirbet Qeiyafa has tentatively but plausibly been identified as the Sha`arayim of Joshua 15.36 and 1 Samuel 17.52.
   Arguments for and against this equation are conveniently presented by Yigal Levin, in "The Identification of  Khirbet Qeiyafa: A New Suggestion", BASOR 367 (2012)  73-86. He raises the possibility that it was designated "the round place" [HM`GL], as in 1 Sam 17.20. David was told by his father, in Bethlehem, to take provisions to his brothers at "the camp" (HMH.NH, 1 Sam 17.17); David went to
"the circular place" (HM`GL, 17.20; this expression is also used for an encampment of Saul in the wilderness of Ziph, 1 Sam 26:5; commentators suggest a ring of waggons). Yigal Levin (p. 82) proposes that this is a reference to Qeiyafa and the circular fortification. (Were the tents inside the enclosure, or below it?)  However, this would not be the actual name of the place. If we are allowed to use this narrative as a source, the name that pops up is Sha`arayim (in 17.52).

   Sha`arayim in Hebrew undoubtedly means "two gates" (the noun has the dual ending, -ayim, not plural -im), and this feature certainly applies to Khirbet Qeiyafa, with its west and south gates. Other Hebrew names in -ayim, such as Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), do not seem to have a "dual" reference, but Sha`arayim could be an exception (like Misrayim, "the two lands of Egypt").

   The Sha`arayim of Joshua 15.36 is the only instance of the name that could
definitely be connected with the Sha`arayim of 1 Sam 17.52; it would have been situated in the vicinity of Socoh and Azekah, according to Jos15.35; and the Philistine camp in the Valley of Elah lay between Socoh (Sin Kap He) and Azekah (`zqh) (1 Sam 17.1); Kh. Qeiyafa is likewise between these towns; it is on the northern side of the Elah stream, whereas (from east to west) Socoh, Azekah, and Gath are on the southern side.

   This name Sha`arayim is rarely mentioned in the Bible, and this might be explained by the fact that Qeiyafa had only a brief existence of about two decades in the Iron Age, around 1000 BCE; this would be the period of King Saul, who had a reign of [2?]2 years (1 Sam 13.1). However, a Sha`arayim appears at the end of a list in 1 Chronicles 4.31, in a section on sons of Simeon; and it adds that 'these were their towns until the reign of David'; this could mean that Sha`arayim was destroyed before David came to the throne (so Puech, 183); but others have taken this to mean that it was extant in David's reign (Garfinkel). The word for 'until' is `ad, meaning 'up to', 'as far as'; but it can include its object (here 'the reign of David'). Nevertheless, if this is factual, and even if it extends into David's reign, it excludes David as the builder of Sha`arayim, which would have been existent in the time of King Saul. On the other hand, the statement need not imply that the place became non-existent, but simply ceased to be owned by the tribe of Simeeon.

  Khirbet Qeiyafa fits neatly into Saul's reign; it was presumably built (or rebuilt?) by him to guard against Philistine incursion, particularly from Gath, seven miles away.

   And it could have been destroyed during the Philistine conquest of Israel, when King Saul and three of his four sons died in battle (1 Sam 31).

   One problem for the identification of Qeiyafa and Sha`arayim is that the list of towns which includes Sha`arayim (Joshua 15.33-36) ends thus: "fourteen cities with their villages" (and this applies to all the groups of places in that chapter; they all have "with their villages"). Qeiyafa does not look like a city that would have associated villages or suburbs, but if we assume that "where applicable" (or "if any") is understood after "with their villages" the difficulty vanishes.

   Then there is the question whether such an ephemeral place would have its name recorded in the Bible; but if it was the site of a momentous event, as described in 1 Sam 17, then it might well rate a mention, and Sha`arayim is the name we see there (17.52).

   No matter how small its population and area, this place (now uninhabited but known as Khirbet Qeiyafa) would have had a name; its appellation in the Bronze Age may have been Sha`arayim, and this name could still have been applied to it at the time of the Israelite settlement in the land, as stated in Jos 15.36). If it had a different name around 1000 BCE, possibly Gob, its new name Sha`arayim could have been substituted for the older name (somewhat anachronistically) in that record (Jos 15.36).       

   As for the problem of the date of these lists of towns (Finkelstein and others put them in the seventh century BCE), we might bear in mind  that perhaps the only time that a combined census of Israel's peoples and places could be taken was during the United Kingdom, specifically in the census of David that is documented (2 Sam 24, 1 Chron 21) (Albright ). Of course, we are told that Joshua had lists of cities (Jos 18:6-9), but Joshua 15-19 has undergone redaction, presumably starting in the time of King David.

The problematic verse describing the rout and the route of the Philistines (1 Sam 17.52) is corrupt (gy' for Gath in the first half, and Gath in the second half); and suspect ("up to  gates [sha`arey] of Eqron" and "two gates [sha`arayim, LXX " way of the gates"] ... up to Eqron"; so there could be not one but two instances of Sha`arayim, or none at all, only "gates", both with reference to Eqron);  and ambiguous ("the Sha`arayim road" or "the road to Sha`arayim", as viewed from Socoh in the east or Gath in the west?). But the recorder obviously wants to say that "the men of Israel and Judah" pursued their Philistine foes all the way home to their cities, namely Gath and Eqron, and as a result there were Philistine bodies lying all along the route (or routes} to Gath and Eqron. Sha`arayim, a place in Judah (Joshua 15.36) was not another Philistine destination (as perhaps implied in the New English Bible: "The road that runs to Shaaraim, Gath, and Ekron"); Sha`arayim is more likely to be the starting point of the flight and of the pursuit (Revised Standard Version: "the wounded Philistines fell on the way from Shaaraim as far as Gath and Ekron").

It may be that an emendation is necessary to achieve this solution, by adding M- ("from") to the word Sha`arayim. As a matter of interest, or even of significance, Mi and Sha in the (syllabic) script on the Qeiyafa ostracon are very similar, and both have vertical stance; so Mi could have been lost through a kind of haplography. (In the standard international script, in Iron Age II, Shin is horizontal, while Mem is vertical).

Note that the Philistine army had come out of their camp and were lined up for battle facing the Israelites (17.21) and therefore facing Khirbet Qeiyafa (that is, Sha`arayim, the place with two gates). The Philistine stampede began there, whether along a road or over open country.

Through scepticism (as displayed in discussions I have seen) we can systematically reduce the number of gates on the Qeiyafa site from two to one and even to none; but the two gates are now clearly revealed. Also, there are possibly two references (not merely one) to a Sha`arayim in the text (as it has been "received", imperfectly), which can be understood, by judicious emendation, as both referring to the gates of Eqron.

Nevertheless, whatever the etymology of the name Sha`arayim (and its possible connection with gates), and whatever number of gates were in the circular wall of Qeiyafa, it is still reasonable to accept that the writer was using the name Sha`arayim to refer to what we now know as Khirbet Qeiyafa; certainly it is not Gath or Eqron, and not Azekah or Socoh, nor the mysterious Ephes-dammim ("end of bloodshed"? or "before there was any bloodshed"? or "border of bloodshed"? referring to the space between Gath and Qeiyafa?) which was the place where the Philistines camped  (17:1); and although it may have been described as "the circular place" (HM`GL, 17.20) its name would have been Sha`arayim, which is elsewhere placed in the "lowland" of Judah, with Azekah and Socoh (Joshua 15.33-36). 

                                Khirbet Qeiyafa as Gob

Nadav Na'aman,  2008, In Search of the ancient name of Khirbet Qeiyafa, Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 8, Article 21

Gôb is mentioned twice (2 Samuel 21:18, 19) as a place where giants of Gath were slain, including (apparently) Goliath the Gittite. Gob does not appear anywhere else in the Scriptures, and is thus another possible name for the briefly occupied Khirbet Qeiyafa. The three possible names could each refer to a feature of the site: Gob (high?), Sha`arayim (two gates), HM`GL (circular wall).

With regard to the toponyms of the ancient Levant, Anson Rainey declares that "most geographical names are appellatives, describing some feature or aspect of the site" (The Sacred Bridge, 2006, 2014, 16c); and  -ayim endings have "locative force" (Gittayim, Horonayim), though some are merely dual (Qarnayim, Sha`erayim) (17a). (Incidentally, it was Rainey who first identified Khirbet Qeiyafa as Sha`arayim.) Rainey classifies Gibeah, Geba, Gibeon, Gibbthon, and Ramah under the heading "topogragraphic descriptions" (17b), but places Gob (17c) under "local fauna" (meaning locusts? or "cistern"?).

Gob has been identified with Gibbeton (supposedly near Eqron), belonging to the tribe of Dan (Jos 19:44, 21:23) or to the Philistines (1 Kg 15:27, 16:15, 17) (HALOT, 1, 176); but this equation would take the short-lived Qeiyafa into the time of King Omri of Israel, in the ninth century BCE.

David and Goliath, and El-Hanan of Bethlehem

It would appear that we now have four ancient accounts of the slaying of Goliath:

(1) I Samuel 17 (MT: Massoretic Hebrew text)

(2) 1 Samuel 17 (LXX: Septuagint Greek text, with many variants from MT.
On the differences between the MT and LXX versions of the story:

Emanuel Tov, “The David and Goliath Saga: How a Biblical editor combined two versions”, first published in Bible Review 2:04, Winter 1986.


(3) 2 Samuel 21:18-22 (Elhanan at Gob)
21:19: "Again there was a battle with Philistines at Gob, and Elhanan son of Ya`arey-orgim the Beth-lehemite slew Golyat the Gittite, the staff (`éç) of whose spear was like a weaver's beam (menor 'orgim)."

The "orgim" of the father's name is a scribal error, a repeated word that has crept up from the end of the sentence. This is an indication that we have a  corrupt text before us.

21:22: "These four were born to the giant (raphah) in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants." This could mean that Elhanan of Bethlehem, the slayer of Goliath, was indeed David, under an honorific name (which bespeaks the grace of God). Incidentally, the name Elhanan also appears in 23:24, as "son of DDW, of Bethlehem"; and a high-ranking warrior of David was named El`azar ben DDY (23:9).
Notice  't ('eth) before the name Glyt in 21:22; this would presumably exclude the possibility of "a Goliath of Gath", that is, a member of the Goliath family; nevertheless, the Chronicler (1 Chron 20:5) has Elhanan son of Jair slaying "Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite". While acknowledging that the Chronicler could have altered the text to  produce a more congenial statement, S. R. Driver (Notes, 354-355) decides that the Chronicler has the "more probable" and "credible" reading; and there the 'eth precedes the name Lahmi.

  Note that the term Rapha, not `Anaq (as in the Qeiyafa Ostracon), is applied to the four giants of Gath in 2 Samuel 21:22.

(4) The Qeiyafa Ostracon
This is a primary source in every sense, superior to the three secondary sources.
This is the touchstone for evaluating the other sources and the speculations surrounding them. It is an eyewitness account from a prophet, a response delivered in the form of an oracle of Yahu Elohim, and recorded in writing, immediately after the event. It is not a forgery, but a genuine testimony that has been waiting 3000 years to be discovered and deciphered.


The ʾIšbaʿal Inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa 

We begin with a speculation:
perhaps this shattered vessel was  a victim of the rampaging destroyers of the town; it may have been singled out by Philistian invaders in revenge for the event recorded on the ostracon, since some other storage jars in the same spot were still intact. Even though the broken pot has been painstakingly reconstructed, important pieces containing parts of the text are missing.

Eshbaal Inscription
   It appears that there are fourteen letters, and half of them are now incomplete characters; but in the middle of the inscription we can read fairly securely (from right to left):
   ' Sh B ` L (Aleph, Shin, Beth, `Ayin, Lamed)
This looks like a personal name, and if  ʾIšbaʿal is the correct rendering of the word (as in the title of the article) then it is masculine, meaning  "Man of Ba`al" (though this is certainly not certain).
'Eshba`al  happens to be the name of one of King Saul's sons, who had his own kingdom after his father's death. But the late scribes of the Bible had him as Ishbosheth (Man of shame): 2 Samuel  2 (11x). The Chronicler was allowed to call him 'Eshba`al (1 Chr  8.33,  and 9.39) : "Ner begat Qish ... begat Sha'ul... begat ... 'Eshba`al".  Accordingly, 'Eshba`al was the son of King  Saul.
     But this Qeiyafa  'ShB`L apparently  styles himself  BN BD`.
Is BD` another name of Saul? Or the mother's name? Then again, is it really a personal name?
   The place where the jar was found (Room B of Building C11, 6x5 m) apparently had no roof, and with its central hearth and water-basin, it could have been a sanctuary for performing sacrifices. (A cultic chamber, with a standing stone, has been excavated elsewhere in Area C.)
   The sequence ' Sh B ` L , if read as 'Eshba`al, could mean "fire of the Lord"; and if the Lord is not human but divine,  he is not necessarily the weather god Ba`al Hadad, but Yahweh.  Christopher Rollston  (in his first account of this inscription) refers us to a Benjaminite in the service of King David with the personal name “Ba‘alyah” (1 Chr 12:5/6), a name that means “Yahweh is Ba‘al  (or "Yah is Lord").
  In this regard, we might ask whether the supposed BN sequence ("son of") might actually be BG. Below I suggest that the final sequence (BD`) could be interpreted as "house of knowledge", referring to this Room B; and BG could be understood as begaw, "within" or "inside". Hence we have: "the fire of Ba`al within the house of knowledge".
   However, the reading BN can be defended: what looks like a G (an angle) is more likely to be the top part of a Nun, as represented on the Gerbaal arrowhead, and in the new inscription from Beth-Shemesh (it is N on its side, that is, like Z). 
   The presence of a hearth in the room where the storage jar was discovered suggests that it might be 'e
š b`l, "fire of Ba`al", and the container held fuel (oil?) for this fire-place. Or does the basin in the room suggest the jar was for water? 
   The form ʾIšbaʿal seems to be confirmed in Ugaritic documents, showing initial 'i. But 'i
š as 'man' has not been found at Ugarit, has it? Also, "fire" is 'št ('išat) in Ugaritic, but 'eš in Hebrew.
   The idea of the name meaning not "Baal's man" but "Baal is" or "There is a Baal" or " Baal is really someone" is appealing; but in early Israel? Yes, since Ba`al could refer to Yah/Yahweh in those days, as already noted, above.

Here is a relevant comment from William Foxwell Albright (1891-1971),
Archaeology and the Religion of Israel, Baltimore, 1968 edn.
'One of Saul's sons was called "Esh-Baal" (Baal exists)'. (p. 113)
'The usual translation, "Man of Baal," is linguistically difficult, and must, in my opinion, be replaced by the rendering in the text [Baal exists]. Note that in the Baal Epic of Ugarit the resurrection of Baal is greeted with the triumphant words, "And I know that triumphant Baal lives (h.y), that the Prince, lord of the earth, exists ('it, which would be 'ish in later Canaanite)." Moreover, there are several passages in the Bible where 'ish or 'esh is employed instead of classical yesh.' (p.207, n.62).
   However, another possible Eshbaal has been found as the first person named among David's mighty men (2 Sam 23:8; S. R. Driver, Notes on ... the Books of Samuel ..., Oxford 1913, 362-364): y$b b$bt might be a corruption of 'y$-b$t, where Ba`l has been replaced  by bosheth ('shame'); the Septuagint Greek translation has 'Iebosthe, and Lucian has 'Iesbaal. Was this outstanding warrior holding the double-gated fort for David at some time?  He is further qualified as 'chief among the captains', and thkmny ("a Takhkemonite"?). The Chronicler (1 Chrn11:11) has him as y$b`m bn hkmwny, and the occurrence of the root hkm, referring to 'wisdom', has an uncanny connection with the bn bd` of the Eshbaal jar insription.
   What of the unknown name BD`? I have long maintained that the letters of the protoalphabet could be used as logograms; Beth represents a house (bayt) and could stand for "house" here,  followed by d` (knowledge, Job 36:3); hence "house of knowledge", preceded by "son of", that is, a student of that school.
   Looking at that D again: it could have had a stem, which has been lost in the break; it would then be R, like the 6th letter in line 4 on the ostracon, or the second character in line 5. This is "stretching" it, literally and figuratively, but we are now looking at a word BR`. This could be "house of evil", but also a personal name. There is Bera` (King of Sodom, Gen 14.2), and four instances of Beri`â, one of whom belonged to the tribe of Benjamin (1 Chron 8.13), as did King Saul.
    In the current square Hebrew script , Resh and Dalet are easily confused (both are basically a right angle) but at this stage, in the Iron Age, it is Q and R that cause us grief. And the fourth letter here has a stem and a missing circle (Q?) or triangle (R?)
   So, the first word could be KPQT or KPRT; and since the P is represented only by a single horizontal stroke, a telegraph-pole Samek could be constructed. KS is found at the start of inscriptions with the meaning "cup"(written on beakers and bowls), but that does not seem applicable here.
    But KSRT and KSQT are possible as restored readings.
    However, we should explore some possibilities for the extremely uncertain reading  kprt. The final letter is only half there, but it is probably T (a cross, +). It could mark the plural of a feminine noun, or singular -at (construct state).
   As a toponym it might be Kepirâ, one of the Gibeonite towns (Joshua 9.17). This is worth considering, as a place name is a likely word to appear as the source of the pot or its contents; and Gibeon is not far north of Khirbet Qeiyafa. If the H on the end of the Hebrew form indicates an original -at ending, then it would fit the presumed KPRT nicely.
We could suppose that  kprt refers to the contents of the pot.    As a substance it could be koper, henna, though its plural is in -im, and likewise koper, bitumen. Could it possibly be copra (coconut oil from India). Note also that  kprt can mean "henna bush" (Ugaritic), and perhaps that is what was in the jar. Would a man want to own such a shrub? Henna is an orange dye for use on the body (from the hair down to the toes).  Or does this "cyprus flower", which grows wild in Israel, act here as a decorative indoor plant? Henna certainly has  a place in the Song of Songs: a cluster in a vineyard (1:14); in the secret garden with pomegranates, nard, saffron, cinnamon (4:13); and out in the fields (henna rather than villages, kprym, 7:12).  
   As an object it might be a kepor (m), a bowl, or a kepir (m), a copper vessel, but it is neither.
   As an idea it could come from the root kpr, cover, make expiation, and we immediately think of Yom kippur, the Day of Atonement; and yet this word always appears as kippurim in the Bible. Another term with the same connection is, yet again, koper (m), ransom
   There is one KPR noun that would fit kprt, and that is  kaporet (f), a mysterious word, said to mean the cover or lid of the Ark of the Covenant, and then "the mercy seat" where a propitiatory rite was performed on Atonement Day.
   KPRT could be a verb: "Thou hast atoned, O Eshbaal". Incidentally, that is how I see the beginning of the Qeiyafa ostracon: "Thou hast cursed" ('LT). But that was on an ostracon; a sermon or oracle would probably not be engraved on a storage jar.
   Actually, the first three letters of the supposed KPRT only have tiny remnants of their originals.
   We must draw a veil over the possibility of  kepir, young lion, which would raise the spectre of the Lion of Judah (cp Gn 49.9).
   Another thought: if the final T (constructed from a remaining right angle) was in fact  M, KPRM would suit kippurim, 'atonement'.
   However, it needs to be said that the drawings made by Ada Yardeni (figs 15, 16, 17) are plausible in their reconstructing of the text. Here is one of them:

   Nevertheless, the three remaining strokes of the first reconstructed letter (K but possibly a horizontal Shin, though Shin is vertical in the following personal name) could accommodate the YYN (wine) that Gershon Galil proposed for filling the gap on the Jerusalem pithos inscription.
    Notice the strokes separating the words. These word-separators are a surprise, in that the Qeiyafa ostracon has no word-separating spaces, dots, or bars (though some of the dots have been understood as punctuation, meaning pause-marks, but I see them all as fragments of letters).
    However, divider-strokes are found on the Qubur el-Walayda bowl:
     shu mi ba `i li | 'i ya 'i li | ma kh- (L > R);
 and also on the Gath (Safi) inscription:
    'lwt | wlt  (L < R)
    (Both could be Philistian, but the language is West Semitic in the QW text, which also has a baal name.)
   Already mentioned above, in Part 1, is my hypothesis about a "neo-syllabary" in Early Iron Age Israel and Palestine (Philistia), whereby the stances and shapes of the letters can indicate syllables (-i, -a, -u).
    As a general rule:
   syllabic inscriptions run from left to right (Q ostracon, QW, Izbet Sartah and its abagadary);   
   simple consonantal texts go from right to left (Tel Zayit stone abgdary, Gezer calendar).
    There can be no doubt about reading this Q2 inscription from right to left (the direction that became standard for West Semitic writing, including Arabic), since the name 'Eshbaal gives a clear indication.  
    I now have to consider the question whether the letters are used syllabically (as I feel sure they are on the Q ostracon, where line 2 has sha-pa-t.a "judged” and mi-shi-pi-t.i “judgements”) . Unfortunately there are not sufficient characters here on Q2 to determine that. Yes, the trouble is that there are not enough letters, and not enough of the letters that are there (in  damaged states).
    What I can say is this: none of the visible letters has the -i form, as found in the Phoenician alphabet that was subsequently adopted in Israel; there is a dot in the `ayin; 'aleph is in its original ox-head stance; Shin is vertical, not horizontal; likewise Beth, with its early house-form; generally speaking, the letters mostly have the -a forms; but the reconstructed K and P correspond to ki  and pi on the Q ostracon, and this might arouse caution in accepting them.
   May I remind readers that I treat all the essays that are published on my websites as tentative explorations, and I may alter them at any time with additions or deletions or corrections.
I am sorry that I have to talk aloud on the web to disseminate my ideas, but the fact is that I have officially passed my expiry date (b.1936) and time is running out.

   In conclusion, I offer a hypothetical scenario .
   Room B (6x5 m) in Building C11, was an open but enclosed space; it was apparently a sacred place, and it was possibly called "the House of Knowledge" (B d`) because its devotees entered into trance states and achieved mystical knowledge there. The fortress  was the home of Prince Eshbaal (not King David). It had been built or rebuilt by King Saul, his father,  as an outpost for surveillance over the Philistines of Gath and Ekron. Its name was apparently Sha`arayim, which could mean 'two gates', and this is actually a feature of this walled town.

   The two inscriptions, taken together, indicate that this short-lived fortress was extant during the reign of King Saul: Saul's son Eshbaal was apparently in residence there; and an eyewitness delivered an oracle of Yahweh relating to the slaying of Guliyut the Anakite by Dawid the Servant of God, and this encounter took place in the time of King Saul (1 Samuel 17). Neither David nor Eshbaal were monarchs at that time. Apparently Eshbaal was not present at Gilboa; the sons of Saul who perished on that battlefield were Yehonatan (Jonathan), Abinadab, and Malkishua` (1 Sam 31:2). If Eshbaal was a mystic, and the guardian of the fort in the south, then this might account for his absence in the war.
   After the death of Saul and Jonathan in that battle against the Philistines at Mount Gilboa, David ruled over Judah (2 Samuel 2:1-4) in Hebron (situated between Gaza and the Dead Sea); and General Abner installed Eshbaal (a surviving son of Saul) as King of Israel in Mahanaim (2 Sam 2:8-10); he was 40 years old and he reigned for two years.The name Mahanaim, meaning 'two camps', suggests that this was Qeiyafa, which had two camps in the Elah Valley for the battle between Philistia and Israel in which David won the day by felling Goliath (2 Sam 17). However, Mahanaim is East of Mount Gilboa, in Gilead, over the Jordan and north of the Dead Sea, far away from David and the Philistines. Nevertheless, Eshbaal could have inhabited the Qeiyafa palace during the time when Saul was pursuing David. If Eshbaal had a mystical side, we might recall that his father Saul was "also among the prophets" (1 Sam 10:9-13) and even practised necromancy (1 Sam 28:5ff). This fortress, and Saul's capital city Gibeah, would have been destroyed when the Philistines overran the Kingdom of Israel, after the battle of Gilboa.
    The ostracon confirms that David was at the Battle of Elah. against the Philistines of Gath and Eqron.The account of the battle in the Bible (1 Sam 17) has brothers of David, from Bethlehem in Judah, as soldiers in the army of Israel. When the Philistines fled to their cities, 'the men of Israel and Judah' pursued them, and returned as 'the children of Israel' (17:52-53). The pact between David of Judah and Saul's son Jonathan of the tribe of Benjamin (18:1-4) perhaps symbolizes the union of Israel and Judah in the time of King Saul.

Distinguishing Characteristics of Hebrew inscriptions in the Early Iron Age

Brian Colless

(2) PHOENICIAN SCRIPT AND HEBREW LANGUAGE (International consonantary)

(1) Various forms for each letter ('abugida syllabary)
(2) Same form for each letter ('bgd consonantary) ('ibigidi)

(1) Dextrograde, sinistrodextral (L -> R) (QW IS Q)
(2) Sinistrograde, dextrosinistral (L <- R) (G Z)

(1) Fish for Samek (IS BS Q)
(2) Spinal column (djed) for Samek (G Z)

(1) Dot or no dot in circle of `ayin
(2) No dot in circle of `ayin

(1) Vertical and horizontal forms of Sh-sign (Q)
(2) Horizontal Sh only (\/\/)

(1) Logography and Rebography
(2) Consonantal writing only

(Period of the Judges and King Saul)
Izbet Sartah ostracon  <https://sites.google.com/site/collesseum/abgadary>
Beth-Shemesh ostracon <https://sites.google.com/site/collesseum/winewhine>
Qeiyafa ostracon <http://bonzoz.blogspot.co.nz/2012/02/goliath.html>
Arrow of Ship`i  <http://cryptcracker.blogspot.co.nz/2013/05/inscribed-arrowheads.html> NEW
Ophel jar (? 2 forms of N or of M)
Qubur el-Walaydah bowl

(Era of King David and his descendants)
Gezer calendar  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gezer_Calendar>
Zayit stone <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zayit_Stone>
Tell el-Far'ah (South) L'DNN

Each text has its own peculiarities: personal or regional idiosyncrasies.

Q2.1 Sha = IS Sh  Q2.2 Pa = IS P  Q2.3 T.a = IS Tet (+) with stem and crossbar NE direction

Q2.15 T.i = IS2 T.i in `a-la t.i-t.i “on clay” (X)

Q5.14 Ti = IS2.2-3 ti-ti-n "gives" X  IS2.9 '-ti "of the sign" (Ti

Q1.3 Ta = IS 5 T  IS1 '-ta-(ti?) "signs"

Q3.1 G inverted : not Ga with angle on right (IS), not Gi with angle on left (IS4.7) so Gu?

IS1.1-4 'a-la-mu-du "I learn"

Hypothesis: This change came about when the Davidic dynasty established cultural and commercial ties with Phoenicia, and adopted the international consonantal alphabet, as used in Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos.

See further: http://cryptcracker.blogspot.co.nz/2014/04/early-hebrew-syllabary.html


(This does not include the neo-syllabary)

  • first column shows the likely Egyptian hieroglyphs on which most of the letters were modeled;
  • the Sinai-Egypt column offers Bronze-Age examples from that region;  
  • the Canaan column has examples from Syria-Palestine in the Bronze Age and the Iron Age;
  • the Canaan column also has the cuneiform alphabet (Ugarit and elsewhere), which was modeled on the picture-signs;
  •  the Phoenicia column shows the Iron-Age consonantal alphabet of the Phoenicians;
  •  the Greece and Rome lines show the alphabet (with vowels), derived from the Phoenician script;
  • the Arabia column shows the forms of the script as used in ancient Arabia;
  • the narrow column labeled BS (Byblos script) provides examples from the Canaanian syllabary as represented at Byblos (Gubla), and each picture represents a syllable (thus the house sign stands not just for B but also for BA, from bayt 'house').