Looks like some kids were playing with the pottery. A vessel found near the Temple Mount in Israel, dated to the 10th Century B.C. (circa King David) has some writing: a series of consonants in Canaanite: n,q,p,h,n, maybe l. (Note, the words were written without vowels: Nt th wrds wr wrttn wtht vwls. Nothing unusual there). However, the letters don’t up to a word:
The inscription was engraved near the edge of the jar before it was fired, and only a fragment of it has been found, along with fragments of six large jars of the same type. The fragments were used to stabilize the earth fill under the second floor of the building they were discovered in, which dates to the Early Iron IIA period (10th century BCE).
Perhaps the kids were missing with a pot. Maybe it’s the equivalent of a secret decoder ring. Maybe it was a mistake. But it is very old.
UPDATE: Christopher Rollston has weighed in and suggests that the inscription means “pot” or “cauldron”. Not very romantic: http://www.rollstonepigraphy.com/?p=561
A granite sphinx dedicated to Mycerinus, the ruler of Egypt in about 2500 BC has been uncovered in Tel Hazor, in Galilee:
City in northern Palestine in the territory of Naphtali, called “head of all those kingdoms (of Canaan)” in Joshua 11:10 and Asher in Tobit 1:2. Located 5 miles southwest of Lake Huleh and 10 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, it is known as Tell el-Qedah (or Tell Waggas) today. At its peak it numbered 40,000 inhabitants and was by far the largest Canaanite city in area and population. It was a great commercial center on the trade routes between Egypt and Babylon.
Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 934. Photographs and a description of Tel Hazor can be found here: http://www.bibleplaces.com/hazor.htm). The location is mentioned in Joshua 11:10, “And Joshua turned back at that time and captured Hazor and struck its king with the sword, for Hazor formerly was the head of all those kingdoms. ”
Amnon Ben Tor, Professor at Hebrew University gave some possible scenarios as to how the discusses the possible sphinx wound up so far away from home. (A friend pursuing a ThD in OT suggested a Babylonian soldier growing tired of his plunder on the way back from sacking Eygpt: ‘It would have made pretty cool lawn ornament…I’m going with Babylonian soldier who got tired of carrying it, or by the time he got to Israel, he had heard back from his wife saying “thanks for the thought, but Sphinx’ are no longer in vogue in Babylon”‘).
The article ends with this hopeful bit:
To Ben-Tor, however, the true coveted find would be archives buried somewhere on Tel Hazor that could serve as an inventory to the ancient city’s content.
“I know there are two archives,” he said. “We already have 18 documents from two periods, the 17th and 14th century BC. If I found those archives, people would come running here.”
Photo of Tel Hazor:
The findings at Khirbet Qeiyafa also indicate that an elaborate architectural style had developed as early as the time of King David. Such construction is typical of royal activities, thus indicating that state formation, the establishment of an elite, social level and urbanism in the region existed in the days of the early kings of Israel. These finds strengthen the historicity of the biblical tradition and its architectural description of the Palace and Temple of Solomon.
In other words, the presence of cultic material outside of Jerusalem challenges the biblical claim that Israelites worshipped only one God in one place. But there is no such biblical claim. Scripture is very clear that though the Lord commanded the Israelites to worship only at the central altar (Deut 12), the Israelites perennially failed to keep this command. The Bible is very open about this failure, recording stories such as Gideon’s idolatry (Judg 8:27); Micah’s shrine (Judg 17-18), and Saul’s pursuit of witchcraft (1 Sam 28). David was very mindful of the temptations:
Psalm 16:4 (NIV) — The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods. I will not pour out their libations of blood or take up their names on my lips.
What discoveries like these from Qeiyafa show is not that monotheism evolved only late in Israel’s history but that God’s covenant people failed to worship in the prescribed way, just as the Bible records.
Description of the findings and their significance
The three shrines are part of larger building complexes. In this respect they are different from Canaanite or Philistine cults, which were practiced in temples – separate buildings dedicated only to rituals. The biblical tradition described this phenomenon in the time of King David: “He brought the ark of God from a private house in Kyriat Yearim and put it in Jerusalem in a private house” (2 Samuel 6).
The cult objects include five standing stones (Massebot), two basalt altars, two pottery libation vessels and two portable shrines. No human or animal figurines were found, suggesting the people of Khirbet Qeiyafa observed the biblical ban on graven images.
Khirbet Qeiyafa cultic standing stones
(Photo: Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Two portable shrines (or “shrine models”) were found, one made of pottery (ca. 20 cm high) and the other of stone (35 cm high). These are boxes in the shape of temples, and could be closed by doors.
The clay shrine is decorated with an elaborate façade, including two guardian lions, two pillars, a main door, beams of the roof, folded textile and three birds standing on the roof. Two of these elements are described in Solomon’s Temple: the two pillars (Yachin and Boaz) and the textile (Parochet).
Khirbet Qeiyafa pottery altar (Photo: Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
The stone shrine is made of soft limestone and painted red. Its façade is decorated by two elements. The first are seven groups of roof-beams, three planks in each. This architectural element, the “triglyph,” is known in Greek classical temples, like the Parthenon in Athens. Its appearance at Khirbet Qeiyafa is the earliest known example carved in stone, a landmark in world architecture.
The second decorative element is the recessed door. This type of doors or windows is known in the architecture of temples, palaces and royal graves in the ancient Near East. This was a typical symbol of divinity and royalty at the time.
Khirbet Qeiyafa stone ark (Photo: Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
The stone model helps us to understand obscure technical terms in the description of Solomon’s palace as described in 1 Kings 7, 1-6. The text uses the term “Slaot,” which were mistakenly understood as pillars and can now be understood as triglyphs. The text also uses the term “Sequfim”, which was usually understood as nine windows in the palace, and can now be understood as “triple recessed doorway.”
Similar triglyphs and recessed doors can be found in the description of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6, Verses 5, 31-33, and in the description of a temple by the prophet Ezekiel (41:6). These biblical texts are replete with obscure technical terms that have lost their original meaning over the millennia. Now, with the help of the stone model uncovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the biblical text is clarified. For the first time in history we have actual objects from the time of David, which can be related to monuments described in the Bible.