Below the fold, text, translation and commentary on the Qeiyafa inscription, based on the judgments of Misgav, Yardeni, Ahituv, and Schniedewind reported or expressed on Aren Maeir’s blog here and here, as well as my own. The contents of the inscription, and more especially, its estimated date and secure provenance, make it an extremely important find.
Details of the inscription will be debated for a long time. Nonetheless, given the relatively certain aspects of the inscription’s contents and the archaeological context in which the inscription was found, it is already difficult to avoid the conclusion that the kingdom of David – or some equivalent entity we would have to invent were it not for the fact that 1-2 Samuel preserve traditions whose basic outline is compatible with everything we know from the archaeological record - possessed a defensive infrastructure capable of giving the powerful Philistine city-states on its western border a run for their money. The balance of probability now rests with a hypothesis of that kind. The minimalist theses of a Davies and the skeptical theses of a Finkelstein now seem like so much ancient history.
Text (the circulus over a letter means that the letter is only partially preserved, and/or of uncertain identification):
א֯ל תעש [ ] ועבד את֯
שפט בואלמ [ ]ש֯פ֯ט֯
א[ ]מ ונקמ יסד מלכ גת֯
ס֯ר֯נ֯ ע[...] מג/דרת
Normalization to the phonology of Masoretic Hebrew for convenience only:
אַ֯ל תַּעַשׂ [ ] וַעֲבֹד אֶת֯
שֹׁפֵט בְּואלמ [ ] שֹׁ֯פֵ֯ט֯
א[ ]מ וּנְקֹמ יסד מֶלֶכ גַּת֯
סֶ֯רֶ֯נ֯ עַ[זָּה ?..] מג/דרת
1 Do not do [anything bad?], and serve [personal name?]
2 ruler of [geographical name?] . . . ruler . . .
3 [geographical names?] . . .
4 [unclear] and wreak judgment on YSD king of Gath . . .
5 seren of G[aza? . . .] [unclear] . . .
Except where noted, I default to Misgav’s decipherment of the inked letters.
Line 1. א֯ל תעש; compare Gen 22:12. ועבד את֯; compare Jer 27: 17. Schniedewind proposed that the sequence might be interpreted as an imperative clause.
Line 2. שפט ב; compare 2 Sam 15:4. Alternatively, “rule over” (vocalizing as an imperative or infinitive absolute). שפט twice according to Yardeni; the second instance is uncertain.
Line 3. There is no real justification for reading El and/or Baal in this line.
Line 4. ונקמ יסד מלכ גת֯; compare Josh 10:13.
Line 5. ס֯ר֯נ֯ uncertain according to Ahituv.
Provenance of inscription: Khirbet Qeiyafa, a massively fortified one-period site on the traditional border of Judah and Philistia. Date of inscription: based on converging lines of evidence, “mid/late 11th [Saul and earlier, according to biblical chronology], early 10th [David], or perhaps, but much less likely, mid-late 10th centuries [Solomon and Rehoboam]; . . . the stratigraphy and general chronological framework is very clear” (Aren Maeir). Language of inscription: Hebrew. There are no grounds I can think of for disputing that.