The most ancient inscription ever discovered in Jerusalem apparently refers to types of wine and reflect both literacy and a well-ordered administration.
The proposed interpretation of this ancient Hebrew inscription reflects both literacy and a well-ordered administration at the time. It has been dated to the second half of the 10th century B.C.E. - the time of King Solomon.
The inscription was discovered during archaeological excavations directed by Dr. Eilat Mazar, of the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology, in the area of the Ophel, south of the Temple Mount.
Uncovered about six months ago, the inscription was on a piece of a large clay jar and comprised only eight letters.
So far most scholars have speculated that the inscription was written in an ancient Near Eastern language, not necessarily Hebrew. In any case, the letters were so few it could not be read.
But in a recent article in the journal “New Studies on Jerusalem,” Prof. Gershon Galil, of the Bible Department at the University of Haifa, proposed a new interpretation. Galil suggested that the letters were early Hebrew and identified the key word as "yayin", meaning wine.
Of all the region’s languages, Galil noted, only southern Hebrew wrote the word yayin with two instances of the letter yod, rather than one.
According to Galil’s interpretation, the inscription describes the wine that was in the jar bearing the inscription. The first letter is a final mem, which could be the end of the word "esrim" (twenty) or "shloshim" (thirty,) referring to either the twentieth or thirtieth year of Solomon’s reign. Next comes the word "yayin" (wine) followed by the word "halak", and then the letter mem, the first letter of the wine’s place of origin.
"Halak" is an oenological term from the Northern Syrian language of Ugarit. It referred to the lowest of three types of wine – “good wine,” “no good wine” and lowly "halak". Galil speculated that the poor-quality wine was drunk by the king's conscript labor force working on various building projects.
Galil's interpretation is sure to add fuel to the archaeological fires regarding the magnitude of David and Solomon’s kingdom. Some archaeologists believe that Jerusalem was a small, unimportant town, contrary to its biblical description. Galil and others view the Bible as a reliable historical document. For them, the inscription is proof of a significant, well-administered kingdom that received goods from afar and expanded during Solomon’s time from the City of David toward the Temple Mount.