Newsflash: King David had Literate Servants

From today’s press []:

Professor Gershon Galil of the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa has deciphered an inscription on a pottery shard discovered in the Elah valley dating from the 10th century BCE (the period of King David’s reign), and has shown that this is a Hebrew inscription. The discovery makes this the earliest known Hebrew writing. The significance of this breakthrough relates to the fact that at least some of the biblical scriptures were composed hundreds of years before the dates presented today in research and that the Kingdom of Israel already existed at that time.

The ostracon (pottery shard with writing) has the following text:

1′ you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2′ Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3′ [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
4′ the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
5′ Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.
(Provided by University of Haifa

We do not take our beliefs from archaeology, and more particularly, do not depend for our beliefs on that discipline. Tradition has faithfully transmitted our heritage, and we live by the Torah taught by Moshe. However, it is nice to see a skeptical, often anti-traditional discipline making such a huge step in our direction.

The ostracon not only shows that there was literacy in a remote Judean town, and that Judea had a king (Shaul, David, Solomon? the dating isn’t precise enough), but also, through its content, how the social justice and values, which the Torah teaches, and which is so different from that of surrounding nations, was already widely known then. It is particularly noteworthy that the ostracon includes a paraphrase of Devarim (Deuteronomy!) 24:17: Thou shalt not pervert the justice due to the stranger, or to the fatherless; nor take the widow’s raiment to pledge.

To read more on the exceptional particularity of the Torah’s social justice theory, you may want to read Josh Berman’s Created Equal. [Note that that book, while written by a frum author, was not written for a frum readership, and uses an academic vocabulary.]

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