From History and Myth, Anatolians in Mycenaean Greece

By: Josh Cannon, University of Chicago

The Late Bronze Age (LBA) of Anatolia is a period that has been described to us through history and myth. The history of LBA Anatolia comes primarily from the Hittites, who actively created and maintained records. Written in cuneiform, these records provide us with a wealth of information ranging from sweeping royal military campaigns to the correspondence of local leaders discussing missing slaves. The myth comes predominantly from the Archaic and Classical Greeks who wrote about how their Bronze Age ancestors interacted with their Anatolian neighbors. The most famous story of this nature is Homer’s Iliad. If we carefully weave the historical knowledge together with the myth, we can use the two together to accomplish more than either can do alone. However, this is a delicate task. Both sources need to be treated with their shortcomings in mind. For instance, one issue with the historical record is that it is incomplete. This is due to several reasons, though time will allow us to improve some of them. With time, scholars will continue to translate the many Hittite tablets that have been uncovered. Also, additional Hittite tablets will come to light through archaeological excavations. What time cannot touch are the historical details that were never recorded by the Hittites, details that were left out because they were deemed insignificant or perhaps politically damaging. Continue reading

The Qeiyafa Ostracon Again: A Sober Assessment in Light of the New Finds

By Christopher A. Rollston
Toyozo Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages, Emmanuel Christian Seminary

For those working in the field(s) of ancient history, ancient literature, archaeology, or epigraphy there often seems to be a strong desire to associate some new archaeological find, or some recent epigraphic discovery, with some person or event known from literary texts discussing the days of yore.  This basic phenomenon has a long history with regard to literary texts.  For example, within the Hebrew Bible, the book of Lamentations is anonymous, but through the centuries many contended that it was written by the Prophet Jeremiah.  Similarly, the book of Ruth is anonymous, but through the centuries many argued that it was written by Samuel.  Or again, within the Greek New Testament, the book of Hebrews is anonymous, but many attempted to argue that it was written by Paul.  Similarly, the four Canonical Gospels are anonymous, but through the centuries, many have argued that these books were written by known figures of Early Christianity.  Fortunately, critical scholarship has pushed back against such positivistic assumptions and reasserted the obvious: the evidence for these assumptions is not convincing, but specious.

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Christopher A. Rollston,

Toyozo Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies, Emmanuel Christian Seminary


            Forgeries have been produced for many centuries (Metzger 1997, 125-139; Rollston 2003; 2004; 2005; 2012; Ehrman 2011) and it would not be prudent to believe that the future shall be different from the past in this regard.  After all, there are timeless, discernible motives for the production of forgeries, and these motives can be detected on the basis of actual forgeries from Antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Modern Period.  (1) Of course, venality is certainly a motivation for the production of forgeries.  During the modern period, for example, non-provenanced inscriptions (i.e., from the antiquities market) routinely sell for four, five, and even six figures.  Some recent non-provenanced inscriptions have been valued at seven figures.  Prior to the modern period, forgeries also garnered substantial amounts of money as well (cf. Metzger 1997, 125-126).  (2) Some forgeries are arguably the result of “sour grapes” (e.g., a student purged in the modern period from an epigraphy program) or professional rivalry, with the forger hoping to “dupe” or “correct” the “offender.”  (3) Similarly, sometimes a forgery can be a prank, a Witz of some sort (e.g., Coleman-Norton’s “Agraphon”).  (4)  Moreover, there is a certain amount of prestige associated with being the person who “collects,” “vets,” or “finds” a significant “ancient epigraph” from the market.  Continue reading


 By Dr. Christopher A. Rollston, Toyozo Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages, Emmanuel Christian Seminary, Tennessee


Recently I have posted on the blog of the American Schools of Oriental Research my readings, and some plausible renderings into English, of the four-line (fourteen letter) Greek inscription from Talpiyot, along with images visually demonstrating that this inscription does not refer to “Yahweh” (i.e., the tetragrammaton), but rather to “bones.”  Thus, this inscription is just the sort of thing that is well attested in Late Second Temple and Early Post-Biblical funerary contexts (here is this article: ).  Continue reading

A Response to Chris Rollston’s Reading of the Ossuary from Talpiot Tomb B

By: H. Gregory Snyder, Professor of Religion, Davidson College

Back in October, James Tabor invited me to join in a conversation that was underway between himself, Richard Bauckham, and Jim Charlesworth. Tabor submitted eleven photos of the ossuary bearing the four-line inscription for our inspection, and all of us engaged in a lengthy debate about possible readings.

For the record, Bauckham and I were not given the so-called Jonah image until later, when the people at the Discovery Channel forwarded an advance copy of the film for our scholarly comment. At that time, I expressed the opinion that the figure on that ossuary represents an amphora or a vessel of some kind, however non-standard, and cannot be taken as an image of Jonah, and nothing has occurred to dissuade me from that judgment. I say this to make it clear that in nearly all matters of consequence, I do not share the conclusions presented in the book or the film. But James Tabor has been forthcoming and above-board in all our exchanges, and we have enjoyed a productive conversation.

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Christopher A. Rollston, Toyozo Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages, Emmanuel Christian Seminary


The publication of a four-line Greek inscription from a tomb in East Talpiyot (Jerusalem) has generated substantial interest, especially because of the dramatic claims surrounding it (Tabor and Jacobovici 2012).  James Tabor has argued that this inscription reads as follows: “DIOS IAIO UPSŌ AGB.”  He translates it as “Divine Jehovah Lift up, Lift up.” He believes this to be a Christian tomb (in fact, he states that it is arguably that of Joseph of Arimathea) and that this inscription is to be understood as reflective of an early Christian confession of a belief in the resurrection (and he has also argued that some of the ornamentation on a different ossuary from the same tomb is distinctively Christian).  Continue reading

The Response of the Israel Antiquities Authority to the Verdict by the Jerusalem District Court in the Matter of the Forgeries Trial

"Johoash Inscription" that most scholars have determined is a modern forgery; photo credit: courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

This morning (Wednesday, March 14) the verdict was published in the prosecution’s case—the State of Israel vs. Oded Golan, Robert Deutsch, et alia—Criminal Case 482/04. [This post is taken from the IAA website and re-posted on the ASOR Blog]

In response to the decision by Judge Aharon Farkash of the Jerusalem District Court, the Israel Antiquities Authority announces the following: The Israel Antiquities Authority respects the court’s decisions. The Israel Antiquities Authority praises the efforts of the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office in the case and is proud of the State’s determination in looking out for the broad public interest in the country and abroad, which states it is forbidden to meddle in the history of the peoples that lived and live in the Land of Israel.

The prosecution’s efforts resulted in the conviction of one defendant in this case in the past, and today the court acquitted Oded Golan of forgery and fraud charges on a basis of reasonable doubt, and found him guilty of three counts of violating the Antiquities Law and possession of suspected stolen property. The charges in some of the offenses were cancelled due to the statue of limitations. According to the judge, “The absolute truth was not a guiding light for Golan”. Continue reading

The Four-Line Ossuary Inscription from Talpiyot Tomb B – an Interpretation

Richard Bauckham,

Preamble: I should first explain that in the autumn of 2011 I took part in a lengthy email correspondence about this inscription with James Tabor, Greg Snyder and Jim Charlesworth. It was a profitable conversation in which we made real progress in both reading and interpreting the inscription, though we certainly did not reach full agreement, especially on the interpretation. (Tabor’s references to me in footnotes to his article, ‘A Preliminary Report …,’ recently published on the internet, reflect that conversation.) We were all bound by a non-disclosure agreement until last week, when the material was made public. At that time Greg Snyder and I had not seen the so-called ‘Jonah’ image and we did not discuss it until much more recently and then much more briefly. Our efforts were focused intensively on the inscription, for which we had the benefit of a number of photos, not only those that have now been published in the book (Tabor and Jacobovici 2012) and on the internet. My own interpretation of the inscription developed through that conversation, but I have modified it very recently (so that some of my argument in what follows is not already known to Tabor, Snyder and Charlesworth).

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Reflections of an Epigrapher on Talpiyot Tombs A and B: A Detailed Response to the Claims of Professor James Tabor and Filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici

Professor Christopher A. Rollston ( Professor of Semitic Studies, Emmanuel Christian Seminary


Here are the basic claims of James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici: “Talpiyot Tomb B contained several ossuaries, or bone boxes, two of which were carved with an iconic image and a Greek inscription.  Taken together, the image and the inscription constitute the earliest archaeological evidence of faith in Jesus’ resurrection.”  They go on and state that these ossuaries “also provide the first evidence in Jerusalem of the people who would later be called ‘Christians.’  In fact, it is possible, maybe even likely, that whoever was buried in this tomb knew Jesus and heard him preach.” Continue reading

FEATURED POST by Christopher Rollston: The Probable Inventors of the First Alphabet

The Probable Inventors of the First Alphabet:
Semites Functioning as rather High Status Personnel in a Component of the Egyptian Apparatus

Christopher Rollston


For some time, there has been discussion about the social status of those that developed (“invented”) Alphabetic Writing (i.e., elites or non-elites). Therefore, the nuanced discussion between O. Goldwasser (2010 and BAS web site) and A. Rainey (BAS web site) is the continuation of an old (and important) debate. Rainey contends that the inventors of the alphabet were sophisticated Northwest Semites that knew the Egyptian writing system. Goldwasser argues that the “inventors of the alphabet could not read Egyptian, neither Hieroglyphic nor Hieratic.”

As an Ausgangspunkt for these comments of mine, and to facilitate understanding for those not familiar with the data, I should like to reiterate certain factors that have formed the basic contours of the entire discussion for some time: (1) Non-Alphabetic Writing (i.e., Mesopotamian Cuneiform and Egyptian) is first attested for the terminal chronological horizons of the fourth millennium BCE. (2) The alphabet was invented once and this arguably occurred during the early second millennium BCE. All alphabets derive, in some fashion, from this original alphabet. (3) The script of the Early Alphabetic inscriptions is modeled on (certain aspects of) the Egyptian script, as Egyptologists have noted for some time (e.g., from Gardiner to Darnell). (4) The language of the Early Alphabetic inscriptions is Northwest Semitic, *not* Egyptian (e.g., ba‘lat).

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10th Century BCE Hebrew Inscription Found at Khirbet Qeiyafa

Contributed by Y. Garfinkel (November 5, 2008)

Ostracon from Khirbet Qeiyafa

Ostracon from Khirbet Qeiyafa

This summer an extraordinary Semitic inscription was found at Khirbet Qeiyafa. It was uncovered inside the fortified city, near the gate, lying on a floor level of a building. The city existed for a rather short time, within the 10th century BC, thus, the dating of the inscription is perfectly secured to the beginning of the First Temple period, known as the United monarchy, the time of kings David and Solomon.

The inscription is a large pottery fragment (ostracon), ca. 15 × 15 cm. written with ink. It contains five rows, divided by black lines. Each row has 10 letters or so in Proto-Canaanite script. According to the preliminary observations of the epigraphist, Dr. Haggai Misgav, the language of the ostracon is Hebrew. This is the longest Proto-Canaanite inscription ever found and the earliest Hebrew text known to date. Other possible Hebrew inscriptions are the Gezer calendar (ca. 900 BC), the stele of king Mesah (ca. 850 BC) or the Samaria ostraca (ca. 800 BC). The new inscription is earlier by 100-200 years from the other earlier Hebrew inscriptions. As the decipherment has just begun, it is still immature to talk about the content, but it clearly bears a massage, a letter sent between two people.

Khirbet Qeiyafa

Khirbet Qeiyafa

Paleography: The complicated writing techniques developed in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt enabled only professional scribes to read and write. Contrarily, the simple Semitic alphabet writing technique enables larger segments of the population to read and write. Thus, it is one of the most important intellectual inventions of human kind. But the early developments of the Semitic alphabet and its transmitting to the early Greek, and then to Latin and the rest of the world is poorly known. The earliest type of alphabet script, known as Proto-Canaanite, was found in Canaan, Sinai peninsula and Egypt in various sites dated from the second millennium BC (Middle Bronze and Late Bronze periods, ca. 1700-1200 BC). In this stage it was rather pictorial in character, adopting Egyptian hieroglyph signs.

Aerial photograph of Khirbet Qeiyafa

In the Iron I period (1200-1000 BC) the hieroglyphs became more and more schematics, and it was assumed that at ca. 1000 BC the script became standardized in various aspects, like the number of letters (22), the direction of writing (from right to left) and the shape of the letters. As the Greek letters are quite similar to Proto-Canaanite script it was generally believed that they adopted the alphabet script in the late second millennium BC.

Very few early alphabet inscriptions are known. Most of them are either very short, or just a list of the letters (abecedary). Almost all of them do not have a secure archaeological context, thus lacking clear dating. The new inscription is the first Proto-Canaanite script clearly dated from the 10th century BC. It will now serve as the anchor for the entire developments of the early alphabet scripts: the Semitic (Phoenician, Hebrew and others) as well as the Greek.

Implication to Biblical History: Currently, there is a bitter debate about the historical accounts of Kings David and Solomon as presented by the Biblical tradition. The main arguments so far were the luck of urban centers that can be clearly dated to the time of the United Monarchy (Early Iron Age IIa period).

On September 13th 2008 a colloquium of some 40 Israeli archaeologists took place at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The pottery from the fortified city was presented and discussed. There was a general agreement that the assemblage is indeed from the very beginning of the Iron IIa period. The new excavations clearly indicate that already in the time of David and Solomon urban cities were constructed in Judah. The fortifications of the site required 200,000 ton of stones. The upper part of the gate was built with ashlar stones, a clear characteristic of royal activities in the Biblical period. There was a need for administration to organize these massive building activities and indeed the new inscription indicates that writing was in use. The new inscription indicates that writing was indeed practiced in the biblical kingdom of Judah from its very beginning. Thus, historical memories could have been survived for generations and the biblical traditions regarding the period of kings David and Solomon cannot be overlooked.

Gate at Khirbet Qeiyafa

Gate at Khirbet Qeiyafa

Acknowledgments. Khirbet Qeiyafa excavations are conducted by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel and Mr. Saar Ganor, on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Funds were kindly provided by J.B. Silver, the Berman Center for Biblical Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Foundation Stone and the Curtiss and Mary Brenan Foundation. The expedition website is: