By Professor Hagai Misgav
On 26 March 2003 I examined the said inscription in the IAA storerooms at the Rockefeller Museum . A summary of my impressions follows herein:
Organization of the Inscription
The letters and rows are crowded on the lower left indicating that the writer did not plan well for the available area, and his poor planning became clear to him after most of the inscription was already written. He thus began crowding together words, and further on, also rows. Instinctively, the crowding increases toward the ends of rows, and therefore, the inscription appears as it does.
For comparison: crowding of this kind is well known in the Metzad Heshavyahu inscription where, at the beginning, the writing is well spaced and becomes increasingly crowded starting from the second half of the document, particularly on the left. The writer’s lack of expertise is apparent also in the letters. Some of them stand stiffly, the writing is slow, letter tails pull toward the left and above, impairing the flow. The style falters as well. These features are striking compared to other documents of the period – Lachish and Arad – in spite of their being informal – the writing flow and formulation are clear, the rows are straight and spacing uniform.
In the Yehoash inscription, there are no signs of a lack of fluency since the writing is, by its nature, slower, being engraved in stone. But other royal inscriptions from the ancient Near East exhibit no similar crowding – compare the Mesha stele, Kilamu, and even the Shiloah inscription, which is not really royal but is still an official order, show no crowding.
Two main writing styles, divided according to geographic areas, were common in the ninth century BCE Levant and evolved into a national style. In the north, the Phoenicians and the Aramaites wrote in one style, as can be seen in Kilamu and the Tel Dan inscription, while in the south we find the Mesha inscription whose characteristics are different. It is customary to classify the script of the Mesha as Hebrew, since all the characteristic signs of the Mesha script as opposed to the Tel Dan, for example, continue their unmistakable development into the Hebrew inscriptions of the following century, despite the fact that no inscriptions dating from the Kingdoms of Israel and Judea have been found. Some of the distinguishing characteristics of the scripts are based on specific letter shapes and some on more general attributes. Since both script types originated from a single common tenth century BCE type (Kings of Gebal inscriptions, Gezer inscription), there is a continuity in the script, although the entire region developed specific script characteristics and abandoned others. For example, the letter וי"ו has two variations – in the north one of the variations continued in use, similar to the number 4, while in the south a different shape was adopted, one with a semicircle at its head. Except for specific shapes, there was a general tendency in the south to incline the letters backward – clockwise - while in the north there was a tendency toward the opposite – counterclockwise.
In the inscription under discussion here, most of the letters are clearly northern, as is the general direction of the script; yet a number of letters, especially the mem, nun and kaf are more southern (parallel shapes can indeed be found in Phoenician inscriptions, for example, the inscription from Cypros). It is difficult to accept the explanation of Ada Yardeni who speaks of a transitional script phase. The Mesha Stele inscription, of which all its characteristics will show up later in Judean inscriptions, already has a definitive and characteristic style, and it is not likely that the Yehoash inscription, which is, in any case, later than the Mesha inscription would take a step backward. Furthermore, a transitional script would apply only to specific letter shapes in which there could be some hesitation by the writer over which shape to use. But a general tendency by the writer is a communal attribute arising from a general perception, in which case the shapes would not be mixed.
(A clear case of such mixed shapes can be seen in the Mt. Gerizim inscriptions of the Hellenstic period where in a number of such inscriptions, Aramaic shapes are mixed with Hebrew. But there, the reason for the mixture appears to be ideological, and the writer who was accustomed to Aramaic script, may have purposely wanted to impart a Hebrew effect due to his priestly lineage and lack of proficiency. This example bears no resemblance to the case before us.)
Because the tablet was broken, it is impossible to examine the letters along the crack, but only from a photo, or from the rejoined inscription. It is difficult to distinguish in the photo, but in the rejoined inscription, certain letters appear to have been written with knowledge of the disturbance caused by the crack. This is obvious in the letter ח in the word ונחשת . The left line of the ח is angled exactly at the crack; also in the word באמנה the right line of the letter א is broken on the crack. The letter ס, the last letter on the line, shows fullness on the lower line, located exactly on the crack. It appears as though the inscription was written after the crack appeared.
From the paleographic examination it appears that the inscription was written by a person who did not live during the period under discussion, but, rather carved the inscription based on examples. In other words, the inscription does not appear to be authentic.
This, together with foreignness of the language, which has already been observed previously, for example, ואעש את בדק הבית or יצו ה' את בדק הבית tips the scale in the direction of forgery. The meaning of the word בדק in the Bible, is “crack” and also in Ugarit. Also, it is possible to לצוות ברכה but not to לצוות בברכה, and the expression יצו ה' את עמו בברכה appears to be a combination of two separate expressions, the writer trying to project an image of authenticity. Also the word עדת is not correct. עדות in the Bible translates as commandment, or command (verb) or Torah or pact; it is clear that the word עדה should have appeared instead.
Of course, new word combinations, script styles and meanings should not be rejected beforehand. Clearly, an inscription from an archaeological context provides a source for further study. But an inscription from an unknown source is judged on the existing evidence, and not the opposite.