A 3,000-year-old earthenware jug uncovered in Jerusalem last year may bear the oldest known inscription written in Hebrew.
Archaeologists dated the jug fragment, discovered near the Temple Mount last year, to the 10th century B.C. and initially believed the inscription on it was written in the language of the Canaanites, an ancient people who lived in the region of modern-day Israel, Fox News reports.
But a new translation of the text, known as the Ophel Inscription, suggests it was written in Hebrew.
“The letters of the inscription match those of contemporary inscriptions, many of which form words that clearly are part of the Hebrew language. Hebrew speakers were controlling Jerusalem in the 10th century, which biblical chronology points to as the time of David and Solomon," ancient Near Eastern history and biblical studies expert Douglas Petrovich told Fox News.
If Petrovich’s claim is accurate, the inscription could prove the veracity of the Old Testament. That is, if the Hebrew language dates back to the 10th century B.C., the ancient Israelites would be recording their history in real time instead of several hundred years later.
But other archaeologists do not support Petrovich’s theory. Earlier this month, Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Eilat Mazar, who found the relic, said that the text was written in the Canaanite language, which translates to M, Q, P, H, N, possibly L, and N. The combination of letters doesn’t correspond to any words in west-Semitic languages, but it may describe the contents of the jug or its owner, NBC News reports.
“Because the inscription is not in Hebrew, it is likely to have been written by one of the non-Israeli residents of Jerusalem, perhaps Jebusites, who were part of the city population in the time of Kings David and Solomon,” Mazar describes in a paper for the Israel Exploration Journal.
Petrovich says archaeologists remain wary of attributing the text to Hebrew, as that would stir controversy.
"It's just the climate among scholars that they want to attribute as little as possible to the ancient Israelites," he said.
Archaeologist Yossi Garfinkel, who has been involved in a 10-year excavation of what might be King David’s palace, says the Ophel Inscription may show another side to ancient life.
"I think it's like a [cell phone] text," Garfinkel told Fox News. "If someone takes a text from us 3,000 years from now, he will not be able to understand it."