War Destruction Layers and Amos’ Destruction Layer

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Israel

In Numbers 25, the tribes of Israel are called to war. “While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them. The Lord said to Moses, take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the Lord’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel. So Moses said to Israel’s judges, Each of you must put to death those of your people who have yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.”

Archaeological layers, or strata, form over time as successive periods of human activity and natural processes deposit materials on a site. Each layer can include artifacts, architecture, and soil changes, reflecting different phases of occupation or use. These strata are crucial for understanding the chronological sequence of human history at a site, as lower layers are typically older than those above them. By analyzing these layers, archaeologists can reconstruct past human behavior, environmental conditions, and how landscapes were altered by both.

Destruction layers are specific strata within archaeological sites that indicate significant disruption, often resulting from human conflict, natural disasters, or both. These layers are characterized by evidence such as collapsed structures, charred materials, and displaced artifacts, providing insights into the events that led to a site’s sudden abandonment or transformation.

Destruction layers caused by war or by earthquakes differ.

Layers stemming from warfare and violence often contain artifacts indicative of human activity, such as weaponry or remnants of fortifications, and evidence of fire, suggesting deliberate destruction. Invaders are frequently blamed for such ruins, especially when monuments are targeted or desecrated, a common tactic to demoralize or erase the presence of the conquered.

Conversely, destruction layers caused by earthquakes present a different profile. They are characterized by structural collapses, such as walls that have fallen in patterns suggesting seismic shaking, foundations cracked and shifted from their original positions, and layers of habitation abruptly terminated by natural forces. Crushed and broken skeletons found under rubble, without accompanying signs of combat or weaponry, often point to victims of earthquake damage, rather than casualties of war.

In the book of Amos in the Twelve Minor Prophets, the prophet Amos references an earthquake. “The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa, the vision he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash a was king of Israel. It is an event recalled later in the prophetic book Zechariah, when he warns “You will flee as you fled from the earthquake a in the days of Uzziah king of Judah.”

The nature of the mid-8th century destruction layers at sites as varied as Gath, Gezer, Lachish, Jerusalem, Tel Agol, Acco, Megiddo and Hazor point to earthquake caused destruction layers, providing confirmation for the earthquake mentioned by Amos.

The image above is of stairs leading to a mikvah, a ritual bath, at Qumran, which show evidence of earthquake damage.

Amos’ Destruction Layer

Credit: BiblePlaces.com

In Numbers 20 & 21, the Israelites traversed a distance stretching from the Sinai Desert to the northern reaches opposite the land of Canaan. From Kadesh in the Desert of Zin, they traveled to Mount Hor, encountered Arad, then moved on to Oboth, Iye Abarim, Zered Valley, the Arnon River, Beer, Mattanah, Nahaliel, Bamoth, Jahaz, to the Jabbok and on to the border with Ammon.  

In the book of Amos in the Twelve Minor Prophets, the prophet Amos references an earthquake. “The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa, the vision he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash a was king of Israel.” It is an event recalled later in the prophetic book Zechariah, when he warns “You will flee as you fled from the earthquake a in the days of Uzziah king of Judah.”

Evidence of Amos’ earthquake stretches across the length of the biblical lands of Israel and Judah.

In archaeology, a destruction layer at a site will typically feature evidence of widespread destruction, with collapsed walls, destroyed pottery and unburied corpses. A destruction layer caused by war might feature arrowheads, ash and other evidence of fire, and skeletons with signs of violence such as pierced skulls. A destruction layer caused by earthquake would show destruction that is beyond the human hand.

Destruction layers from the mid-8th century BCE are evident at numerous sites. And these point to devastation from Amos’ earthquake.

At Gath, today’s Tell es-Safi but at one time a significant Philistine city, archaeologists discovered an 8th century BCE wall displaced from its foundation, a testament to the quake’s power. Similar destruction was observed at Gezer, where massive stones were found cracked and shifted, indicative of the seismic force that shook the city’s fortifications. Jerusalem’s City of David bore witness to this event, where a destruction layer revealed collapsed walls and broken pottery, but crucially, no evidence of fire, suggesting the ruins resulted from seismic activity rather than human conflict.

Lachish’s destruction layer, marked by a large quantity of broken pottery, suggested a rapid event, aligning with the absence of fire and the continuation of life immediately post-destruction, hinting at a natural disaster rather than a military siege. In Tel ‘Erany, near Lachish, an archaeological layer showed walls torn apart, with parts of a stone-paved floor sinking, indicating ground movement consistent with an earthquake.

The excavation at Tel Rehov, in the Bet She’an Valley, suggested earthquake damage through a thick mudbrick collapse and a split in the northern wall. At Tel Agol, in the Jezreel Valley, significant portions of fortress walls were brought down, underlining the quake’s power. Megiddo’s findings included tilted walls, fractured stones, and mudbrick collapses, with stratigraphic correlation across the site suggesting widespread seismic damage. Hazor presented perhaps the most compelling evidence, with walls found bent, cracked, and leaning in directions that indicated a powerful seismic force, mirroring the biblical account’s description.

The geographic range and severe damage at these sites point to a major earthquake that could be used to anchor a point in time, the memory of which lasted for centuries.

The image above is of the ancient city of Hazor, a city that suffered significant damage in the 8th century BCE.

Amos’ Earthquake

In Numbers 16, Korah and his co-conspirators are defeated by the ground beneath them. “The ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions. They went down alive into the realm of the dead, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community.”

In Amos a ground shaking event sets the tone for his prophetic warnings. “The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa, the vision he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel.” The event is not just an anchoring in time. Rather, it becomes a regular motif in his prophetic warnings. In chapter 6, “For the Lord has given the command, and he will smash the great house into pieces and the small house into bits.” In Amos 8, “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn? The whole land will rise like the Nile; it will be stirred up and then sink like the river of Egypt.” And in Amos 9, “I saw the Lord standing by the altar, and he said: Strike the tops of the pillars so that the thresholds shake. Bring them down on the heads of all the people.”

The Bible itself can in this instance be used to prove this earthquake was likely a real event, and not just used to heighten the immediacy of his message. At the outset, Amos references a King Uzziah, saying that the earthquake occurred “when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash a was king of Israel.”

This same King Uzziah is known by the differently authored 2 Chronicles 26, where it writes “Then all the people of Judah took Uzziah, a who was sixteen years old, and made him king in place of his father Amaziah.”

King Uzziah is also a figure attested in archaeology, from different ancient seals. One seal belonged to a “Shebnayau servant of Uzziyau.” Another seal, this one containing an Egyptian style motif, belonged to Abiyau servant of Uzziyau. These seals are dated to the 8th century BCE, which accords with scholarly estimates of the reign of King Uzziah.

The earthquake itself is referenced in another biblical book that was written roughly two and half centuries later.

Zechariah is the author of a book within Twelve Minor Prophets. He was a post-exilic era prophet in the Persian era. Just as Amos makes reference to his time at the opening of his book, Zechariah does the same. “In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo.” Zechariah in chapter 14 refers back to an earthquake centuries earlier: “You will flee by my mountain valley, for it will extend to Azel. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake a in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.”

This mention of a centuries earlier earthquake is a testament to its memory as an actual event and to its great power.

Northern Hebrew in the Mishnah

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Galilee and the North

In Numbers 13, God commands Moses to send spies to explore the land of Canaan. “When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country…So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob, toward Lebo Hamath. They went up through the Negev and came to Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, lived. Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt. When they reached the Valley of Eshkol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes…At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.

This exploration occurred across a terrain that would later be marked by a significant linguistic divide between the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel, a divide that is reflected in biblical books that feature northern terms, such as the Song of Deborah in Judges 5 and the Book of Hosea. The Samaria Ostraca, with their northern dialect of Hebrew, further attest to this regional linguistic diversity. Gary Rendsburg’s research illuminates how elements of this northern Hebrew persisted in the development of Mishnaic Hebrew and, eventually, modern Hebrew.

Based on the available material, the evolution of the ancient Hebrew language can be broadly categorized into three stages: Standard Biblical Hebrew, Late Biblical Hebrew, and Mishnaic Hebrew.

Standard Biblical Hebrew, which predominates in texts from the period of the united monarchy through the early post-exilic period, just after the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem, is characterized by its relative homogeneity and the formal consistency found in earlier biblical texts. Late Biblical Hebrew, emerging in the texts from the later post-exilic period, exhibits a noticeable shift in vocabulary, grammar, and style, influenced by the Aramaic language and Persian administration of the time.

Mishnaic Hebrew, the Hebrew of the Mishnah, had a more expansive vocabulary, reflecting influences of the Aramaic, Greek, and Latin, languages predominant in the Near East, Hellenistic, and Roman periods, notably words that related to administration, technology and daily life. It also featured grammatical changes, with simplified verb forms and tenses, indicative of Aramaic influence. It also had a notable change in pronunciation patterns, inferred from alterations in spelling practices and transliterations in contemporaneous Greek and Latin texts.

The Bar Kochba Revolt (132-135 CE) stands as a pivotal yet tragic chapter in Jewish history, marking the last of the major Jewish uprisings against the Roman Empire. Led by Simon Bar Kochba, whom many hailed as a messianic figure, the rebellion initially achieved significant successes, including the establishment of an independent state in parts of Judea for over two years. However, the Roman response was brutally efficient and overwhelming. Emperor Hadrian dispatched his best generals to crush the rebellion, leading to a prolonged and bloody campaign. The revolt’s defeat culminated in the catastrophic siege of Betar, Bar Kochba’s last stronghold, which fell in 135 CE. The aftermath was devastating: massive loss of life, widespread destruction, and significant socio-political changes, including the renaming of Judea to Syria Palestina in an attempt to sever the Jews’ connection to their homeland.

The defeat had far-reaching consequences for the Jewish communities in the region. Hadrian implemented harsh measures, including prohibitions on Jewish religious practices and study, which further decimated the already dwindling Jewish population in Judea. This repression forced surviving Jews to flee, with many settling in the Galilee, which became the new center of Jewish life and scholarship in the ensuing centuries. The geographic shift from Judea to the Galilee transformed Jewish communal and religious life. In this new setting, away from the devastated landscapes of their rebellions against Rome, Jewish sages and scholars laid the groundwork for the future of Judaism. The Galilee, with its relatively more tolerant Roman oversight, provided a fertile ground for the development of Jewish learning and the compilation of the Mishnah towards the end of the 2nd century CE. According to Gary Rendsburg, the Mishnah was compiled and written within a northern linguistic sphere, and thus absorbed elements of the northern dialect into the Hebrew that was carried forward and which became the basis for Modern Hebrew.

The image above is of Jotapata, Yodfat in Hebrew, in the Galilee.

The Northern Shin and Min

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Jerusalem, Israel

In Numbers 9, the Bible discusses those who are at distance and incapable of bringing a Passover offering, being given leeway in celebrating the Passover. “Then the Lord said to Moses, tell the Israelites, when any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or are away on a journey, they are still to celebrate the Lord’s Passover, but they are to do it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight.”

In 1 Kings, Jeroboam, in one of his first acts as a leader of the secession of the northern tribes from Solomon’s son Rehoboam’s southern kingdom, ordered the creation of rival temples to drive a wedge between the two kingdoms and create distance. “Jeroboam thought to himself, the kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam. After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, it is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt. One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people came to worship the one at Bethel and went as far as Dan to worship the other.”

The linguistic landscape of ancient Israel mirrored this division. Languages naturally evolve over time, developing distinct dialects and potentially new languages, especially when geographic or social barriers limit interaction between speakers. The Semitic language family, which includes Aramaic, Arabic, and Hebrew, indicate common roots.

The Indo-European language family, which includes languages as disparate as Hindi, Persian, German, French, Greek and English all share common structures despite significant diversity. Within the Hebrew Bible, evidence of such linguistic divergence between northern Israel and southern Judah can be discerned.

The Song of Deborah in Judges 5 is recognized as a composition of the northern kingdom. It not only celebrates a northern victory but also displays linguistic features that differentiate it from southern writings. Variations in terminology, such as the northern use of a “shin” prefix for “that” compared to the southern “asher,” and the northern “min” for “from” against the southern “may” or “mi,” signify more than mere regional preferences. They reflect a deeper linguistic divide that complements the religious and political separations of this early period.

The image above is of Jerusalem, capital of the southern kingdom, looking south from north of the city.

You Say Yayn, I Say Yayin

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Istanbul Archaeology Museums

The Nazirite vow, as outlined in Numbers 6, is a voluntary commitment, marked by abstinence from wine, fermented drinks, grapes in any form, and refraining from cutting one’s hair or coming into contact with the dead. The prohibition against consuming wine or any grape-related products highlights the significance of wine in ancient Israelite culture, not merely as a staple of diet but also as having religious and ceremonial importance.

Wine’s prominence in ancient Israel is further evidenced by the Samaria Ostraca, a collection of inscriptions on pottery sherds discovered in Samaria, the ancient capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Dating back to the 8th century BCE, these ostraca served administrative purposes, recording shipments of agricultural products, including wine, olive oil, and possibly wheat, to the capital. The lists inscribed on these sherds provide valuable insights into the economic activities, administrative organization, and daily life of the Kingdom of Israel. More than just administrative receipts, the Samaria Ostraca are a window into the material culture of ancient Israel, demonstrating the importance of wine production and trade in sustaining the kingdom’s economy and religious rites.

Beyond their economic significance, the Samaria Ostraca hold linguistic value. They are key in the study of ancient Hebrew outside of the Bible, offering evidence of differences between the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah. For instance, the word for “year” is represented differently in the northern dialect found in the ostraca (“Shayt”) and the southern dialect (“Shana”) in the Bible. Similarly, the word for “wine” shows variation between “Yayn” in the north and “Yayin” in the south. “Pure oil” is noted as “Shemen rachatz” in the north versus “Shemen zach” in the south.

The differences in language conform to the Bible’s presentation of a northern kingdom of Israel being distinct from the southern kingdom of Judah. These distinct nations could at times fight each other and as the archaeological record indicates, spoke differently from each other.

The image above is of a Samaria Ostracon, held at the Istanbul Archaeology Museums.

Northern Dialect and Southern Dialect

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Istanbul Museums

The book of Numbers opens with a divine command to Moses: “Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. You and Aaron are to count according to their divisions all the men in Israel who are twenty years old or more and able to serve in the army. One man from each tribe, each of them the head of his family, is to help you.” With this information, the tribes would be positioned for Israel’s travels in the desert. 

When Israel conquered the land of Canaan, the tribes would similarly be divided and settled in different regions. In the Joshua 15, Judah was allotted land in the south, and in Joshua 16, Ephraim and Manasseh were settled to the north.

Linguistics, the scientific study of language, tells us that languages, when isolated from each other, can evolve into distinct dialects and, over extended periods, into entirely different languages. This phenomenon is evident in the development of German dialects and in the evolution of Latin into the Romance languages: Portuguese, Spanish, French, and Italian. Similarly, during the Iron II period, Hebrew exhibited variations in pronunciation and vocabulary, indicative of emerging dialects, including those of northern Israelite and southern Judahite communities.

A biblical illustration of this divide is found in the story of Jephthah’s conflict with the Ephraimites in Judges 12. When the Gileadites demanded that fleeing Ephraimites pronounce the word “Shibboleth,” their inability to articulate the “sh” sound, saying “Sibboleth” instead, revealed their regional identity. “The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’ ” If he said, “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time.”

The narrative and poetic compositions within the Bible further illuminate the northern origin of certain texts. The Song of Deborah in Judges 5, celebrating a victory in the northern region and emphasizing the roles of northern tribes, exemplifies this. Similarly, the stories of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, along with the prophecies of Hoshea, are rooted in the north, reflecting the cultural and linguistic nuances of the region.

The Samaria Ostraca are a collection of over 100 inscriptions on clay shards that were found in Sebastia, near today’s Nablus, the site of the ancient royal estate of the Kingdom of Israel. These inscriptions, written in ancient Hebrew on pottery shards, provide tangible evidence of these dialectical differences.

The image above is of the Samaria Ostraca, which provide evidence for a northern Hebrew dialect that differs from its southern counterpart in Judah.

Godly (and Ungodly) Names in Ancient Israel

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Istanbul Archaeology Museums

In Leviticus 26, God affirmed his covenant with Israel, leading with the sin of idolatry. “Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the Lord your God.” In this covenant, adherence to the law and fealty to God would be rewarded with blessings, and disobedience punished with curses: “For the land will be deserted by them and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them. They will pay for their sins because they rejected my laws and abhorred my decrees.”

The historical books of 1 & 2 Kings chronicle the reigns of several kings of Israel and Judah, many of whom fell afoul of the warnings mentioned in Leviticus and who worshipped foreign gods. King of Israel Ahaziah worshipped Baal, and kings Jehoahaz, Jehoash and Jeroboam II each “did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat.” In the Kingdom of Judah, the kings Jehoram and Ahaziah “followed the ways of the kings of Israel.”

The archaeological record shows a declining attachment to God alone in the Kingdom of Israel.

The Samaria Ostraca are a collection of over 100 inscriptions on clay shards that were found in Sebastia, near today’s Nablus, the site of the ancient royal estate of the Kingdom of Israel. These inscriptions, written in ancient Hebrew on pottery shards, primarily document transactions of oil and wine, but their significance extends beyond mere commercial records. Theophoric names, names that include the title of a god within them, represented on the Samaria Ostraca, demonstrate the Israelite citizenry’s devotion to other regional gods.

A significant number of the names on the Samaria Ostraca include the element “Yau,” reflective of the Israelite God, YHWH, indicating a society where worship of the national deity was prevalent. Examples of such names featured on the Samaria Ostraca include Yeda’yau, Gera Yauyosheb, Abed-yau and Abi-yau.

Yet, mixed in with these names in almost equal measure are names that invoke the Canaanite god Ba’al, names such as Ba’alzamar, Ba’ala Elisha and Abi-Ba’al. These reflect a society where the boundaries between the worship of YHWH and that of other gods was fluid.

This duality in theophoric names corroborates the biblical accounts of a period marked by religious syncretism and idolatry, illustrating a tangible connection between the scriptural admonitions of Leviticus and the historical reality reflected in the Books of Kings 1&2.

The Samaria Ostraca are housed in the Istanbul Archaeology Museums. Theophoric names visible in the image above.

Records of Israel’s “Lush Vineyards”

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Istanbul Archaeology Museums

Leviticus 25 instructs about the sabbath year, and the restrictions on planting crops. “For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.”

Records from the 8th century BCE show that Samaria experienced years of successful harvests.  

The Samaria Ostraca are a collection of records written in the ancient Hebrew script on clay shards. The ostraca were found at the palace in Samaria, the capital of the Kingdom of Israel. They are records of wine and oil, two key crops for ancient Israel. They are presumably records of taxes collected by the kingdom or from lands held by royal officials.

These records of high value goods, oil and wine, accord well with the 8th century BCE prophets. The prophets Hosea, Amos and Micah are critical of Israel for their flaunting wealth while others suffered in poverty. Hosea remarks that “The merchant uses dishonest scales and loves to defraud. Ephraim boasts, I am very rich; I have become wealthy. With all my wealth they will not find in me any iniquity or sin.” Amos remarks that “You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil.” And Micah says that “They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud people of their homes, they rob them of their inheritance.”

These Samaria Ostraca record the produce of the “lush vineyards” that produced the wealth of which the prophets speak.

The Samaria Ostraca are held at the Istanbul Archaeology Museums.

Going Out in Style

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, British Museum

In Leviticus 21, the Bible discusses the laws of ritual purity for priests when dealing with the deceased. “The Lord said to Moses, speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: A priest must not make himself ceremonially unclean for any of his people who die, except for a close relative, such as his mother or father, his son or daughter, his brother, or an unmarried sister who is dependent on him since she has no husband, for her he may make himself unclean. He must not make himself unclean for people related to him by marriage, and so defile himself.”

A number of the prophets in the biblical book Minor Prophets are critical of those flaunt their wealth in the face of poverty or who abuse the poor. The biblical prophet Isaiah continues in this tradition, in his criticism of an advisor to the king and this advisor’s plans for after his own death.

In 2 Kings 18, the king of Judah, Hezekiah, had an advisor named Shebna. “Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went to Hezekiah, with their clothes torn, and told him what the field commander had said.” In Isaiah 22, the prophet is critical of Shebna for his plans for an ostentatious tomb and warns of punishment heading his way. “This is what the Lord, the Lord Almighty, says: Go, say to this steward, to Shebna the palace administrator: What are you doing here and who gave you permission to cut out a grave for yourself here, hewing your grave on the height and chiseling your resting place in the rock? Beware, the Lord is about to take firm hold of you and hurl you away, you mighty man. He will roll you up tightly like a ball and throw you into a large country. There you will die and there the chariots you were so proud of will become a disgrace to your master’s house. I will depose you from your office, and you will be ousted from your position.”

The Royal Steward Inscription is an inscription that was discovered in Silwan, across from the ancient city of Jerusalem. The inscription reads “This [burials …]-iah, the royal steward. There is no silver or gold here only … [his bones and the bones] of his maidservant with him. Cursed be the man who opens this.”

The bulk of the individual’s name cannot be read, but it ends with the suffix showing it to be a theophoric name, containing God’s name. Some have suggested that the original name on the inscription was Shebnaiah, a variation of the royal steward Shebna mentioned in 2 Kings and in Isaiah, although this cannot be confirmed.

The Royal Steward Inscription is on display at the British Museum.