What Did the Jebusite Write?

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Jerusalem, Israel

Exodus 38 contains a census of materials for the Tabernacle and their uses. “The total amount of the gold from the wave offering used for all the work on the sanctuary was 29 talents and 730 shekels…The silver obtained from those of the community who were counted in the census was 100 talents and 1,775 shekels… The bronze from the wave offering was 70 talents and 2,400 shekels.”

Taking a census requires literacy, in order to record the amounts of goods. An artifact discovered in Jerusalem contains proof of literacy in the 11th-10th century BCE.

The Ophel Pithos Inscription is an inscription containing seven letters written across two pieces of broken pottery. It was discovered at the Ophel in Jerusalem, the area between the City of David and the Temple Mount.

The Ophel Pithos Inscription was written in Proto-Canaanite letters, a less developed form than the Paleo-Hebrew and Phoenician scripts. This earlier form of writing, along with its location, place it at some point within the 11th-10th century BCE.

Archaeologists have not been able to decipher the meaning of the letters, or even determine in which direction the letters were read. The letters are likely to have been part of a longer text, unknown to us without the missing pieces of pottery.

The Ophel Pithos Inscription is the earliest known example of writing in Jerusalem. It demonstrates literacy within the city of Jerusalem, perhaps even before the Israelite presence at the site. In the Bible, Jerusalem was a Jeubusite city before it was captured by King David. In 2 Samuel 5, “The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there…David captured the fortress of Zion, which is the City of David.” The inscription may be attributable to Jebusite scribes.

Importantly, the Ophel Pithos Inscription demonstrates that perhaps even in the 11th century BCE, the settlers of Jerusalem were capable of writing, an important skill for a king administering rule over distant territories and organizing large construction projects.

The photo above is of the Ophel, below the southern wall of the Temple Mount to the right and the City of David to the left. The link below contains a photo of archaeologist Eilat Mazar holding the Ophel Pithos Inscription: