Descendants of the Nephilim in Genesis 14

Descendants of the Nephilim in Genesis 14

Abram’s rescue of Lot

Genesis is best known for Abram’s encounter with the mysterious priest-king Melchizedek. It is also an unusual chapter because, “The style and subject matter of this story set it apart from the rest of the patriarchal material. Only here in Genesis do we have the account of a military campaign with various kings named” (Wenham, G. J. Genesis 1–15, WBC (Vol. 1, p. 304). The mention of place names (updated by the author of Genesis–e.g., “the king of Bela [that is, Zoar], v. 3) and people groups (e.g., the Zuzim and the Emim, v. 5) give the account an ancient and strange flavor. The average reader may tend to gloss over these difficult and enigmatic names and places quickly to get to the main point of the story–Abram’s rescue of Lot. However, overlooking some of these strange names, including the people groups mentioned above, will cause the reader to miss an important theme that begins in Genesis 6 and continues through 2 Samuel. This theme concerns the descendants of the Nephilim.

Who Are the Descendants of the Nephilim in Genesis 14?

Descendants of the Nephilim
The descendants of the Nephilim were said to be a tall people. A number of these descendants are mentioned in Genesis 14:5.

All Bible commentators recognize that the Rephaim, Zuzim, and Emim mentioned in Genesis 14:5 are descendants of the Nephilim. This is because Deuteronomy 2:10-11 links the Emim  with the Anakim and the Rephaim. The Anakim are specifically said to be descendants of the Nephilim (Num. 13:33). Based on ancient sources (the Genesis Apocryphon and Symmachus, according to Wenham, p. 311) the Zuzim are equated with the Zamzummim of Deuteronomy 2:20 (who are connected to the Rephaim in this verse).

It is also possible that the Horites mentioned in Genesis 14:6, and the Amorites mentioned in Genesis 14:7 are descendants of the Nephilim, or at least include descendants of the Nephilim. In the context of Deuteronomy 2:10-22, the Horites are also associated with these other people groups, as they are in Genesis 14:5-6. This may be due to being in the same geographical vicinity, however, Deuteronomy 2:20-22 mentions them in the same breath as the Zazummim and the Anakim. At least one OT passage, Amos 2:9-10, speaks of the tallness of the Amorites, and therefore may be associating them with the descendants of the Nephilim (see, Michael Heiser, The Unseen Realm,  p. 197 for further discussion). Therefore, when the four kings from Mesopotamia, first subjugate this area (Gen. 14:1-4), and then conquer it again when resistance occurs (Gen. 14:5-12), they not only defeat the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, they also defeat and destroy some of the descendants of the Nephilim.

What Point is Genesis 14 Making?

As noted above, this story occurs in the context of the Abram story. God has promised to bless Abram, make his name great, curse those who curse him, and use him to bless all peoples (Gen. 12:1-3). Genesis 14 demonstrates how God proves himself faithful to Abram. Abram’s defeat of these powerful kings, demonstrates that God is indeed making his name great. Furthermore, because of Lot’s connection to Abram, the kidnapping of Lot is equivalent to cursing those who belong to Abram. Thus, the Lord strikes a blow against these kings and uses Abram as a blessing to others by restoring the people and possessions to their land. The defeat of these kings, who subjugated and defeated the fierce descendants of the Nephilim, serves to enhance Abram’s reputation even more. Hamilton states, “The invading kings repress such attempted revolts in grandiose and unmitigated style. Nobody can stand before them, even though the defeated Rephaim, Zuzim, and Emim are themselves imposing threats, people of giant stature (Deut. 2:10–12, 20–23). This makes Abram’s ability to rout these potentates all the more impressive” (Hamilton, V. P., The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, NICOTp. 402).

Destroying the Descendants of the Nephilim

The kings attacked the descendants of the Nephilim
This map shows that the approach of the  Mesopotamian kings followed the old route known as the king’s highway (the area to the east of the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea). This territory was occupied by the descendants of the Nephilim. The kings then turned north going through the land of Canaan as far as Dan (Gen. 14:14).

A look at the map above shows that the descendants of the Nephilim surrounded on the east, the land promised to Abram and his descendants. Furthermore, the Bible makes clear that the descendants of the Nephilim also occupied the land of promise (e.g., Num. 13:33; Josh.  11:21-22). As Heiser points out in regards to the Conquest, “This wouldn’t be just a battle for land. It was a battle between Yahweh and the other gods—gods who had raised up competing human bloodlines that were opposed to Yahweh’s plan and people” (Heiser, M. The Unseen Realm,  p. 197. Also see my article here).

Og was a descendant of the Nephilim
Moses and Israel would eventually defeat King Og of Bashan, one of the remnant of the Rephaim.

Although it’s understandable that these kings would have wanted to control this land for trade reasons, since the ancient highway known as the King’s Highway goes through this area, God may have had other purposes. Knowing God’s desire to destroy the offspring of the Nephilim, could it be that God sent these kings against this territory in order to begin their destruction? According to Deuteronomy 2:10-22, God destroyed the descendants of the Nephilim in this area by giving the land to the Ammonites, the Moabites, and the Edomites. He also used Moses and Israel to destroy Sihon and Og Amorite kings (Og is described as the remnant of the Rephaim–Deut. 3:1-13). He would also destroy the remnant of the Nephilim when Israel conquered the land of promise. Just as God would later use nations from Mesopotamia (Assyria and Babylon) to punish his own people (e.g., Isaiah 10:5), so he may have used the four Mesopotamian kings in Genesis 14 to destroy the inhabitants of Abram’s day. When the kings, however, jeopardized the family of Abram in their conquest, God punished these kings. Similarly, although God used Assyria and Babylon to afflict his people Israel, he later judged these nations for their brutality (e.g., Isaiah 30:31; Nahum).

Significance

The fact that Genesis 14 contains an account of the destruction of some of the descendants of the Nephilim is worthy of recognition, because of its immediate impact on the story of Abram, and also for the future implications of Israel receiving the land promised to Abram.

Mount Ebal Curse Tablet Deciphered

Mount Ebal Curse Tablet Deciphered

Mount Ebal Curse Tablet
The Mount Ebal curse tablet discovered in 2019.

Could Israel’s presence in the land of Canaan be dated earlier than many scholars have thought? Could the account of the building of an altar on Mount Ebal by Joshua mentioned in Joshua 8:30 be substantiated? Could it be possible that Moses did possess an alphabet enabling him to do the writing the Torah claims he did? All of these questions are raised by the decipherment of the Mount Ebal curse tablet. In a startling announcement this past Thursday ( March 24th, 2022), Scott Stripling, an archaeologist with Associates for Biblical Research (ABR), and provost of the Bible Seminary in Katy, Texas, revealed the contents of a curse tablet discovered on Mount Ebal in 2019. If the date of this tablet, currently placed in the Late Bronze Age (1400-1200 B.C.), and it’s translation are confirmed, it will be considered the greatest archaeological discovery in Israel of the 21st century.

The Significance of Mount Ebal

Mount Ebal and Mount Gerazim
Mount Ebal and Mount Gerazim

According to Deuteronomy 27:1-8, Moses commanded the Israelites upon entering the land to go to Mount Ebal. There they were to build an altar. Six of the tribes were to stand on Mount Ebal and pronounce the curses of the Law, while the other six tribes were to stand opposite on Mount Gerazim and pronounce the blessings of the Law. Joshua 8:30-35 records the obedience of Joshua and the Israelites who do as Moses commanded. (For more on the significance of this area, particularly ancient Shechem, see my article here).

Mount Ebal, Adam Zertal, and Joshua’s Altar

Altar location on Mount Ebal
This map from biblewalks.com (see full article here) shows the location of Joshua’s altar on Mount Ebal.

The backstory to the current discovery involves a survey of the area in 1980, by Israeli archaeologist Adam Zertal who also excavated at Mount Ebal from 1982-1989 (see Bible History Daily). Zertal believed that he had uncovered Joshua’s altar. This altar was dated to Iron Age I by Zertal (1200-1000 B.C.). However, there is an earlier altar that is covered by the larger altar. It is this earlier altar that Stripling and his team believes to be Joshua’s altar. This altar dates to the Late Bronze Age, the same age as the Mount Ebal curse tablet.

Joshua's altar
The site of Joshua’s altar as excavated by Adam Zertal. Stripling believes that Joshua’s actual altar is beneath the structure visible in this picture.

Discovery of the Mount Ebal Curse Tablet

In December 2019-January 2020, Stripling and his team received permission and funds to wet sift the archaeological dumps from Zertal’s excavation. Stripling had learned from working at the Temple Mount sifting project (see my article here), as well as at Shiloh, the current site he is excavating with the ABR team, how valuable wet sifting can be in recovering small objects that are accidentally overlooked. It was this process of wet sifting that led to the discovery of the Mount Ebal curse tablet. When it came to light, Stripling and the team knew immediately that the small 2cm led tablet was a curse tablet (also known as a defixio). It was only a question of its age, and whether the inside of the tablet could be read, since the tablet was so brittle. Thanks to modern technological advances, a lab in Prague was able, through special lighting, to obtain images of the letters inside the tablet. With the help of two expert epigraphers (readers of ancient scripts), Pieter Gert van der Veen of Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz and Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa, Stripling was able to translate the script. The script predates the ancient Hebrew script which was in common use during the monarchical period. This script is known from other sources (see my article here) and is called by various names such as Proto-Sinaiatic or Proto-Canaanite script. Stripling prefers to use the neutral term Proto-alphabetic. The inside portion of the Mount Ebal curse tablet reads as follows:

Translation of Mount Ebal Curse Tablet
Translation of the Mount Ebal curse tablet from ABR.

There are a number of interesting features about this translation. Perhaps most significantly are the words curse (which occurs 10 times), and the name of Israel’s God YHW (Yahweh). The pronouncement of a curse on Mount Ebal confirms the biblical affirmation that this mount was viewed in this way. The use of YHW confirms that this is an early Hebrew inscription. In fact, this inscription is at least 200 years, or more, earlier than any previously known Hebrew inscription found in Israel. As the slide above states, the statement occurs in chiastic parallelism, a form very familiar to those who study biblical literature (see, e.g., my article here).

YHW on Mount Ebal curse tablet
Reading from left to right, the letters yod (Y), he (H), and waw (W) form the name of Israel’s God, Yahweh in the ancient Proto-alphabetic script.

Important Implications of the Mount Ebal Curse Tablet

There are a number of important implications regarding the discovery of this tablet as noted in the introduction above. First, this would demonstrate that Israel was in the land earlier than many scholars believe. The curse tablet would put the weight of evidence for the Exodus on a 15th century B.C. date, rather than a 13th century B.C. date. Second, and perhaps most importantly, it demonstrates that writing and reading did exist in Israel at this early date, and thus portions of Scripture could have been written at this time as the Bible affirms. Third, it demonstrates that texts like Deuteronomy 27 and Joshua 8 have an historical basis.


More to Come on the Mount Ebal Curse Tablet

Stripling and his team are currently in the process of publishing an academic report to the scholarly community. As a result, there are aspects about the tablet yet to be revealed. One of these involves the fact that the tablet has writing on the outside. Stripling states that a translation of this part of the tablet will appear in the full report.

For More Information on the Mount Ebal Curse Tablet

To view the full press announcement (one hour long), see ABR researchers Discover the Oldest Known Proto-Hebrew Inscription Ever Found.

For a shorter interview with Scott Stripling see: Podcast: Does a tiny ‘curse tablet; from Mt. Ebal date to the Israelite settlement?

You can also read the following article from the Jerusalem Post: Researchers decipher oldest known Hebrew inscription on ‘cursed’ tablet.

Jerubbaal Inscription Discovered!

Jerubbaal Inscription Discovered!

Jerubaal shard
The Jerubbaal inscription, written in ink on a pottery vessel.
(photo credit: DAFNA GAZIT/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

An inscription that dates to the time of the judges of Israel (1100 B.C.), has been discovered. The 3100 year old inscription was written in ink on a pottery vessel. Epigrapher Christopher Rollston of George Washington University has deciphered the letters as the name “Jerubbaal.” The piece of pottery was uncovered at Khirbet el-Ra’i, an archaeological site not far from the ancient cities of Gath and Lachish in the southern Judean foothills. The alphabet used was the ancient script that was current in Canaan at the time (see my articles, “Alphabet’s Missing Link Discovered“, and “Oldest Hebrew Writing Discovered From Egypt?“).

Who Was Jerubbaal?

Gideon or Jerubaal
Gideon. also known as Jerubbaal, leads his men against the Midianites.

Jerubbaal is better known by his other name, Gideon. Gideon was the biblical judge who was famous for attacking a large army of Midianites that had invaded the land with only three hundred men carrying torches and pitchers (Judges 7). The name Jerubbaal comes from an incident where God commanded him to tear down the altar of Baal (Judges 6:25-32). Not only was this a risky venture that could have cost Gideon his life, but his father, Joash, was also a priest of Baal! The Bible notes, however, that Joash protected his son and told the towns people who wanted to punish Gideon that if Baal was a god he could contend for himself. Thus Gideon is given the name Jerubbaal, “let Baal contend.”

It should be pointed out that it is not possible to prove that the inscription found refers to the Jerubbaal of Scripture. There may well have been others with that name. However, the archaeologists that discovered the inscription (Yosef Garfinkel and Sa’al Ganor) are not ruling out the possibility that it could refer to the biblical Jerubbaal. It does come from the correct time period and Gideon was a powerful and well-known figure of that time according to the Book of Judges.

The Significance of the Inscription

Ganor and Garfinkel
Sa’al Ganor and Yosef Garfinkel (Credit: Yoli Schwartz Israel Antiquities Authority)

Whether this inscription refers to the actual Jerubbaal of Scripture, or not, the inscription is still very significant. Garfinkel and Ganor state, “As we know, there is considerable debate as to whether biblical tradition reflects reality and whether it is faithful to historical memories from the days of the Judges and the days of David.” The fact that the name Jerubbaal is only found in Scripture during the period of the Judges and that this inscription dates to that period offers some corroborating evidence that the Bible has preserved reliable information. Garfinkel was also the archaeologist responsible for discovering the name Ishbaal on a pot in his excavation of Khirbet Qeiyafa (see my post The Ishbaal Inscription at Khirbet Qeiyafa). The name Ishbaal only occurs in Scripture during the reign of King David (2 Sam. 2-4). The remains at Khirbet Qeiyafa also date to the time of David. This leads these archaeologists to conclude: “The fact that identical names are mentioned in the Bible and also found in inscriptions recovered from archaeological excavations shows that memories were preserved and passed down through the generations.”

For more information see the following articles:

Jerusalem Post: 3,000 year old inscription bearing name of biblical judge found in Israel

Haaretz.com: Israeli archaeologists find biblical name ‘Jerubbaal’ inked on pot from Judges era

Times of Israel: Five-letter inscription inked 3,100 years ago may be name of biblical judge

The Israelite Diet: What Did the Ancient Israelites Eat?

The Israelite Diet: What Did the Ancient Israelites Eat?

What Did the Ancient Israelites Eat?
MacDonald’s thorough investigation of ancient Israel’s diet is available at Amazon USA / UK

The pages of the Bible are filled with references to food of various kinds. Have you ever wondered, what the ancient Israelite diet consisted of? Or how healthy it was? In What Did the Ancient Israelites Eat?, Nathan MacDonald provides some interesting and thought-provoking answers. In recent times a popular genre of books have sought to promote a “biblical” diet, selling it as the healthiest of all diets. MacDonald’s book takes a scholarly look at the available evidence and presents a “well-balanced” view.

How Can We Determine What the Ancient Israelites Ate?

The Bible is the obvious starting point for determining the ancient Israelite diet, but what other resources might prove helpful? MacDonald identifies five main sorts of evidence relevant to examining the ancient Israelite diet. They include:

  1. The Bible
  2. Archeological remains (including paleopathology, and zooarchaeology)
  3. Comparative evidence of diet from related cultures in the ancient Near East (e.g., Egypt, Mesopotamia)
  4. Modern anthropological research of nonindustrialized societies
  5. Scientific knowledge on food production and consumption. This category includes considering geography, meteorology, soil science and archaeobotanical work.

Variable Factors in the Ancient Israelite Diet

As Macdonald points out, it is a misnomer to speak of the “ancient Israelite diet,” as if we could lay out a menu that described the cuisine of every Israelite. At the same time MacDonald writes, “We should not speak of Israelite diets, which would suggest a greater diversity within the Israelite diet” (p. 92). A number of variable factors must be considered in determining what was on the dinner table of an ancient Israelite.

Geography and Meteorology

The Israelite diet is partially determined by geography
The ancient Israelite diet was partially determined by geography and climate.

The landscape of ancient Israel was (and still is) very diverse, ranging from the coastal plain, to the foothills, to the central mountainous region, to the Rift Valley and desert area (see map at left). Climate and geography determine what kind of crops can be grown and whether a certain area is agricultural or more pastoral. For example, living near a water source would increase the likelihood of fish being a regular meal fixture. Those living in the Negev (southern region), a drier area would lead a more pastoral life and would thus have greater availability of animal products such as milk, cheese, and the occasional meat dish.

Economic and Social Status

Feasting like a king was a social reality. An average Israelite did not have access to the same quantity and variety of food.

As in any society, the rich always eat better (in terms of quality and variety) than the poor. Royalty and wealthy elites naturally had more access when it came to traded foodstuffs. “Feasting like a king”, was not just an idiom, it was a social reality (1 Sam. 25:36). MacDonald notes that a few passages seem to suggest that the head of the family had the right to determine how food was distributed among family members (e.g., 1 Sam. 1:5; also see, Gen. 43:34). Therefore, he concludes, “It seems likely that prestigious foods, such as meat, would have been distributed with preference given to the family head and his male children” (78). MacDonald also notes that the male, priestly elite would have had more access to meat than the average Israelite. Thus gender and social status played a role in who ate what and how much.

Famine and Enemy Attacks

Famine effecting Israelite diet
Each of the patriarchs experienced a famine in their lifetime.

Ancient, as well as modern Israel, is susceptible to drought, which, when prolonged can lead to famine (E.g., Gen. 12:10; Ruth 1:1). MacDonald states that a genuine famine may occur only once or twice in the lifetime of an Israelite (p. 58). That seems quite enough for me! However, while famines were more rare, an ancient Israelite might experience food shortages  a little more frequently, especially those among the poorer ranks of society.

Judges 6:3-6 is perhaps the clearest statement of how an enemy could devastate the food supply. In Judges 6 we read of the Midianites raiding Israel year after year (for seven years) and not only taking their crops, but their animals as well. The devastation was so complete that Judges 6:5 uses the metaphor of locusts to describe the Midianites.

Temporal Variations

Changing seasons affected the Israelite diet
Changing seasons affected food availability.

In the modern Western world we are pretty used to getting whatever product we want whenever we want it. But throughout most of history, and certainly in ancient Israel, foods were seasonal. This would not only be true of fruits and vegetables, but also animal products. The main source of milk for the ancient Israelite was not the cow, but the goat. This milk would only have been available for five months out of the year. Sheep milk was available for even less time–only three months out of the year. Thus, what ended up on your plate depended a lot of the time of year.

So What Foods Were Available for the Ancient Israelite?

The Israelite diet included bread
Woman preparing bread for her family

First and foremost, the Mediterranean Triad of bread, oil, and wine provides the foundation of the ancient Israelite diet. MacDonald states, “The staple food for ancient Israel was bread, as indeed it was for her ancient Near Eastern neighbors and the rest of the Mediterranean world” (p. 19).MacDonald also points out what I have noted many times in my personal reading of the Hebrew Bible: the word for bread in Hebrew (lechem) also means “food.” Oil from olives had many uses, including being a steady part of the diet, while grapes supplied the main beverage for the ancient Israelite. MacDonald, citing Shimon Dar, states that the average Israelite would consume about one liter of wine per day. Water was not always plentiful and not always suitable for drinking.

This chart illustrates the types of food available for the ancient Israelite diet.

Without laboriously listing the other types of food available, the above chart gives a good indication of what might be included in an ancient Israelite diet. It is interesting that vegetables are on the bottom of the food chart. According to MacDonald vegetables were not thought of as highly as other foods. He cites Proverbs 15:17 as evidence: “Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred.” MacDonald also notes that vegetables are hard to trace in the archaeological record since they easily perish and leave no evidence behind. Therefore, it is difficult to know how important vegetables were to the ancient Israelite diet. At least one Israelite king thought so highly of having a vegetable garden that he was willing to murder for it (1 Kings 21)! Although meat is found in the column next to the bottom, this does not speak of its low value, but rather, of its availabilty. MacDonald does correct a 20th century scholarly misconception about meat in the Israelite diet. He notes that meat consumption was more frequent than previously thought. However, this does not mean it was a daily occurrence for most Israelites. And, as noted above, there was probably an uneven distribution of meat (p. 92).

How Healthy Was An Ancient Israelite?

Ancient Israelite family partaking of the Passover. From sutori.com

Answering this question would, once again, involve taking into consideration various factors such as social status, gender, and location. However, based on the available evidence obtained through the examination of ancient skeletons, MacDonald states, “There are good grounds for believing . . . that malnourishment was something that many Israelites would have experienced at some point during their lives” (p. 57). MacDonald notes that this was especially true of Iron Age Israel (1200 B.C. – 586 B.C.), the period of the Judges and Monarchy. While much research remains to be done, “. . . currently the evidence suggests that the population of ancient Israel did not enjoy good health (pp. 86-87). This is a surprising reversal of the modern attitude that the Mediterranean diet is the healthiest of all diets. Perhaps there is some truth to this, I’m not a nutritionist, but, regarding ancient Israel, this assertion fails to take into account the many variables pointed out by MacDonald.

Conclusion: The Israelite Diet

Studying the ancient Israelite diet is more fascinating than I imagined. Hopefully, for those interested, this article has provided some basic information. For those seeking a more in-depth treatment I would highly recommend MacDonald’s book, What Did the Ancient Israelites Eat?. Wikipedia also has a very informative article at Ancient Israelite Cuisine, which delves much deeper into the foods available for the ancient Israelite than I did.

Alphabet’s Missing Link Discovered

Alphabet’s Missing Link Discovered

Ostraca with alphabet's missing link
This inscribed potsherd, discovered at Tel Lachish, dates to the 15th century B.C. and is the earliest known alphabetic inscription from the ancient land of Canaan.

An ostracon (piece of broken pottery with writing) discovered at Tel Lachish, has been hailed as the alphabet’s missing link by Austrian Archaeologist Dr. Felix Höflmayer. The discovery is being referred to as the alphabet’s missing link because until now a chronological gap existed between the earliest evidence for the alphabet and its appearance in ancient Canaan. The earliest form of alphabetic writing known comes from the Sinai (Serabit el-Khadim) and Egypt (Wadi el-Hol) and dates to the 19th century B.C. (see my article Oldest Hebrew Writing Discovered From Egypt?). Previous to this discovery at Lachish the oldest alphabetic writing in the Levant (the area which includes Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel) dated to the 13th century B.C. This discovery helps to close the chronological gap and demonstrates that writing existed in ancient Canaan earlier than previously thought.

This map shows the locations of the earliest alphabetic inscriptions. Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai and Wadi el-Hol in Egypt.

Alphabet’s Missing Link: What Does It Say?

The ostracon contains a total of nine letters. Two words of three letters each appear, along with 3 miscellaneous letters. Reading from right to left, the first word, written diagonally in the upper left, contains the letters ʿayin (ע), bet (ב), and dalet (ד) which spells the Hebrew word ‘ebed meaning “slave.” Höflmayer suggests this may be part of a name since names containing these components are common in all Semitic languages (e.g., Ebed-Melech–Jer. 38:7ff.). The second word, at the bottom, reading right to left contains the letters, nun (נ), pe (פ), tav (ת) which spells the word “honey” or “nectar.” The two letters in the upper righthand corner and the letter between the two words are all the letter nun (נ). The significance of these letters is not known, although it appears there was more to the inscription than what appears on this potsherd. It needs to be noted that the words “slave” and “honey” are conjectural. During this period when the alphabet was being developed there was no standard direction for writing letters, so the letters might be read from left to right or right to left (sometimes they were even written vertically!).

Why Is a Small Piece of Pottery With 9 Letters On It So Significant?

The area at Tel Lachish where the alphabet's missing link was discovered
This picture shows the area at Tel Lachish where the alphabet’s missing link was discovered. Area S, looking west. Early Late Bronze Age fortification, with the southern wall of building 100 (L1027) on the right side (figure by J. Dye & L. Webster, Austrian Academy of Sciences).

For Bible believers, the discovery is significant because it shows that writing was possible and more widespread than previously thought. Some have argued that Moses couldn’t have composed the writings contained in the Torah because an alphabet hadn’t been invented yet. The alphabetic writings from Egypt, Sinai, and now Lachish, demonstrate that the alphabet not only existed during the time of Moses but was being used throughout the region the Bible locates the Israelites in.

Map of Lachish where alphabet's missing link was discovered
The location of Lachish, ancient Judah’s second largest city.

The discovery is also significant because it can be precisely dated. Höflmayer writes, “The newly discovered inscription from Tel Lachish is currently the earliest securely dated example of early alphabetic writing in the Southern Levant.” Other examples of early writing exist, but either they were not found in a secure archaeological context, or it is disputed if the writing is alphabetic. One example of this, which also comes from Lachish, is the Lachish Dagger (photo can be found here). This dagger, discovered in 1934 at a tomb in Lachish contains what most scholars believe is four alphabetic symbols. This dagger dates to the late Middle Bronze Age (1650 B.C. – 1550 B.C.). Some, however, dispute that the symbols are alphabetic.

The discovery of this “missing link,” along with the dagger, and other writings, has some scholars believing that Lachish was an important center of writing. Höflmayer states, “Indeed, Lachish has yielded more examples of Late Bronze Age early alphabetic inscriptions than any other site.”

For more on the Biblical significance of this discovery see, Alphabet’s Missing Link Discovered in Canaan.

Höflmayer’s own account is available at Early alphabetic writing in the ancient Near East: the ‘missing link’ from Tel Lachish.

For more on the significance of Tel Lachish see my article Tel Lachish in the Toilet.