A clay tablet containing 80 Hebrew letters arranged in five lines has been found in an excavation outside Tel Aviv at Izbet Sarte. The letters appear to date from about the end of the 11th century B.C.—the time of Saul and David. If this dating is correct, the letters are older by about 100 years than the earliest previously known Hebrew writing.
Unfortunately the imprint of the letters in the Izbet Sarte tablet is so shallow and indistinct that the archaeologists are having a difficult time reading the text. As of this writing, it remains undeciphered.
The excavations at Izbet Sarte are being conducted by a team headed by Dr. Moshe Kochavi of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Moshe Garsiel of Bar-Ilan University. The site may be ancient Ebenezer where the Israelites mustered for their crucial battle with the Philistines as described in Judges 4. The Philistines defeated the Israelites and captured the ark. This defeat appears to have been the critical event that led to the establishment of the Israelite monarchy. No evidence of a battle has yet been found by the archaeologists at Izbet Sarte.
The oldest Hebrew writing previously known to scholars is the famous Gezer calendar, dating from the late 10th century. Uncovered by R. A. S. Macalister in his excavations at Gezer in the early part of the century, the calendar appears to be a schoolboy’s exercise tablet, recounting the months for planting, harvesting, enjoying the summer fruit and feasting.