Biblical Archaeology Review 32:6, November/December 2006

ReViews: Chicken Feet in Clay

Cuneiform in Canaan: Cuneiform Sources from the Land of Israel in Ancient Times

Wayne Horowitz and Takayoshi Oshima. Seth Sanders (Alphabetic Cuneiform Texts) (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2006), 256 pp., $48 (hardback).

If someone selling property does not know how to write, he signs the deed with an X. But what if the deed is a clay tablet and the writing the owner does not know is cuneiform, those little chicken scratchings impressed into the clay? The answer is provided by a fragmentary clay tablet found at Tel Hadid in the Judean Shephelah: He just impresses his fingernail. The text reads “Fingernail of Aya-sebsi,” for example.

Another tablet from the same site evidences a loan of one mina plus a number of shekels of silver (the number has not survived) for the repayment of which the borrower pledges his wife Hammaya and his sister Munahima.

A text from Aphek from the Late Bronze Age (just before the emergence of Israel) blesses the recipient with these words: “May the gods ... bless you (and) keep you,” reminiscent of the priestly blessing in Numbers 6:24–26 (except that God is in the singular) that traditional Jews still use to bless their children before the Sabbath meal.

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