Biblical Archaeology Review 39:4, July/August 2013

Strata: What Does It Say?

We can’t recall an ancient inscription that has engendered so many different interpretations and aroused so many controversies as the ostracon (inscribed potsherd) recovered in 2008 by Yosef (Yossi) Garfinkel at Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Judean Shephelah. For those who are engaged by this sort of the thing, we remember the deathless opening of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s love sonnet: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

One of the most intriguing interpretations of the Qeiyafa ostracon is that of Émile Puech, a world-class Hebrew linguist and paleographer who teaches at the École Biblique et Archéologique Française in Jerusalem. Because he writes in French we reported in English the substance of his interpretation, which, if correct, is certainly worthy of acclaim.a In his judgment, the inscription refers to the establishment of the Israelite monarchy, with the reign of either Saul or David.

But because so many questions have been raised by other scholars, many of them as distinguished as Puech, we thought it best to list for our readers some of the issues that divide scholars grappling with this inscription.

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