Biblical Archaeology Review 7:4, July/August 1981

Earliest Aramaic Inscription Uncovered in Syria

Statue of newly discovered king bears 10th century B.C. bilingual inscription

By Adam Mikaya

An extremely important inscription recently surfaced in Syria and the few prominent scholars who know of it have been buzzing with excitement.

It is an Aramaic inscription dating from the tenth century B.C., consisting of 23 complete and well-preserved lines. Aramaic was the everyday language in Palestine during Jesus’ time. Aramaic spread to Palestine from Babylonia in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. and became the lingua franca of the ancient world.

Until now the earliest substantial Aramaic inscription was the so-called Sefire inscription from the mid-eighth century B.C.1 While a few small, fragmentary and incomplete lines of Aramaic may date to the ninth century B.C., it is clear that the new Aramaic inscription found in Syria is the earliest extensive Aramaic text ever discovered.

The inscription will provide scholars with valuable new evidence concerning the origins of Aramaic and will carry the story back at least 100 years before what was previously known.

The words in the inscription may also provide clues to the root meaning of puzzling Biblical and other Semitic words. One scholar thinks the new inscription may help unlock the root meaning of Eden. According to this scholar, the root meaning of Eden, as reflected in the new inscription, may be “freshness” or “dewiness.”

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