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Messages from the Past


$48 Publications / Windows to the Past by Robert Deutsch & Michael Heltzer
Windows to the Past

Previously unpublished ancient Phoenician, Hebrew, Aramaic, Ammonite and Moabite inscriptions from the biblical period, 11th through 6th century BCE, on bronze arrowheads, jugs and jar handles, personal seals, seal-impressions and weights.

Format: 24x17cm, hardcover
Pages: 93
Illustrations: 82 photos (two in color), 48 drawings
Year: 1997
Language(s): English
ISBN: 965-222-839-7


Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Five Inscribed Arrowheads
  • Fifteen Hebrew Seal Impressions on Bullae
  • Four Israelite Hebrew Seals
  • Six Judean Hebrew Seals
  • Two Ammonite Seals
  • Two Moabite Seals
  • A Phoenician Seal
  • An Aramaic Seal
  • An Inscribed Judean Storage Jar
  • An Inscribed Judean Measurement Juglet
  • An Inscribed Judean Storage Jar Handle
  • A Hebrew Seal Impression on a Jar Handle
  • An Aramaic Seal Impression on a Body Sherd
  • Four Judean Weights
  • Bibliography
  • Indices

Discussion of the book

  1. Archaeological Center has published an impressive number of artifacts with West Semitic inscriptions during the past decade—certainly more per capita than any other commercial publisher I know of.  Consider one item in one chapter of this book:  “An Inscribed Judean Storage Jar”.  Deutsch & Heltzer read this unprovenanced jar inscription as “For the King, good oil.”

    I would like to offer some insight on it based on my expertise with LMLK stamps, & I’ll begin by saying I don’t dispute the authenticity of the jar described by the authors as Type 484 dating to the late 8th-century B.C.  Nor do I dispute the authenticity of any other artifact published or marketed by Archeological Center that I’ve studied.  It’s the inscription incised after firing on this jar that concerns me; it could’ve been added as soon as the jar came out of the kiln on that ancient day, or by somebody as recently as the 1990s to increase its potential value for prestige.  I must also say that this solitary jar has no significant impact on interpretations of the LMLK stamps (as it does not contain any of the H, M, S, or Z words), but it is a very important inscription since it sets a precedent that may affect interpretations of other artifacts in the future.

    My first criticism is a minor one so I’ll get it out of the way first.  Most of the restored Type 484 jars recovered from scientific excavations were published with their estimated volumes based on filling the jar with tiny polystyrene balls so as not to affect any chemical residue that may be analyzed by future researchers with advanced equipment.  The authors of this book were negligent on this matter & did not provide the jar’s volume, nor did they state why they were not able to do so if they were restricted by the jar’s owner.

    Tentatively, the unstamped Type 484 jars outnumbered the LMLK-stamped versions by at least 10:1 based on an analysis of the handles I did for my book, “LMLK—A Mystery Belonging to the King vol. 1” (p. 377).  To the best of my knowledge, only one unbroken (& unprovenanced) Type 484 jar with a LMLK stamp has been found, & this one with the incision is the only unbroken unstamped one.  That makes it extremely rare on its own merit, but it’s the only Type 484 jar with incised words on the body of the jar after firing.  That makes it not only rare but unusual.  Many Type 484 handles also had incised marks such as concentric circles, “+” marks, holes, almost-parallel lines, & possibly anachronistic incised words over the stamps (see pp. 95-100 of my book for an overview).

    Three shards from provenanced excavations contain the word “LMLK”.  One from Lachish (see Palestine Exploration Quarterly 7-1941, pp. 104-5) & one from Mizpah (see Israel Exploration Journal vol. 3 #2, pp. 121-2) each say “BT LMLK”; the former is definitely from a jar smaller than Type 484, the latter is too small of a fragment to identify its jar size (it’s also a speculative reading by N. Avigad).  One from Beersheba (see Tel Aviv journal 2 #4, p. 160) says “HXY LMLK”.  Without repeating the published details, my point here is that they each refer to the volume of the jar per a royal standard; moreover, “LMLK” is the final word in each of them, not the first word.  Additionally, in each case they were apparently incised before firing.  I must go two steps further & note that the famous LMLK Fiscal bullae inscriptions place “LMLK” as the final word, & I speculated in my book (pp. 360-1) that the intended reading of the LMLK stamps (bottom-to-top) rendered “LMLK” the final word of the 2-word LMLK seals based on divider dots on 3 or 4 of them (only 1 has a slash that may or may not have been intended as a divider between the top & bottom words).  “Windows to the Past” predated my work & most of the Fiscal bullae, but the authors didn’t reference any of these other important landmarks that differ from this LMLK Oil inscription.

    A completely different tool & technique were used to make the incision on this unprovenanced jar compared to all the aforementioned incisions on genuine artifacts, although I admit that a similar tool & technique were used on other genuine artifacts (just none related to the LMLK phenomena).  Nonetheless, since this is the first such LMLK artifact, it merits additional scrutiny such as a patina test & I feel justified in criticizing its absence in this publication.  Such a test would not be needed on an artifact recovered from a scientific excavation.  Although the authors were undoubtedly satisfied by what they saw from their private visual examination, they were negligent in not publishing any microscopic photos of the incision & did not invest in a chemical analysis of the patina to support their expertise.

    My next criticism pertains to the translation.  The word they translate “good” is SPR (Strong’s 8231-4), which is used Biblically in contexts referring to something that is “pleasant/pleasing”, especially for physical appearance.  Their references to its Aramaic use in the book of Daniel seem out of linguistic & chronological context, not to mention their reference to a 2nd-century A.D. Aramaic/Greek bilingual inscription that ties SPR to TUB (Strong’s 2895-6) since that would seem like a more appropriate selection for this oil-related inscription.

    Since I agree with them that this is an 8th-century Judean jar, I believe a better choice of adjectives would’ve been MYTB (Strong’s 4315 from the YTB root [Strong’s 3190]) used for “best” with reference to land, livestock, & vineyards in Genesis 47:6,11; Exodus 22:5; & 1Samuel 15:9,15.

    An even better choice would’ve been HLB (Strong’s 2459) used for “choicest” with reference to oil, wine, wheat, & fruit in Numbers 18:12 & Psalms 81:16 & 147:14.

    Of course, the best choice by people living in those days would’ve been TUB itself to convey “good/better/precious”.  It’s used in hundreds of Old Testament verses compared to a handful of instances for SPR, MYTB, & HLB.  And we have excellent samples of its context, both semantical & chronological, in Song 7:9, Ecc 7:1, 2Kings 20:13, & Isaiah 39:2 (these 2 latter referencing King Hezekiah’s storage of precious oil, maybe in jars resembling this one).  Note also that Prov 25:1 testifies that people during Hezekiah’s reign copied proverbs of Solomon, & chances are good that this body of literature included The Song of Solomon & Ecclesiastes.

    Speaking of Proverbs, another alternative would’ve been BHR (Strong’s 977) used for “choice” metals in Prov 8:10,19 & 10:20.  In any case, the sum of contemporary Hebrew texts makes me wonder why such an obscure word would’ve been used were it an authentic, 8th-century B.C. incision.

    This odd choice of an adjective raises a red flag in my mind, & it’s equally odd that 2 scholars well versed in Hebrew epigraphy did not comment on the probability of an 8th-century Hebrew scribe making such an unusual grammatical selection; instead, they assumed its legitimacy & went out on an epigraphical limb to justify it.  Why would any king be interested in good (in the sense of pleasing) oil?  In what way is oil pleasing?  Precious?  Yes.  Choicest?  Yes.  Better?  Yes.  Pleasing/good?  Strange.  What would good oil need to be distinguished from, oil that is rancid?  Who would store rancid oil?

    Additional evidence can be found in the technique employed when placing the letters.  The engraver had a huge area to work with that would’ve been easy to read when in ancient use even if it had wrapped all the way around the jar, yet the spacing between the letters of “LMLK” seems quite crowded compared to the wide gaps between the characters on the left side of the inscription, particularly the gap between the S & P of SPR.  Why?  In terms of statistics, the overwhelming probability is that a forger accustomed to writing left-to-right incised the inscription concentrating on each letter, not on each word.  This does not look like the handiwork of someone in antiquity writing 3 contiguous Paleo-Hebrew words right-to-left.  Could it be that a modern forger did this to keep the inscription confined to one area where it would be easily viewable in its entirety when on display in a museum or private showroom?  Either that or maybe “LMLK” was added to “SMN SPR 20”.  It would be easy to prove this if the authors had published a patina analysis comparing all the letters to the uncut jar surface.

    With all due respect to the combined expertise of Robert Deutsch & Michael Heltzer, based on this combined evidence (lack of provenance, lack of volume analysis, lack of patina analysis, lack of LMLK parallels, odd word choice, & odd letter spacing) the authenticity of the inscription on this ancient jar seems slippery (sorry, I couldn’t resist the oil pun).  Authors who publish precedent-setting artifacts need to go the extra mile to cover all their bases with all the tools at their disposal in the most objective manner possible, & I believe they were a bit too hasty & terse with this particular one. Prof. Deutsch has been (& continues to be) a good friend to me, but in the interest of scientific research, I regret having to spoil his royal oil!

    G.M. Grena, Wed 12 2004, 04:29 AM

    ***

    Oops!  I apologize profusely for overlooking that the authors did indeed publish this jar’s volume (48.6 liters) on pp. 65 & 67, so please disregard my phrase “lack of volume analysis” near the end.

    I also apologize for pasting the text from an editor that omitted my paragraph breaks.

    Prof. Deutsch has privately acknowledged that p. 65 states the inscription is “3.2 mm. to 1.0 mm.”, which is a minor typo that should read “3.2 cm. to 1.0 cm.” Probably their statement “Iron Age III” on p. 65 should be “Iron Age II” as well; otherwise, their other remarks on p. 65 dating it to the 8th century would seem incongruous.

    G.M. Grena, Wed 12 2004, 07:45 AM

    G.M. Grena, Sat 10 2007, 03:05 PM