What We Jews Have Always Been About

Qeiyafa is a relatively new archeological excavation (directed by the Hebrew University’s Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor) of an imposing Israelite fort on the border with Philistia dating to the late 11th–early tenth century B.C.E., the time of David and Solomon. The wall around the hilltop fort required more than 200,000 tons of bolders. Its presence is a powerful refutation of the claims of certain contemporary scholars who believe that Judah never existed as a state in the tenth century and that the “kingdom” of David and Solomon was a tribal chiefdom at most. This is hardly the case. A mere tribal chieftain would not have been able to build something like this.
But that’s nothing. As archeologists have rejoiced to discover, the “real” find in this excavation is a five-line, 6-by-6-inch ostracon, an inscription on a broken piece of pottery the equivalent of ancient notepaper. It dates to the early tenth century B.C.E. It is the oldest Hebrew inscription ever discovered.

But what does this ancient text reveal? While it has been damaged by the ravages of time, one thing is clear. There is a word that means “to exploit or abuse,” immediately preceded by the phrase lo ta’as – “do not do.” Therefore, analysts of the text are quick to point out that the oldest Hebrew inscription that we have is nothing less than an ancient prohibition against (most likely economic) abuse and exploitation.

Some might have expected that the oldest Hebrew text would have been about ritual matters. Others might have suspected that it would be about some arcane legal matter. No, the most ancient Hebrew text is simultaneously the most modern. It testifies to who we are as a people and what our message has always been – and must continue to be.

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One Response to “What We Jews Have Always Been About”

  1. Jon Prial Says:

    When reading our prayers, I always enjoy that (for the most part) we are in awe of God vs. being told to fear God. Reform Judaism’s message remains something that resonates within me – – for me. When I see what goes on in the world with extremism and see truly bad behavior that is supposedly condoned by God, I remain troubled. Thanks for the reminder of who we are.

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