Evidence of Israel's United Kingdom?
Just days after the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the discovery of what is apparently a third-century church in Meggido, another significant find was reported at Tel Zayit, about an hour south of Jerusalem.
The fancy word for the find is abecedary, but what that basically means is an inscription of the alphabet. The New York Times reports that it may be "the earliest known specimen of the Hebrew alphabet," "an important benchmark in the history of writing," and "the oldest reliably dated example of an abecedary."
There are artifacts of Semitic writing that predate the 10th century B.C., which is the date that Pittsburgh Theological Seminary's Ron E. Tappy (who led the dig) puts on the find. But here's what may be even more controversial than the date:
The inscription was found in the context of a substantial network of buildings at the site, which led Dr. Tappy to propose that Tel Zayit was probably an important border town established by an expanding Israelite kingdom based in Jerusalem.
A border town of such size and culture, Dr. Tappy said, suggested a centralized bureaucracy, political leadership, and literacy levels that seemed to support the biblical image of the unified kingdom of David and Solomon in the 10th century B.C.
"That puts us right in the middle of the squabble over whether anything important happened in Israel in that century," Dr. Stager said.
A vocal minority of scholars contend that the Bible's picture of the 10th century B.C. as a golden age in Israelite history is insupportable. Some archaeological evidence, they say, suggests that David and Solomon were little more than tribal chieftains and that it was another century before a true political state emerged.