Saturday, December 13, 2014

Chapter 66

Gath (Tell eṣ-Ṣafi) Ostracon

Gath (Tell e-afi) Ostracon with two non-Semitic names ALWT and WLT written in Semitic “Proto-Canaanaite” script, that are both etymologically similar to the biblical name of Goliath.

During the 2005 excavation season at Tell eṣ-Ṣafi, an important inscription on a body sherd (3.7 x 6.8 x 0.5 cm) of a ceramic bowl was uncovered below the late 9th cent. BC destruction level dating to the IA 2A period (the time period of Goliath in the Bible).  According to Maeir it is the oldest Philistine inscription ever discovered.1

The inscription has two non-Semitic names, ALWT (Heb. אלות) and WLT (Heb. ולת), written in a Semitic “Proto-Canaanite” script. Maeir and others have pointed out that both names are etymologically similar to the non-Semitic name Goliath (Heb. גלית, Golyat), who was the well-known Philistine champion from Gath as stated in the Bible (1 Sam 17:4; 52; 21:9).2.  Cross and Stager have challenged Maeir, arguing that his “reading violates method in paleographical typology and is linguistically cavalier,”3.  although Maeir categorically denies the claim.

Maeir does not claim that the two names on the inscription are directly connected to Goliath, nor does he state that this is proof of Goliath’s existence. What the inscription on this ostracon does indicate is 1) the Philistines were writing, using the proto-Canaanite (Semitic) alphabet during the 9th cent. BC (IA 2A), the time of David and Goliath, and 2) they were using similar names to Goliath in his hometown during his day.  These facts indicate that the biblical story of David and Goliath is completely plausible and supports the arguments that the biblical accounts were written at an early date instead of much later.

 In 1996 Dothan and Gitin discovered a 7th cent. BC inscription, at the Philistine site of Ekron, that contained the names of two kings, Achish and Padi. Similar names (different individuals) are found in 1 Samuel 21:11; 27:2, where David joins Achish, the king of Gath in his flight from Saul. Padi is mentioned on the Taylor Prism (701 BC). This demonstrates a continuity of Philistine names in their culture.4.


1. Aren M. Maeir et al., “A Late Iron Age I/Early Iron Age II Old Canaanite Inscription from Tell Es-Safi/Gath, Israel: Palaeography, Dating, and Historical-Cultural Significance,” BASOR, no. 351 (August 1, 2008): 39–71; Aren M. Maeir, “A New Interpretation of the Term `Opalim (עפלים) in Light of Recent Archaeological Finds from Philistia,” JSOT 32, no. 1 (2007): 23–40; Maeir and Ehrlich, “Excavating Philistine Gath,” 22–31; Mariona Vernet Pons, “The Etymology of Goliath in the Light of Carian PN Wljat/Wliat: A New Proposal,” Kadmos 51 (May 2012): 143–64.

2.  Maeir et al., “A Late Iron Age I/Early Iron Age II Old Canaanite Inscription,” 58.

3. Frank Moore Cross and Lawrence E. Stager, “Cypro-Minoan Inscriptions Found in Ashkelon,” Israel Exploration Journal 56, no. 2 (January 1, 2006): 151.

4. Seymour Gitin, Trude Dothan, and Joseph Naveh, “A Royal Dedicatory Inscription from Ekron,” IEJ 47, no. 1/2 (January 1, 1997): 1–16.

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