Skip to comments.Research On Ancient Writing Linked With Modern Mideast Conflict
Posted on 11/14/2005 1:25:30 PM PST by blam
Posted on Sun, Nov. 13, 2005
Research on ancient writing linked with modern Mideast conflict
BY RON GROSSMAN
CHICAGO - Professorial colleagues think Ron Tappy has made a landmark breakthrough in our understanding of the world of the Bible. He himself is waiting for the other shoe to drop.
This week, Tappy will formally unveil his discovery at the meetings of the American Schools of Oriental Research. Normally a presentation titled "The 2005 Excavation Season at Tel Zayit, with Special Attention to the Tenth Century BCE" would hardly be noticed beyond the scholars who will gather at the Hyatt Penn's Landing hotel in Philadelphia.
This year's convention, though, has the potential for a media circus. Narrowly, Tappy's research involves the history of writing. He apparently has found a missing link in the evolution of the alphabet.
Because he found it in the Holy Land, his lecture will raise tempers. Archaeologists generally are gentle folk. But biblical studies imperceptibly shade over from scholarly pursuits to modern-day passions inflamed by contemporary struggles of Israelis and Palestinians. One camp, "the maximalists" implies the other harbors anti-Semites. The "minimalists," in turn, charge their accusers with confusing Zionism with scholarship.
"In the Middle East, you can start a mini war over who got there first," said William G. Dever, professor emeritus of the University of Arizona and a fierce opponent of the minimalists. "This isn't about ancient Israel. It's about modern Israel and the Palestinians."
Philip Davies, professor emeritus at the University of Sheffield in England, is generally considered the founding father of the minimalists - most of whom are European-based. He is coming to the Philadelphia meetings prepared for battle with his American colleagues.
"When I fly the Atlantic, I feel like a gladiator," Davies said. "Tappy's research is going to be a football, kicked around from one side to the other."
Over the summer, Tappy was excavating at Tel Zayit, an archaeological site southwest of Jerusalem, with his scholarly partners, P. Kyle McCarter of Johns Hopkins University, Bruce Zuckerman of the University of Southern California and Marilyn Lundberg of the West Semitic Research Project. He noticed a stone inscribed with letters on an ancient wall. They didn't form words but were arraigned in alphabetical order. He realized they connected the biblical age with the contemporary world.
"A word printed in a book today is linked to the scribes who worked on that stone," said Tappy, a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
Scholars have long recognized that alphabetical writing was a one-time invention. It was created by the Phoenicians, who lived in what now is Lebanon. The Greeks borrowed it from them. The Romans picked it up from the Greeks, and the Latin alphabet became the writing vehicle of the European peoples and their overseas colonies from the New World to Australia. To the East, the Phoenicians' invention became the basis for writing Arabic and languages of India and Southeast Asia.
But until now, scholars couldn't see the process by which the Phoenicians' breakthrough was adopted by other ancient peoples. Tappy's stone seems to supply the missing evidence: Phoenician letters used to represent an early form of the Hebrew language. Tappy dates the site to the 10th century B.C.
And there's the scholarly - and the political - rub. By the Old Testament account, the 10th century was an era of the great kings David and Solomon, who built a mighty temple in Jerusalem. To Israeli nationalists, that version of the story gives their cause title to the Holy Land.
But minimalist scholars think the biblical account inflated; they argue that, in the 10th century, the Hebrews were wandering tribes, not nation or temple builders.
That account suits Palestinian nationalists just fine, because they claim Jerusalem as theirs.
"The minimalists argue that the ancient Hebrews didn't know how to write, so they couldn't have had a real state, a kingdom," noted Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archeology Review. "But Tappy's discovery shows they were already writing in an outlying settlement. Imagine what you must have had in Jerusalem."
Tappy - who considers himself a mild maximalist - is bemused by the battles swirling around him. He still is on a scholarly high from his initial reaction to that alphabet on a wall at Tel Zayit.
"What a giant leap forward for humans, I thought," he said. "I was speechless. I realized the irony: Here were all the letters of the alphabet, and I couldn't put two or three together to make a single word."
looks like an interesting read
bump for later
WOW! That is fantastic! Pictures?
If one is to believe that primal urges would be the first ones to get expressed, then the oldest inscriptions would be [by content] not alphabets but what we would now see as graffiti, of more or less unprintable nature.
No. Actual letters.
That's an odd argument. Both evolution and Biblical history have man living and working at his present full intelligence level during the earliest history of writing 8-10,000 years ago.
Comparison between the Proto-Canaanite, Phoenician, and Greek alphabets.
Proto-Hebrew/Early Aramaic alphabet
What this all means? I don't have a clue, but I'm guessing we'll see a lot of arguments breaking out over it. Regardless, it's quite interesting :-)
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You confuse a hypothesis with a theory. Regardless of how ideas as such originate, the process of scientific discovery and verification --never complete-- requires, first, formulating a TESTABLE hypothesis. Second, one designs requisite experiments, always objective/rational/empirical, capable of affirming or falsifying the hypothesis. Third, all experimental outcomes, including null-results and detailed backup data, MUST be reported to "juries of one's peers" in such a form that the empirically-verified hypothesis can be DUPLICATED by disinterested experts in the field.
This process requires a philosophy of the Natural World-- that reality is intelligible, amenable to human study, and above all worth studying. It requires an empirical, experimental method-- detailed hypotheses, notes, nothing cryptic or hidden, and especially no appeals to supernatural forces or to "authority" in whatever form. Finally, the peer-review process must take place in PUBLIC; arguments pro and con must not only address the experimental issue at hand, but do so in context of existing scientific theories-- perpetual motion machines, psychic emanations, contradictory mathematical formulations are out of bounds.
Science does not say, "This is reality" or "We know ABC is true". We only state, our hypothesis has been verified by empirical means available, vetted by impartial experts in the field. Then, and only then, is there a Theory, complete and consistent in and of itself. Major Theories (Newton's gravitation, Darwin's Natural Selection, Quantum Theory as evolved) are virtually never invalidated, merely seen as incomplete in larger contexts.
"Intelligent Design" in biology is a phony issue. What proponents mean is VOLITION, a set of "willed" outcomes that violate thermodynamics, symmetry, eco-systemic contexts on all fronts. It is not even logically coherent: Assume a transcendent Immanence that creates all things, and only those things, which do not create themselves. Does this Immanence create itself? The response will be to denigrate the paradox as "mere logic" and so on... exactly right. This classic Paradox of Contradictory Self-reference originated with Epimenides some 2400 years ago; it brought down Bertand Russell's "Principia Mathematica"; and only by resort to unreasoning preconception is it ignored today.
"ID" is a form of Creationism. Believe what you choose, but do not call it Science. The fact that sectarians wrap themselves in empiricism's mantle, confusing hypothetical exercises with validated theoretical outcomes, shows not only that they are ignorant of fact, but heedless of the philosophical and methodological traditions they invoke.
Formulate a testable ID hypothesis (if "intelligence" is more than words). Propose an ID Experiment, and report an outcome duplicable in public, within existing parameters of what generations prove. An all-powerful Old Man with white whiskers, dwelling beyond Space and Time, stirs His quantum pot with a relativistic finger... a bit much, no? So how else does ID operate?
Alas, reality triumphs every time. But meanwhile, what a diversion of energies to wanton ends!
No, silly, pictures of the engraving. Of course they're letters.
This may or may not be so but all to often some scientists take themselves way too seriously and should remember that not only does science not know that "ABC" is true, it must also recognize the possibility that "DEFGH" might be also true until proven otherwise.
There are so many competing thoughts in so many areas. When one hides behind the shield of "science" to breathlessly proselytize an unproven belief against another of at least equal merit, it becomes the expression of religion, not science.
Hypotheses come and theories go. Science once thought the world to be flat and that baths in radioactive water were good for a person.
My advice to such scientists is: stick to science, as there is plenty of work to do and leave theology to theologians as science is never going to figure it out. Evolutionary fundamentalists just give science a bad name with some of their extraordinary leaps of faith, such faith as to humble the most devout of Christians or Muslims.
At least, the their credit, the evolutionary zealots haven't started crashing planes into buildings yelling Darwin-Akbar. . . At least not yet.
Ron Tappy will be reporting his findings to the ASOR on Thursday morning, 8:30-10:30 am. Expect photos to be released then. If you don't see them in your newspaper, I'm sure they'll be in an upcoming Biblical Archaeology Review.
Great find. Thanks for posting it.