Andrews University Seminary Studies 27.1 (Spring 1989) 21-37.

                      Copyright © 1989 by Andrews University Press. Cited with permission.



                                                         PART 1*



                                                            WILLIAM H. SHEA

                                                The Biblical Research Institute

                                                            Washington, DC 20012


            During the 1964 season of excavations at Tell Deir cAlla on the

eastern side of the mid-Jordan Valley, the Dutch expedition led by

H. J. Franken recovered eleven clay tablets from the floors of two

storerooms, Rooms IX and X, located across a courtyard from the

Late-Bronze-Age temple at the site.l Three of the tablets were

inscribed with texts written in a previously unknown script, seven

of the tablets were incised only with dots, and one tablet appeared

to be merely a lump of clay squeezed by hand. Franken is to be

complimented and thanked for his prompt publication of the find.

His manuscript announcing the discovery of the tablets was com-

pleted but two weeks after the end of the excavations.2 All three of

his articles which dealt with the tablets in one way or another

appeared in journals dated to 1964.3

            In the present study, the inscribed tablets are designated by

Roman numerals, as follows:


                        Tablet I (or Text I)                 = Deir cAlla No. 1449

                        Tablet II (or Text II) = Deir cAlla No. 1441

                        Tablet III (or Text III)            = Deir cAlla No. 1440


The reason for this particular sequence will be made clear in my

treatment of the decipherment of the texts and the historical impli-

cations involved. Franken has provided line drawings and some


*Editor's Note: The continuation and conclusion of this study, in "Part II," is

currently planned for the Summer 1989 issue of AUSS.

            1 H. J. Franken, "Excavations at Deir cAlla, Season 1964," VT 14 (1964): 417-422.

            2 H. J. Franken, "Clay Tablets from Deir cAlla, Jordan," VT 14 (1964): 377-379.

            3 H. J. Franken, "The Stratigraphic Context of the Clay Tablets Found at Deir

cAlla," PEQ 96 (1964): 73- 78, plus the articles mentioned in nn. 1 and 2, above. For

the excavations at the site in general, see idem, Excavations at Tell Deir cAlla: I

(Leiden, 1969).



22                                WILLIAM H. SHEA


photographs of these three inscribed tablets and line drawings of

all eight unwritten tablets, plus photographs of six of the latter.4

My own line drawings given herein are based on those of Franken.

The line drawings for the first two inscribed tablets appear below,

and those for the third inscribed tablet will be set forth in the

subsequent installment (Part II) of this article, in conjunction with

the discussion of the dotted tablets that will be given there.


                                    1. Studies of the Tablets

            Unfortunately, relatively little has been done in studies of

these tablets since they were published. In a passing remark, W. F.

Albright suggested that they might have originated with the Philis-

tines because of "their similarity to Minoan tablets."5 As Trude

Dotan noted, however, "this extremely attractive proposal is difficult

to substantiate because the derived Philistine pottery at Deir cAlla

was found in the Iron-Age-I levels following the destruction of the

temple complex."6

            The first two studies of the Deir cAlla tablets appeared the year

after they were discovered. In the first study of them, A. van den

Branden concluded that their script was most directly related to

early Arabic scripts.7 While van den Branden made a useful begin-

ning in the study of these tablets, his special reliance upon Arabic

scripts has not produced an overall solution to their texts. H.

Cazelles followed up van den Branden's study by agreeing that

some of the letters in this script were related to early Arabic forms,

but he also noted that other letters resembled those in the Phoeni-


                4 For his line drawings of all eleven tablets, see "Stratigraphic Context," p. 73,

Fig. 1. A further line drawing, in larger size, of text I appears in "Clay Tablets,"

p. 380; and such a drawing of text III appears in the same article on p. 378. Photo-

graphs of six of the eight dotted texts appear in "Excavations," Plate Va. Franken

has also published photographs of inscribed texts II and III in "Excavations," Plate

Vb, and "Clay Tablets," Plate 1, respectively.

            5 W. F. Albright, "Syria, the Philistines, and Phoenicia," in Cambridge Ancient

History, 3d ed.. vol. 2, part 2, p. 510.

            6 T. Dotan, The Philistines and Their Material Culture (Jerusalem, 1982), p. 84.

            7 A. van den Branden, "Dechiffrement des inscriptions de Deir 'Alla," VT 15

(1965): 129-149.


                                    DEIR cALLA TABLETS                                23


cian alphabet. He suggested that attention should be given to their

relations in that direction.8

            Almost a decade passed before the Deir cAlla tablets were

treated again. Following up the idea that the script of these tablets

might have come from the Aegean world, Z. Mayani attempted to

decipher the tablets on the basis of Etruscan.9 His results are so

exceptional that they are not dealt with further here.

            The most recent study of one of these tablets was published

more than a decade ago. In 1975, G. E. Mendenhall transcribed and

translated one of the three written tablets, but this was only as a

passing comment in a study on another subject.10 As a result,

Mendenhall's cursory treatment provides no detailed interpretation

of the palaeography or linguistics involved. Mendenhall sees the

text as written in a script related to hieroglyphic Luwian but

conveying a message in a Semitic language. The message is the

record of a delivery of some donkeys. Because of its linguistic

consistency, Mendenhall's is probably the best of the previous

studies of these tablets.

My own interest in these tablets dates to a seminar I taught at

Andrews University in the Spring term of 1985. A graduate student

in that seminar, Aecio Cairus from Argentina, undertook a study of

the Deir cAlla tablets for his research project. I did not encourage

him in this undertaking because at the time I considered the tablets

undecipherable. Cairus persevered, however, and eventually con-

vinced me that he had indeed identified seven more letters of this

script beyond those identified by earlier researchers (see Section 3

below). Because of the difficulty of the script, this was a remarkable


On various occasions during the course of that seminar, Cairus

and I discussed the identification of individual signs, the meaning

of, different words, and the overall significance of the texts. In spite

of the progress made, the texts remained difficult. In the final

written report of his research, Cairus presented three different ways

in which the two tablets with which he dealt (texts I and III) could


8 H. Cazelles, "Deir-Alla et ses tablettes," Semitica 15 (1965): 5-21.

9 Z. Mayani, "Un apport a la discussion du texte Deir cAllah," VT 24 (1974):


10 G. E. Mendenhall, The Tenth Generation (Baltimore, MD, 1975), pp. 160-161.


24                                WILLIAM H. SHEA

be translated. He has subsequently presented the results of his work

on this subject to the Midwestern sectional meeting of the Society

of Biblical Literature that met at Andrews University in February


While I am deeply indebted to Cairus for his identification of

the letters which I accepted from him, plus some of the words in

my translations which were first proposed by him, other lexical

items and the overall translation and interpretation of the tablets

proposed below are my own responsibility and the result of my

continuing work on this subject. I have also added here my transla-

tion of the third and more badly damaged tablet (text II) and my

interpretation of the dotted tablets with which Cairns did not deal.


2. The Archaeological Context


These tablets were found on the floors of two storerooms that

were located immediately adjacent to the sanctuary at the site.

Since the pottery in the final phase of the sanctuary and in the

storerooms was essentially the same, it is evident that all of the

buildings in the complex were destroyed at approximately the same

time. A faience vase bearing the cartouche of Queen Taousert, who

reigned in Egypt at the beginning of the twelfth century, was

found in the final destruction level of the sanctuary; hence a date

for this destruction just after 1200 B.C. is appropriate from the

archaeological evidence.

This date of just after 1200 B.C. for the final destruction of the

sanctuary complex, however, does not necessarily provide a specific

date for the writing of the tablets. The archaeological evidence

indicates only that they could not have been written any later than

ca. 1200; it does not tell us how long before that final destruction

they were written. Several objects found in the sanctuary complex

antedated its final phase by rather long periods of time; A Hyksos

scarab was found in the storerooms with the tablets, and it must

have been more than three centuries old by the time of that destruc-

tion.11 Two large painted LB-I vessels were found in the cella of

the temple, and they came from an earlier phase of that structure.12

It is possible, therefore, that these tablets could have originated

from a time considerably earlier than the destruction of the final


11 Franken, "Excavations," Plate VIII, no. 3.

12 Ibid., Plate I.


DEIR cALLA TABLETS                                25


phase of the sanctuary. The archaic nature of their script suggests

that they probably did.


3. Analysis and Decipherment of the Script


The process of deciphering the script used on these tablets has

been a slow one, to which each of the studies cited above has made

a contribution. For reasons of space, identifications for signs in

previous studies which have been rejected are not here discussed.

The first of the letters in this script, which van den Branden correctly

identified, was the gimmel. It consists of a vertical stroke which curves to

the right at its head. The form is similar in later West-Semitic scripts, but

the head became more angular.

Van den Branden's second correct letter was the pe. This he identified

on the basis of parallels with the bow-shaped pe of Thamudic and Safaitic

scripts. In Canaanite writing the pe was written with more of a curve, and

it does not straighten out as much at the ends of the stroke.

Van den Branden was also the first to identify the samek in these texts.

It is a typical West-Semitic samek, which consists of three horizontal

strokes on a vertical stem.

The final letter, utilizable from van den Branden's identifications, is

the taw. It, too, is typical of West-Semitic taws in that it was written with

two crossed strokes.

The kaph, which was first identified by Cazelles, has a trefoil head and

a vertical tail like the later forms of the West-Semitic kaph. The use and

length of the tail of the kaph seem to vary among the Deir cAlla tablets.

The yod, which Gazelles identified, lacks the forked head of the later

West-Semitic yods. It was written here with just a dot, or not even that, at

the head of the vertical stroke.

The res that Mendenhall recognized has a direct parallel with the

head-shaped sign with which the res was written in the Proto-Sinaitic


The first of the letters which Cairus identified is the beth. Later West-

Semitic beths have triangular heads and angular tails. What Cairus noted

here was that there is a letter with a triangular head, but it is represented

only by three corner dots. The tail of this letter consists only of a straight

downstroke without any bend in it.

The circular infolded lamed, which Cairus recognized, comes fairly

close to the lamed in the abcedary of the cIzbet Sartah Ostracon.13


13 The lamed occurs as the 10th letter in the second line; the 12th, 26th, and 29th

letters of the fourth line; and the 12th letter of the fifth or alphabetic line of the

cIzbet Sartah Ostracon. See M. Kochavi, "An Ostracon of the Period of the Judges

from cIzbet Sartah," Tel Aviv 4 (1977): 1-13.


26                                WILLIAM H. SHEA




DEIR cALLA TABLETS                                            27


Cairus's distinction between the mem and the nun is especially impor-

tant for understanding these Deir cAlla texts. In later scripts, both of these

letters had wavy-lined heads extending to the left from the head of their

downstrokes. The mem, however, has multiple notches, while the nun has

only one. In these texts Cairus has identified the wavy vertical line as the

nun and the broad vertical V as the mem. This seems to run in the oppo-

site direction from the parallels. Cairus adopted this position on the basis

of the sense that they brought to their respective words. When he showed

me these identifications, I checked some of the early alphabets for parallels

and found one for the mem in the abcedary of the cIzbet Sartah Ostracon.14

Thus the mem that we find here has a .parallel in at least one other early

alphabet. That leaves the alternate letter as a nun.

cAyin was originally written in the form of a horizontal oval or circle

with a dot in it, representing the eye with a pupil. What Cairus recognized

here is that we have half of this sign--one curved line with a dot in it, but

lacking the lower curved line and being turned 90º to stand vertically.

Cairus's bow-shaped sin is relatively close in form to the later West-

Semitic sins, except that it has been rotated 90º to stand vertically like the


The vertical box-shaped sign at the beginning of the one word on the

side of text III has been difficult to identify. It looks most like heth, but it

does not function like heth because it is followed by a clear example of an

cayin. The combination of heth followed by cayin does not occur in West-

Semitic languages. In his search for another letter with which to identify

this sign, Cairus settled upon the zayin. If this sign is rotated 90º, like the

two previous letters discussed, and its excess of crossbars is removed, this

sign would resemble the later zayin. The key to this identification may lie

in the fact that the letter's top horizontal crossbar extends between the two

vertical strokes at an angle, as does the vertical connector between the

horizontal strokes of the later zayin.

There are some additional signs which should now be added to the

foregoing list. The first of these proposed here is he. One example of a

vertical box-shaped sign with one central crossbar appears in text II, and


14 The alphabet of the cIzbet Sartah Ostracon has been misinterpreted with

regard to mem and nun. It has been thought that the last letter in the alphabet

before the break in the middle of the sherd was the nun and that the mem was

missing. Actually, the last letter before the break is the mem and the nun was

written back in the sixth position of the letters in the alphabet. It is the standard

notched form of the nun that was written there in error, and to compensate for this

error the scribe wrote the waw, the correct letter of that position, underneath the

nun. That makes the broad letter like the v-shaped letter of the Tell Deir cAlla

tablets' mem. For details, see the line drawing of the ostracon which accompanies

Kochavi's article referred to in n. 13.


28                                            WILLIAM H. SHEA



another occurs in text I. While this sign looks something like heth, heth

does not make sense in these contexts while he does, and he is the letter

that looks most like heth. The clue to identifying he here may lie in the

facts that only one central crossbar extends between the vertical strokes and

that the vertical stroke on the left appears to be less deeply incised than the

one on the right.

Both Cazelles and Cairus considered identifying the letter with the

semicircle atop the vertical stroke as a waw, but in the end they rejected

that identification. That original identification is retained here. This letter

looks very much like the waws in other West-Semitic alphabets, and it

functions well in these texts as a waw.

The triangular letter which consists of only three dots has a head

which is similar to the head of the beth, but it does not have a tail, as does

the beth. The letter in later alphabets which has a triangular head but only

a rudimentary tail is the dalet; hence this letter has been identified as a

dalet here.

There appears to be another example of the zayin present here, this

one in text II. It is also a vertical box-shaped sign, but it has no central

crossbar, only top and bottom crossbars, and the top crossbar is incised at

an angle like that of the zayin on the side of text III. If this sign is rotated

90º and its bottom crossbar is removed, it also looks like the later zayin.

Together, these letter identifications yield the alphabet that is

outlined in Figure 1. While the forms of some of these letters are

unusual and quite archaic, most of them can still be related to

forms known from other early West-Semitic alphabets. From the

standpoint of these relations, there is no need to identify this script

as non-Canaanite. It should rather be thought of as compatible

with other early Canaanite scripts.

Before proceeding to the transliteration and a translation of

the texts of the three tablets, the long slash marks inscribed in these

texts should be mentioned. The slash marks are clearly word di-

viders. They make, in fact, much better word dividers than the

short vertical strokes or dots that were used in later texts.


4. Text I: Pethor Smitten

(Deir cAlla No. 1449)


General Introduction

In connection with text I and also the further two written

tablets, the pattern of treatment is as follows (indicated by side

subheads): First the transliteration and translation are given; next


DEIR cALLA TABLETS                                29


my line drawing of the particular tablet is presented (as given in

line drawing below); then general introductory comments are made

(whenever there are such); following those comes the analysis of

the text upon which my transliteration and translation are based;

and finally, attention is given to the historical and geographical

implications of the information elicited from the text. In tablet I,

which is inscribed with only one line, the final two items require

but one side heading each, whereas in tablets II and III, each of

which contains more than one line, the headings for these two final

areas of treatment will be on a line-by-line basis.


Transliteration and Translation of Text I:

lkm / mk. / wtm.y / whm / mk. /ptr


(la) "To you (have come) a smiter and a finisher,

(lb) and they (are) the smiters of Pethor."


The Line Drawing:





Analysis of the Text

This text was written all on one line located along the edge of the

tablet, and all six boxes for the words of this text were marked off on this

line. The superior and inferior flat surfaces of the tablet were not incised.

The first letter of the first word can be identified as a circular infolded

lamed, comparable to that of the cIzbet Sartah Ostracon. This is followed

by a standard form of the kaph with a trefoil head and vertical tail. The

large V of the mem concludes this word. Lkm divides nicely into the

prefixed preposition l and the suffixed pronoun km, second person plural.

It translates as, "To you. . . ." The position of this prepositional phrase

suggests that a form of the verb "to be" should be understood with it, here

translated freely as "have come."

The first noun which tells what came to the people was written with a

large notched mem, a trefoil kaph, and a dot following the kaph. This fits

either one of two words in Biblical Hebrew-makka as the noun for

"blow, stroke, wound, defeat"; or the Hiphil participle makke from the

derivative root nkh, "to beat, strike, smite, defeat." Either the noun or the


30                                            WILLIAM H. SHEA


verb would bring satisfactory meaning to this passage, but the verbal form

has been preferred for its emphasis on agency over result: thus, "smiter."

No indicator of the final vowel was written, but a dot does follow the kaph

both here and in the same word in the fifth box. In Biblical Hebrew the

kaph in these forms was doubled by using a dagesh forte. It looks very

much as if that was the scribe's intent here by use of this dot.

The third word is introduced by a waw with a forked head, which

should serve as a conjunction. Therefore a form and a function similar to

those of the preceding word are thus expected. The taw and mem from this

word's root occur next, and they are clear. They are followed by a dot and

a plain vertical stroke of the yod. The most direct relationship is to the

root tmm, "to finish, complete." If the dot doubles the letter that it

follows, as it appears to do elsewhere in this text, the yod following could

provide the reason why it should function in this way. When endings were

added to this Hebrew verb, its doubled forms appeared. This final yod

probably is not a pronominal suffix. More likely, it represents the i-vowel

of the old genitive case ending, a case ending which would be appropriate

here with a word that ends a prepositional phrase. My translation of this

word is "finisher."

The next word begins with a standard form of the waw with a forked

head. This should serve as a conjunction that introduces the other major

statement of the text. This is followed by the vertical box-shaped sign,

which has been identified as the he rather than heth. He also makes better

sense here. The last sign of this word is the large V-shaped mem that has

already been seen three times in this text. The word present here is

w + hm, or the conjunction followed by the third person masculine plural

independent pronoun, "they." The natural plural antecedent of this pro-

noun should be the two objects mentioned together immediately before it,

the "smiter" and the "finisher."

The fifth word in this line is the same as the second. It consists of a

mem followed by a kaph and a dot. As in the previous case, this should be

taken as a Hiphil participle from nkh, "to smite." For the third time in

this line a dot appears to function as doubling the consonant that it

follows. Since the subject of this participle is in the plural, the participle

should be plural too. But it lacks the mem of the plural ending, so it

probably should be taken as in construct with the following word. The

final vowel of the plural construct was not written out here. With the verb

"to be" understood, this second statement should thus far be translated as,

"and they (are) the smiters of. . . ."

The object which was smitten by these two "smiters" (i.e., by the

"smiter" and "'finisher" in the first statement) was named at the end of the

line, and that name reads quite clearly. Its first two letters are the pe and

taw, which van den Branden identified, and its final sign is the head-

shaped letter, which Mendenhall recognized as the res. The name of the


DEIR cALLA TABLETS                                31


object which received these two blows or attacks is, therefore, ptr. These

consonants can be vocalized quite readily to yield the name "Pethor."


Historical and Geographical Implications

Pethor is identified in Num 22:5 as the home of Balaam the

prophet. This text thus provides us with an identification for that

site, which previously was in dispute. Both the location of Pethor

and the ancient name of Tell Deir cAlla have been uncertain, but

thanks to this text, those two puzzle pieces can now be put together

by identifying Tell Deir cAlla as Pethor. Further discussion of this

identification follows later in this study, in Part II of this article.

The translation developed here for this six-word line thus not

only identifies as Pethor the site at which the tablet was found, but

also indicates that Pethor had been attacked by two successive

waves of attackers. Although this text does not identify those

attackers, it appears that the related tablet written in the same

scribal hand (II) does do so.


5. Text II: Pethor's Smiters (Deir cAlla No. 1441)


Transliteration and Translation:


(1) czwv t / pthm / m[k.]

(2) [wcdr]c.y / wywvgg / mk[.]


(1) "The mighty ones of Pithom (are) a sm[iter],

(2)  [and Edre]ci and Yog (are) a smiter."


The Line Drawing:


32                                            WILLIAM H. SHEA


Text II was inscribed upon the top surface of its tablet in a

boustrophedon order, as Franken originally noted. This is clear

from the fact that the letters face in one direction in one line and in

the other direction in the other line. Both lines read from right to

left, as the preceding text did, but the lines are upside down in

relation to each other. Some of the letters of the text have been

broken away at its right end. The written surface of the tablet has

been damaged and contains many horizontal cracks. These make

the text difficult to read.

Since the script of this tablet especially resembles that of tablet

I, it is reasonable to suggest that it was written by the same scribe

and at the same time as that tablet. If this was the case, then it is

natural to anticipate that the contents of this text may be related to

the contents of text I. Tablet I left off with the two attackers who

smote Pethor still unidentified. It appears that this text provides

those identifications.


Analysis of the Text of Line 1:

The first word of this text begins with a clear-cut case of the vertical

half-eye sign of an cayin. This is followed by a vertical box with its upper

horizontal bar crossing at an angle. Rotating this sign 90° suggests its

similarity to the later zayin, with which it should be identified. Next comes

a waw, with the forked head that is common to these two texts. The last

letter of this word is a taw, written here with its customarily crossed


Between the waw and taw of this word there is a vertical stroke that

would ordinarily be identified as a yod. Here, however, I would suggest a

different function for that stroke. The first two letters of czwvt make up the

word cuz, which is used in Biblical Hebrew either as a noun or as an

adjective meaning "strong, mighty, powerful." To this the feminine plural

ending -ot has been added, but that ending contains this intrusive yod.

Rather than serving as a true yod here, this stroke appears to have been

used as a vowel marker for the waw which precedes it, indicating that it

should be taken as vocalic a rather than as consonantal w. The waw

conjunctions of these texts are not followed by such a marker. I have

indicated this proposed function with a v above the line after the waw with

which it was used. The identity of the cuzot or "mighty ones" mentioned

here is addressed further below.

The first two signs of the next word were accurately copied by Cazelles

from Franken's photograph, and they can be identified with the pe and

taw that van den Branden recognized. The pe is more damaged than the


DEIR cALLA TABLETS                                33


taw. The next letter begins with a vertical stroke, as Cazelles copied. A

short horizontal stroke extends to the left from the middle of this stroke as

Cazelles also copied. While they are more difficult to see in the photograph,

two other horizontal strokes appear to project to the left from the top and

bottom of the vertical stroke. There may possibly be another vertical stroke

on the left, but this is uncertain. This box-shaped sign matches the form of

the he that is found in the fourth word of the preceding inscription. The

final sign of this word is located in the left upper corner of the word-box.

It has been obscured in part by abrasion to the tablet, but it can still be

read. It consists of a large V with a dot between the heads of its limbs. This

is the form consistently used by these texts for mem.

On the basis of the foregoing identification of the letters in this word,

the word can now be read as pthm. This word occurs as a place name,

Pithom (consonantal ptm), in Exod 1:11. It was one of the two major store

 cities that the Israelites built for Pharaoh in Egypt. These two names, Deir

cAlla pthm and biblical ptm, are essentially the same except for the way in

which they treat the spirantization of the taw. In Biblical Hebrew this was

accomplished by the absence of a dagesh lene. Lacking such an indicator,

the Deir cAlla scribe appears to have compensated by following the taw

with he. Because of their close written and phonological relationships, the

two names can be taken as referring to one and the same place, the

significance of whose presence in this text is discussed further below and in

Part II of this article.

The last word in this first line is badly damaged and difficult to read. It

can be reconstructed, however, from the traces that remain and by parallel-

ism with other parts of this text and with text I. Three dots cross the right

upper part of this box in a horizontal line. These remain from the first

letter of this word, and the traces of a large V extend down from the outer

two of them. This is sufficient evidence upon which to reconstruct another

mem here. Only faint traces of the next letter are still present. To antici-

pate a reading from the next line of this text, we may note that the word in

the parallel position there, in the third box, reads more clearly as mk. The

same word occurs twice in text I. On the basis of these parallels and the

faint traces present, it seems reasonable to reconstruct a kaph here. In its

preceding occurrences, mk has been treated as a Hiphil participle from the

verb nkh, "to smite," and so it should be treated here too: thus, "a smiter."


Historical and Geographical

Implications of Line 1


With these three words read and reconstructed, the larger sig-

nificance of this line can be considered. cUzot refers to the "mighty,"

with a plural ending. Pthm is the name of the place Pithom in

Egypt. These two words can be taken as related to each other in a


34                                WILLIAM H. SHEA



construct chain. The verb "to be" is understood here again, just as

it was in the two statements of text I. The last word of this line

indicates that the "mighty ones of Pithom" were identified as a

"smiter" or attacker. If this text is to be connected with the previous

one, as seems reasonable, the place smitten or attacked was Pethor.

Thus, one of the two groups that attacked Pethor was some of the

"mighty ones" from Pithom in Egypt.

While one might think at first of Pharaoh and his army in this

connection, there was a more direct way in which Canaanites could

have referred to him in person at the head of his forces. Therefore

another, more homogenous, group appears to be in view here.

Since the Israelites built Pithom during their stay in Egypt and left

it when they exited from Egypt, they make good candidates for this

description. The proposal here, then, is that the "mighty ones"

from Pithom in Egypt were none other than the Biblical Israelites,

and that at some time during their travels in Transjordan they

attacked Pethor. The feminine ending on the word for "mighty" is

curious. Perhaps it is modeled upon the feminine plural ending

that accompanies saba (seba’ot), "hosts, army, warriors."

Since the name for the other store city built by the Israelites in

Egypt was Ramesses (Exod 1:11), the question arises why Pithom

was referred to here instead of Ramesses. The availability of the

latter name for inclusion here depends upon when this text was

written. If it was written before the accession of Ramesses II, ca.

1290, it could not have mentioned the city of Ramesses, because

that city was only renamed for him after he came to the throne.

This text could still have referred to Pithom earlier than 1300,

however, for the name of that city was not coupled chronologically

to a particular Pharaoh's name. Although a precise date for these

texts has not been established as yet, several of their linguistic and

palaeographic features point to a rather lengthy interval between

their writing and the ca. 1200 destruction of the temple complex in

which they were found.


Analysis of the Text of Line 2

Most of the first word in the second line of this text has been broken

away. Traces of the vertical half-eye sign identify an cayin as the first

legible letter after the break. A vertical stroke, possibly a yod, follows this,

and there may be a dot between them. There is a longer stroke to the left of

the first vertical stroke. Even though it is damaged, it probably should be

taken as the line which delimits the end of this word box. It is difficult to


DEIR cALLA TABLETS                                            35




reconstruct a word here on the basis of just two letters. By parallel with the

presence of a place name in the first line, a place name might also be

expected here. Connecting that expectation with what follows suggests the

name of the Bashanite city Edreci for restoration here (consonantal ‘drcy,

Num 21:33-35). This proposal is, of course, quite tentative.

The word in the next box begins with a standard form of the waw

with a forked head. This should serve as a conjunction to connect this

word with the preceding one. The vertical stroke of a yod then follows,

and its head has been dotted. Another good example of the waw comes

after this yod. A vertical stroke without a dotted head follows this second

waw. The difference between the dotted stroke which follows the first waw

and the plain stroke which follows the second may be functional. It was

suggested above that in the preceding line of this text the vertical stroke

which follows the waw of the plural ending on cuzot (cuzwvt) may have

acted as a marker for the vocalic function of the waw which it followed.

The same suggestion may be offered here. In this case, the dotted stroke

before the second waw should be taken as a consonantal yod, and the

stroke after it should be taken as a vocalic indicator for it. A vertical stroke

with a head that curves to the right comes next and is readily identifiable

as a gimmel. The final letter in this word-box is difficult, but I take it to be

another example of the gimmel which has been turned upside down. The

rotation of the second letter in a pair can also be seen in the case of mkk in

text III.

The word in this box should thus be read as wyw vgg. The first waw

has been taken as a conjunction and the second as a vowel letter accom-

panied by its marker, i.e., w + yogg. Yogg is not analyzed well either as a

verb or as a noun, and parallelism with the first line suggests taking it as a

personal or place name. While yogg does not correspond to the name of

any place known in this region of Transjordan, it does bear a certain

resemblance to the personal name of Og. Og was the king of Bashan when

the Israelites arrived in Transjordan after the Exodus (Num 21:33). The

central portions of these two names, consisting of a vocalic waw followed

by a gimmel, correspond directly. The additional gimmel at the end of the

inscriptional name is not an important difference, as it may not have been

doubled by the biblical writer. Only the initial letters, cayin and yod,

respectively, differ significantly between these two names. This difference

is not due to a known phonetic shift. It could have resulted from a scribal

error during the course of the transmission of the biblical text. On the

other hand, it could also have come about through different ways in which

the original scribes heard this man's name, inasmuch as it probably came

to them through oral rather than written communication. Since the simi-

larities between these two names still appear to outweigh this one main

difference, it is proposed here to identify Deir cAlla's (y)og(g) with the

biblical (c)og.

36                                WILLIAM H. SHEA


The two letters of the word in the next box are partially damaged but

still legible. Both of them consist of large V-shaped signs. The point of the

first is missing, and the left limb of the second is faint. They both appear

to have dots between the heads of their upper limbs. By parallelism with

the word used twice in the first text, a stroke rather than a dot can be

reconstructed between the limbs of the second sign. That makes the first

letter a mem and the second a kaph. Thus we have here another occurrence

of the Hiphil participle mk from nkh (referring to a "smiter") that we

have already seen three times previously in these texts. A form of the verb

"to be" can also be understood here, between the word pair earlier in this

line and mk.


Historical and Geographical

Implications of Line 2

The three words in this line transcribe [‘dr]c.y / wywvgg / mk,

and they translate as "[Edre]ci and Yogg (are) a smiter." This line

of text identifies another party that attacked Pethor--Og and his

forces from Bashan. Og had two main residences in his territory,

one at Ashtaroth and the other at Edreci (Deut 1:4, Josh 12:4,

13:12). It would have been more logical for him to launch a

campaign into the Jordan Valley from the latter (at Derca), because

it was farther south than the former (at Tell cAshtarah). Thus, if

Edreci is the name that was broken away in part from the begin-

ning of the second line, there would have been good reason to

mention it here.

The Song of Heshbon (Num 21:26-30) describes Og's fellow

Transjordanian king Sihon as an aggressor who campaigned vic-

toriously into Moabite territory to the south. It would have been

natural for Og to act in a similar fashion, but he was not able to

campaign very far to the south because by crossing the Jabbok

River he would have penetrated into Sihon's territory and come

into conflict with him. The best direction for Og to expand his

territory was to the west, down to the river in the Jordan Valley.

Located just north of the confluence between the Jabbok and the

Jordan, Pethor at Tell Deir cAlla probably was one of the last sites

that Og conquered in filling out the territory of his kingdom.

The presence of the memory of Sihon's attack upon Moab in

the Biblical text suggests that it was a relatively recent occurrence

when the Israelites arrived in the area. Mention in this inscription

of Og's attack upon Pethor, along with reference to the subsequent

Israelite attack upon the same site, suggests that it too was a rela-

tively recent event by the time the Israelites arrived there.

DEIR cALLA TABLETS                                37


The Chronology of Events and the

Textual Order in Tablet II

A question of chronology and textual order arises from the

identification of both the Israelites and Bashanites as conquerors of

Pethor. Which came first? Num 21:33-35 tells of the Israelite defeat

of Og, the conquest of Bashan, and the annihilation of Og's forces

and families. Historically, therefore, the Bashanite conquest of

Pethor had to occur before the Israelite conquest of the same site,

for the Bashanites were not around any longer after the Israelites

came through this area. The translation of this text, as given above,

presents the Israelites as a smiter of Pethor in the first line and Og

and his forces as a smiter in the second line. Because this text was

written boustrophedon, however, this order could just as well have

been reversed. I have translated the text III this order because it

seemed easier to go from one to the other linguistically and epi-

graphically, and I have also retained it for reasons of literary

relations that are described later, in the forthcoming Part II.



(To be continued)




This material is cited with gracious permission from:

            Andrews University

            Berrien Springs, MI  49104

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