Copyright © 1989 by
THE INSCRIBED TABLETS FROM TELL DEIR cALLA
WILLIAM H. SHEA
The Biblical Research Institute
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,
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
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
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, "
History, 3d ed.. vol. 2, part 2, p. 510.
6 T. Dotan,
The Philistines and Their Material Culture
7 A. van den Branden, "Dechiffrement des inscriptions de Deir 'Alla," VT 15
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
in that seminar, Aecio Cairus from
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
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
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
found in the final destruction level of the sanctuary; hence a date
for this destruction just after 1200 B.C. is appropriate from the
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
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)
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
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 . It was one of the two major store
cities that the
Israelites built for Pharaoh in
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
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
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.
the Israelites built Pithom during their stay in
it when they exited from
description. The proposal here, then, is that the "mighty ones"
from Pithom in
and that at some time during their travels in
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
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.
it could not have mentioned the city of
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
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
resemblance to the personal name of Og. Og
was the king of
the Israelites arrived in
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
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
one at Ashtaroth and the other at Edreci (Deut 1:4, Josh 12:4,
). It would have been more logical for him to launch a
campaign into the
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 -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
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
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
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)
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