November 10, 2005
By OREN KLASS
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Photo: Professor Maeir with shard at "ancient city of Gath." and below, the pottery shard (Yoni Reif)
A very small ceramic shard unearthed by Bar-Ilan University archaeologists digging at Tell es-Safi, the biblical city "Gath of the Philistines," may hold a very large clue into the history of the well-known biblical figure Goliath.
The shard, which contains the earliest known Philistine inscription ever to be discovered, mentions two names that are remarkably similar to the name "Goliath".
The discovery is of particular importance since the Bible attributes Gath as the home town of Goliath. "Gath of the Philistines," was one of the major cities of the Philistines, the well-known arch-enemies of the Israelites in the biblical text.
Professor Aren Maeir, Chairman of Bar-Ilan University's Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, told The Jerusalem Post that the odds of this being the actual Goliath referred to in the Bible are "small if non-existent."
Professor Maeir explained that this find could chronologically be placed some 50 years after the story of David and Goliath was to have taken place.
Furthermore, according to Prof. Maeir, Goliath was a very popular type of name at the time.
Regardless of the low odds, the archaeological find may be seen as the first clear extra-biblical evidence that the story of the battle between David and Goliath may be more than just a legend.
Written in archaic "Proto-Canaanite" letters, the inscription found on the shard, dating to the 10th or early 9th century BCE, contains two non-Semitic names: Alwt and Wlt. Most scholars believe the name Goliath, of non-Semitic origin, is etymologically related to various Indo-European names, such as the Lydian name Aylattes.
Following intense examination of the inscription, Prof. Meir (along with his colleagues Prof. Aaron Demsky, an expert in epigraphy at Bar-Ilan University, and Dr. Stefan Wimmer, of Munich University) has concluded that the two names which appear in the inscription are remarkably similar to the etymological parallels of Goliath.