Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Gezer Boundary Marker Discovered

As many of my readers will know, Ashland Seminary has been involved with the Tel-Gezer excavation project since 2009. I have had the opportunity to work at Gezer twice with groups of students from the seminary here and will most likely find my way back next summer.

The focus of the current excavations is on the 10th century BCE. Being a second temple guy, I am more interested in the remains of Gezer that date from the Hellenistic Hasmonean era. And that is what makes this most recent discovery at Gezer interesting.

The Gezer survey team led by Eric Mitchell and Jason Zan recently announced the discovery of a 13th boundary marker. These boundary markers plotted out the extent of the city of Gezer and its associated agricultural lands. These are bilingual inscriptions in Greek and Hebrew. Here is what Mitchell and  Zan had to say.

The boundary inscriptions demonstrate the period of conflict between the Seleucids and Maccabees. They show that the city had agricultural land around it and that the Jewish occupants were concerned over keeping their fields according to Jewish law. These discoveries are significant since the boundary stones have been frequently sought, but with long time frames between new discoveries. According to the scholarship of Ronnie Reich, of the University of Haifa, there are 12 known and published Gezer boundary stones dating to the Maccabean period. These bilingual inscriptions in outcrops of limestone bedrock ring the ancient city of Gezer on the South, East and Northeast. Many of these are two line inscriptions reading “Region of Gezer” on one line in Hebrew and “Belonging to Alkios” on the second line in Greek.
The new boundary stone inscription located by the Gezer survey team this season is the first to be found in over a decade, increasing the total number of known Gezer boundary inscriptions to 13. The new inscription is very weathered and is a bilingual inscription like many of the others, with some minor differences. It is a three line inscription, rather than the typical two, with the Greek name Alkiou on the first line (literally “belonging to Alkios”), remnants of the Hebrew word for “region of” on the second line and small remnants of the letters spelling “Gezer” on the third line. The Greek letters are larger than in other inscriptions and both the Greek and Hebrew lines are oriented in the same perspective. The survey directors will seek to publish the inscription as soon as possible in an academic publication.

For me this discovery raises once again the question of to what extent Hebrew was used in the second temple period. Most scholars agree, and with good reason, that Aramaic was the more commonly used language and that Hebrew was more a "sacred language" used in worship, etc. But such an inscription as this, which serve a municipal rather sacred purpose, seems to suggest that Hebrew was also used for other types of inscriptions. I have asked a few a my colleagues on the Gezer team their opinion, but they are not ready to venture any comments or suggestions at this time.

1 comment:

  1. It has been suggested that the purpose of the Gezer boundary inscriptions was to delimit the municipal boundary so that its fields, now clearly defined, would be subject to tithes and the laws of the Sabbatical year. Is this "municipal" or "religious"? In Israel, in days of yore until today, it is difficult to distinguish one from the other...