Monday, August 19, 2013

The Father of a Prophet? A newly discovered inscription has a possible connection to a biblical character.

It is rare for archaeologists to discover an inscription
with the name of person known to us from the
Bible. But a recent find in an excavation in Jerusalem's City of David may be one of those rare finds.

On Sunday the Israel Antiquities Authority announced that a layer of first temple era pottery was discovered including a ceramic bowl with a partial Hebrew inscription. Here is some of what the report says:

Most intriguing is the recent discovery of a ceramic bowl with a partially preserved inscription in ancient Hebrew. While not complete, the inscription presents us with the name of a seventh century BCE figure, which resembles other names known to us from both the Biblical and archaeological record (see examples below) and providing us with a connection to the people living in Jerusalem at the end of the First Temple period. 
The most similar name to our inscription is Zechariah the son of Benaiah, the father of the Prophet Jahaziel. The name Zechariah the son of Benaiah appears in 2 Chronicles 20:14 where it states that Jahaziel, son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, prophesized before the Biblical King Jehoshaphat before the nation went off to war against the ancient kingdoms of Ammon and Moab. 
The first letter of the ceramic bowl’s partially preserved inscription in ancient Hebrew script is broken and is therefore difficult to read, but appears to be the letter ר. The next three letters יהו constitute the theophoric suffix (the component in which the name of the deity appears as part of the first name, such as Yirme-yahu and Eli-yahu, etc). These letters are followed by בנ (the son of) after which appears the patronymic name composed of the three letters בנה. According to archaeologists Uziel and Zanton, “If we consider the possibility that we are dealing with an unvowelized or ‘defective’ spelling of the name בניה (Benaiah), then what we have before us is the name "...ריהו בן בניה" 

You can read the full report here.

 It will be interesting to see how this story develops. As interesting as this find may be it is important that we keep in mind what it does and doesn't tell us. 1) Keep in mind that the inscription is broken and difficult to read in spots. So while those who read it are making informed decisions, they are still guessing at what the missing part might have said. 2) While the inscription does seems to identify someone at "ryhu the son Benaiah," it is not necessarily connected to the father of Zechariah the prophet mentioned in 2 Chron 20:14.  Yes, this could be the father of that Zechariah, but there is nothing about this shard that definitively connects it with the prophet Zechariah or his father. What the inscribed shard does provide us, however, is a nice touch point with a name from the time period. Not only do we find the name of Benaiah in the Bible, we now also have it on an artifact. At this point there is little more that we can say.

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