The Mesad Hashavyahu Ostracon (7th c. BCE)

The Mesad Hashavyahu Ostracon (7th c. BCE)

BiblicalHebrew.com, 2022

The Meṣad Ḥashavyahu ostracon, also known as the Yavne-Yam ostracon, was found in a guard room of a fortress south of Yavne-Yam. While the original name of the fort is unknown, it is referred to in Modern Hebrew as מיצד חשביהו meṣad ḥashavyahu. The text should probably be dated to the latter part of the seventh century BCE during the reign of King Josiah. The letter is written in good Judean Hebrew style and the script clearly reflects a well-trained scribe. The content of the ostracon is a letter of complaint from a tenant farmer against Hoshayahu, who apparently had taken the complainant’s garment and not returned it. The voice of the complainant comes through the inscription vividly, as you can imagine him dictating it to the scribe with great emotion (Aḥituv 2008, 156–158). The inscription reads as follows:

Image by Hanay under

Original Text

𐤉𐤔𐤌𐤏 𐤀𐤃𐤍𐤉. 𐤄𐤔𐤓

𐤀𐤕 𐤃𐤁𐤓 𐤏𐤁𐤃𐤄. 𐤏𐤁𐤃𐤊

𐤒𐤑𐤓. 𐤄𐤉𐤄. 𐤏𐤁𐤃𐤊. 𐤁𐤇

𐤑𐤓 𐤀𐤎𐤌. 𐤅𐤉𐤒𐤑𐤓 𐤏𐤁𐤃𐤊

𐤅𐤉𐤊𐤋 𐤅𐤀𐤎𐤌 𐤊𐤉𐤌𐤌. 𐤋𐤐𐤍𐤉 𐤔𐤁

𐤕 𐤊𐤀𐤔𐤓 𐤊𐤋 [𐤏]𐤁𐤃𐤊 𐤀𐤕 𐤒𐤑𐤓 𐤅𐤀

𐤎𐤌 𐤊𐤉𐤌𐤌 𐤅𐤉𐤁𐤀 𐤄𐤅𐤔𐤏𐤉𐤄𐤅 𐤁𐤍 𐤔𐤁

𐤉. 𐤅𐤉𐤒𐤇. 𐤀𐤕 𐤁𐤂𐤃 𐤏𐤁𐤃𐤊 𐤊𐤀𐤔𐤓 𐤊𐤋𐤕

𐤀𐤕 𐤒𐤑𐤓𐤉 𐤆𐤄 𐤉𐤌𐤌 𐤋𐤒𐤇 𐤀𐤕 𐤁𐤂𐤃 𐤏𐤁𐤃𐤊

𐤅𐤊𐤋 𐤀𐤇𐤉. 𐤉𐤏𐤍𐤅. 𐤋𐤉. 𐤄𐤒𐤑𐤓𐤌 𐤀𐤕𐤉 𐤁𐤇𐤌.

𐤄]𐤔[𐤌𐤔] 𐤀𐤇𐤉. 𐤉𐤏𐤍𐤅. 𐤋𐤉 𐤀𐤌𐤍 𐤍𐤒𐤕𐤉. 𐤌𐤀

𐤔𐤌 𐤅𐤏𐤕 𐤉𐤔𐤁 𐤍𐤀 𐤀𐤕] 𐤁𐤂𐤃𐤉 𐤅𐤀𐤌𐤋𐤀. 𐤋𐤔𐤓 𐤋𐤄𐤔

𐤁 𐤀𐤕 𐤁𐤂𐤃] 𐤏𐤁[𐤃𐤊 𐤅𐤕𐤕]𐤍 𐤀𐤋𐤅. 𐤓𐤇

𐤌𐤌 𐤅𐤄𐤔]𐤁𐤕 𐤀𐤕 [𐤁𐤂𐤃 𐤏]𐤁𐤃𐤊 𐤅𐤋𐤀 𐤕𐤃𐤄𐤌𐤍

𐤉]

Transcription with Audio (Ancient Script)

Ancient ScriptHistorical PronunciationTranslation

𐤉𐤔𐤌𐤏 𐤀𐤃𐤍𐤉. 𐤄𐤔𐤓

jiʃˈmaʕ ʔadoːˈnajj haɬ-ˈɬar

‘May my lord, the
commander, hear!’

𐤀𐤕 𐤃𐤁𐤓 𐤏𐤁𐤃𐤄

ˈʔit daˈbar ʕabˈduh

‘the word of
his servant’

𐤏𐤁𐤃𐤊 𐤒𐤑𐤓. 𐤄𐤉𐤄. 𐤏𐤁𐤃𐤊

ʕabˈdak qoːˈṣir haˈjaː ʕabˈdak

‘your servant—your
servant would harvest’

𐤁𐤇𐤑𐤓 𐤀𐤎𐤌

ba-ħaˈṣir ʔaˈsam

‘in Haṣar Asam’

𐤅𐤉𐤒𐤑𐤓 𐤏𐤁𐤃𐤊

wa-jiqˈṣur ʕabˈdak

‘and your servant
harvested’

𐤅𐤉𐤊𐤋 𐤅𐤀𐤎𐤌 𐤊𐤉𐤌𐤌

wa-jiˈkall wa-ʔaˈsoːm ka-jaˈmiːm

‘and finished and
stored as always’

𐤋𐤐𐤍𐤉 𐤔𐤁𐤕

la-paˈnaj ʃabˈbat

‘before Sabbath’

𐤊𐤀𐤔𐤓 𐤊𐤋 [𐤏]𐤁𐤃𐤊 𐤀𐤕 𐤒𐤑𐤓

kaˈʔisr kilˈlaː ʕabˈdak ˈʔit qaṣiːˈroː(h)

‘When your servant
finished his harvest’

𐤅𐤀𐤎𐤌 𐤊𐤉𐤌𐤌

wa-ʔaˈsoːm ka-jaˈmiːm

‘and stored
as always’

𐤅𐤉𐤁𐤀 𐤄𐤅𐤔𐤏𐤉𐤄𐤅 𐤁𐤍 𐤔𐤁𐤉

wa-jaˈboː(ʔ) hawʃiʕˈjaːhuː ˈbin ʃoːˈbaj

‘then came Hoshayahu,
the son of Shobay’

𐤅𐤉𐤒𐤇. 𐤀𐤕 𐤁𐤂𐤃 𐤏𐤁𐤃𐤊

wa-jiqˈqiħ ˈʔit ˈbigd ʕabˈdak

‘and took the garment
of your servant’

𐤊𐤀𐤔𐤓 𐤊𐤋𐤕 𐤀𐤕 𐤒𐤑𐤓𐤉

kaˈʔiʃr kilˈleːtiː ˈʔit qaṣiːˈriː

‘when I completed
my harvest’

𐤆𐤄 𐤉𐤌𐤌

ˈzeː jaˈmiːm

‘as always’

𐤋𐤒𐤇 𐤀𐤕 𐤁𐤂𐤃 𐤏𐤁𐤃𐤊

laˈqaħ ˈʔit ˈbigd ʕabˈdak

‘he took the garment
of your servant’

𐤅𐤊𐤋 𐤀𐤇𐤉. 𐤉𐤏𐤍𐤅. 𐤋𐤉

wa-ˈkull ʔaχˈχajj jiʕˈnuː ˈliː

‘and all my brothers
will testify for me’

𐤄𐤒𐤑𐤓𐤌 𐤀𐤕𐤉

haq-qoːṣiˈriːm ʔitˈtiː

‘who harvested
with me’

𐤁𐤇𐤌. [𐤄]𐤔[𐤌𐤔

ba-ˈħumm haʃ-ˈʃamʃ

‘in the heat
of the sun’

𐤀𐤇𐤉. 𐤉𐤏𐤍𐤅. 𐤋𐤉

ʔaχˈχajj jiʕˈnuː ˈliː ʔaˈmin

‘my brothers will
testify for me. Amen.’

𐤍𐤒𐤕𐤉. 𐤌𐤀[𐤃𐤌

niqˈqeːtiː miʔ-ʔaˈʃam

‘I am innocent
from any guilt’

𐤅𐤏𐤕 𐤉𐤔𐤁 𐤍𐤀 𐤀𐤕] 𐤁𐤂𐤃𐤉

wa-ˈʕatt jaˈʃib naː(ʔ) ˈʔit bigˈdiː

‘and now, let him
return my garment!’

𐤅𐤀𐤌𐤋𐤀. 𐤋𐤔𐤓

wa-ʔimalˈli(ʔ) laɬ-ˈɬar

‘And I call out to
the commander’

𐤋𐤄𐤔[𐤁 𐤀𐤕 𐤁𐤂𐤃] 𐤏𐤁[𐤃𐤊

la-haˈʃiːb ˈʔit ˈbigd ʕabˈdak

‘to return the garment
of your servant’

𐤅𐤕𐤕]𐤍 𐤀𐤋𐤅 𐤓𐤇[𐤌𐤌

wa-titˈtin ʔiˈlaw raħˈmiːm

‘and grant him
mercy’

𐤅𐤄𐤔]𐤁𐤑 𐤀𐤕 [𐤁𐤂𐤃 𐤏]𐤁𐤃𐤊

wa-hiʃˈbitt ˈʔit ˈbigd ʕabˈdak

‘and return the garment
of your servant’

𐤅𐤋𐤀 𐤕𐤃𐤇𐤍𐤅

wa-ˈloː(ʔ) taddiːˈħinnuː

‘and do not
drive him away!’

Transcription with Audio (Modern Script)

Modern ScriptModern PointedTranslation

ישמע אדני. השר

יִשְׁמַע אֲדֹנִי הַשַּׂר

‘May my lord, the
commander, hear!’

את דבר עבדה

אֶת דְּבַר עַבְדֹּה

‘the word of
his servant’

עבדך קצר. היה. עבדך

עַבְדְּךָ קֹצֵר הָיָה עַבְדְּךָ

‘your servant—your
servant would harvest’

בחצר אסם

בַּחֲצַר אָסָם

‘in Haṣar Asam’

ויקצר עבדך

וַיִּקְצֹר עַבְדְּךָ

‘and your servant
harvested’

ויכל ואסם כימם

וַיְכַל וְאָסֹם כַּיָּמִם

‘and finished and
stored as always’

לפני שבת

לִפְנֵי שַׁבָּת

‘before Sabbath’

כאשר כל [ע]בדך את קצר

כַּאֲשֶׁר כִּלָּ [עַ]בְדְּךָ אֶת קְצִרֹ

‘When your servant
finished his harvest’

ואסם כימם

וְאָסֹם כַּיָּמִם

‘and stored
as always’

ויבא הושעיהו בן שבי

וַיָּבֹא הוֹשַׁעְיָהוּ בֶּן שֹׁבַי

‘then came Hoshayahu,
the son of Shobay’

ויקח. את בגד עבדך

וַיִּקַּח אֶת בֶּגֶד עַבְדְּךָ

‘and took the garment
of your servant’

כאשר כלת את קצרי

כַּאֲשֶׁר כִּלֵּתִ אֶת קְצִרִי

‘when I completed
my harvest’

זה ימם

זֶה יָמִם

‘as always’

לקח את בגד עבדך

לָקַח אֶת בֶּגֶד עַבְדְּךָ

‘he took the garment
of your servant’

וכל אחי. יענו. לי.

וְכָל אַחַי יַעֲנוּ לִי

‘and all my brothers
will testify for me’

הקצרם אתי

הַקֹּצְרִים אִתִּי

‘who harvested
with me’

בחם. [ה]ש[מש

בְּחֹם [הַ]שֶּׁ[מֶשׁ

‘in the heat
of the sun’

אחי. יענו. לי אמן

אַחַי יַעֲנוּ לִי אָמֵן

‘my brothers will
testify for me. Amen.’

נקתי. מא[שם

נִקֵּתִי מֵאָ[שָׁם

‘I am innocent
from any guilt’

ועת ישב נא את] בגדי

וְעַתָּ יָשֵׁב נָא אֶת] בִּגְדִּי

‘and now, let him
return my garment!’

ואמלא. לשר

וַאֲמַלֵּא לַשַּׂר

‘And I call out to
the commander’

להש[ב את בגד] עב[דך

לְהָשִׁ[ב אֶת בֶּגֶד] עַבְ[דְּךָ

‘to return the garment
of your servant’

ותת]ן אלו. רח[מם

וְתִתֵּ]ן אֵלו רַחֲ[מִם

‘and grant him
mercy’

והש]בת את [בגד ע]בדך

וַהֲשֵׁ]בֹתָ אֶת [בֶּגֶד עַ]בְדְּךָ

‘and return the garment
of your servant’

ולא תדחנו

וְלֹא תַּדִּחֶנּוּ

‘and do not
send him away!’

Commentary

אדני

Note that in the Tiberian vocalisation tradition of Biblical Hebrew, the consonantal text אדני is construed as plural אֲדֹנָי when it refers to God but as singular אֲדֹנִי when it means ‘my lord; my master’ and refers to a human. Such a distinction, however, likely did not apply in the First Temple period—this may still have been the case at the time of this inscription. All masters, human and divine, could be referred to in the plural as /ʔadoːniːm/ ‘master’ or /ʔadoːnajj/ ‘my master’ with the 1CS suffix added.

In the Second Temple period, however, after the Jews began to pronounce the tetragrammaton (יהוה) as אֲדֹנָי (instead of something like [jahˈweː]), this began to change. At that point, referring to a human master as אֲדֹנַי ‘my master’ might have sounded too much like you were calling the human master by the name of God. As a result, what would have been a plural form with a 1CS suffix in an earlier period came to be pronounced as a singular form with a 1CS suffix: i.e., אֲדֹנַי ← אֲדֹנִי. This maintained a clear distinction between human masters and the divine name.

This is a consistent trend that can be found in the Tiberian vocalisation of the Hebrew Bible. Note, for example, that when Abraham is talking to God in Genesis 18, he refers to God as אֲדֹנָי ‘my lord.PL’: e.g., ‏הִנֵּה־נָ֤א הוֹאַ֙לְתִּי֙ לְדַבֵּ֣ר אֶל־אֲדֹנָ֔י וְאָנֹכִ֖י עָפָ֥ר וָאֵֽפֶר׃ ‘look now, I have undertaken to speak to my lord while I am but dust and ashes’ (Gen. 18.27). In the same chapter, however, when Sarah refers to Abraham her husband as ‘my lord’, she refers to him as אֲדֹנִי ‘my lord.SG’: e.g., ‏אַחֲרֵ֤י בְלֹתִי֙ הָֽיְתָה־לִּ֣י עֶדְנָ֔ה וַֽאדֹנִ֖י זָקֵֽן׃ ‘after I am worn out, should I have pleasure, when my lord is old?’ (Gen. 18.12).

However, when possessive suffixes other than the 1CS suffix are added (‘your master’, ‘his master’, etc.), the noun is still construed as a plural, even for human masters: e.g., כִּי־בָא֙ אַחַ֣ד הָעָ֔ם לְהַשְׁחִ֖ית אֶת־הַמֶּ֥לֶךְ אֲדֹנֶֽיךָ׃ ‘for one of the people came to destroy the king, your master’ (1 Sam. 26.15); ‏אֲשֶׁר֩ שְׁלָח֨וֹ מֶֽלֶךְ־אַשּׁ֤וּר ׀ אֲדֹנָיו֙ ‘whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent’ (2 Kgs. 19.4). There are two potential—but not mutually exclusive—reasons for the maintenance of the plural in such forms. For one, it is only the form with the 1CS suffix that sounds like the standard pronunciation of the tetragrammaton in the Second Temple period and after. The other reason is that in all of these other cases the yod of the plural is preserved in the consonantal text, so it could not be vocalised as anything but a plural.

All of this is simply to say, though, that readers of this 7th c. BCE inscription might still have maintained the more archaic pronunciation of the plural /ʔadoːnajj/ for a human master.

השר

Note that the form השר ‘the commander’ is definite. This is also the case with the vocative in a direct address: e.g., דָּבָ֥ר לִ֛י אֵלֶ֖יךָ הַשָּׂ֑ר ‘I have a word for you, O commander’ (2 Kgs. 9.5).

עבדך קצר היה עבדך

The subject עבדך ‘your servant’ is clause-initial but then the author sort of backtracks into the more idiomatic way of introducing his narrative with a clause-final subject: קֹצֵר הָיָה עַבְדְּךָ ‘so your servant would harvest’. All together, one might render עבדך קצר היה עבדך as ‘your servant—so your servant would harvest’. This syntactic construction may be regarded as a Hanging Topic Left Dislocation. Although some scholars render this expression as a sort of circumstantial clause ‘your servant was harvesting…’ (AhÌ£ituv 2008, 159), it is probably more like a past habitual ‘your servant would harvest (as his normal work routine)’. It is providing the necessary background to what is about to follow. This is supported by a similar construction in the Hebrew Bible: ‏וַיֹּ֤אמֶר דָּוִד֙ אֶל־שָׁא֔וּל רֹעֶ֨ה הָיָ֧ה עַבְדְּךָ֛ לְאָבִ֖יו בַּצֹּ֑אן וּבָ֤א הָֽאֲרִי֙ וְאֶת־הַדּ֔וֹב וְנָשָׂ֥א שֶׂ֖ה מֵהָעֵֽדֶר׃ ‘and David said to Saul, “Your servant would watch the flocks for his father, and the lion and the bear would come and take a sheep from the herd.”’ (1 Sam. 17.34).

בחצר אסם

Note that the final pataḥ in the construct form חֲצַר in the Tiberian tradition is likely due to lowering in the environment of the resh. The absolute form חָצֵר provides more insight into the historical form */ħaṣir/, which probably obtained in both absolute and construct states in this early period.

ויקצר

Before the Second Temple period, there was likely no morphological distinction between vav + yiqṭol and vayyiqṭol (also known as the vav consecutive) in a form like this. There would have been no gemination of the prefix consonant at this early period (see Kantor 2020). Therefore, the form is to be vocalised as */wa-jiqˈṣur/. One might consider a penultimate stress, but we follow here either Suchard who suggests a stress shift *v́CCvC → *vCCv́C s (Suchard 2020, 93) or the idea that analogy to the long/regular yiqṭol form might have brought this about. Reconstructing stress at this ancient period, however, can be a difficult task and is not given to certainty.

ויכל

The sequence ויכל has generally been interpreted as coming from the root כל״י ‘to finish; to complete’ or from the root כו״ל/כי״ל ‘to measure; to contain’. If it is from the former, the vocalisation would be */wa-ˈjikall/ ‘and finished’ in the piÊ¿Ê¿el/piÊ¿Ê¿al binyan. If it is from the latter, the vocalisation would be */wa-ˈjakul/ (or */wa-ˈjakil/) ‘and measured’ in the qal binyan. On one hand, the root כל״י ‘to finish’ is more commonly attested in the Bible in the context of קציר ‘harvest’: e.g., ‏עַ֣ד אִם־כִּלּ֔וּ אֵ֥ת כָּל־הַקָּצִ֖יר אֲשֶׁר־לִֽי׃ ‘until they have finished all the harvest that is mine’ (Ruth 2.21). The root כו״ל is not attested at all in the context of קציר ‘harvest’ in the Bible. On the other hand, the spelling כל [×¢]בדך את קצר might recommend the root כו״ל/כי״ל, since there is no final heh mater as would be expected for the word כִּלָּה ‘finished’ (AhÌ£ituv 2008, 161). And yet, even later in this same sentence a final heh mater appears to be absent from קצר = */qaá¹£iːru(h)/. AhÌ£ituv’s statement that “the root כלה in PiÊ¿el … is precluded by the absence of a mater lectionis in the form כל” seems a bit too certain. Nevertheless, his claim that the argument is about whether the plaintiff has “fulfilled his quota or not” is a good point (AhÌ£ituv 2008, 161). Nevertheless, either option seems tenable to me. ’Completing’ and ‘storing’ a harvest is sensible. ‘Measuring’ and ‘storing’ a harvest is also possible. We have gone with the former because it has a biblical parallel.

ואסם

The sequence ואסם may reflect either the CONJ vav + qaṭal (≈ וְאָסַם) or vav + the infinitive absolute (≈ וְאָסֹם). We have opted for the infinitive absolute here (i.e., */wa-ʔaˈsoːm/), partly due to the fact that vav + yiqṭol is used frequently in this letter to indicate narrative past actions. Nevertheless, the CONJ vav + qaṭal interpretation is possible.

כימם

The phrase כימם has been compared (Aḥituv 2008, 161) to certain phrases involving past habitual (or iterative) action in the Hebrew Bible: e.g., וְעָלָה֩ הָאִ֨ישׁ הַה֤וּא מֵֽעִירוֹ֙ מִיָּמִ֣ים ׀ יָמִ֔ימָה לְהִֽשְׁתַּחֲוֹ֧ת וְלִזְבֹּ֛חַ לַיהוָ֥ה צְבָא֖וֹת בְּשִׁלֹ֑ה ‘and that man would go up from his city year by year to worship and to make sacrifices to YHWH of Hosts at Shiloh’ (1 Sam. 1.3); וְדָוִ֛ד מְנַגֵּ֥ן בְּיָד֖וֹ כְּי֣וֹם ׀ בְּי֑וֹם ‘and David would play the lyre with his hand day by day’ (1 Sam. 18.10). We have rendered it as indefinite (*/ka-jaˈmiːm/) due to the greater tendency for unique and generic nouns to undergo definiteness following the inseparable prepositions in some later traditions of Hebrew (see Bekins and Kantor, forthcoming).

לפני שבת

A similar phrase is found in the Hebrew Bible, but with the definite article: לִפְנֵ֣י הַשַּׁבָּ֗ת ‘before the Sabbath’ (Neh. 13.19). The form without the definite article in the inscription may be more archaic, given the late nature of Nehemiah. There is also a tendency for definiteness to increase in generic and unique nouns in later traditions of Hebrew (see Bekins and Kantor, forthcoming).

כאשר

The original pronunciation of the word אֲשֶׁר is debatable. On one hand, it likely comes from an earlier Semitic nominal form */ʔaθaru/ (for the etymology of שֶׁ and אֲשֶׁר, see Huehnergard 2006). However, the Greek transcriptions of Hebrew in the Secunda write this word as εσερ, the Latin transcriptions of Hebrew in Jerome write it as eser, and the Samaritan Hebrew reading tradition has an initial [eː] vowel in [ˈʔeːʃɑr]. This suggests that it may have been a segholate (i.e., *qiá¹­l pattern) noun at an early stage of Hebrew, something like */ʔiʃr/. Although this is not commonly cited as a likely reconstruction of this word, Secunda scholars like myself and Yuditsky (2017, 217) support it. Its lack of mention in wider scholarship may be due to lack of familiarity with the Greek and Latin transcriptions of Hebrew and the Samaritan tradition. With the prefix */ka-/, then, the word would be */ka-ʔiʃr/.

כל

Aḥituv (2008, 161) suggests that the absence of a heh mater in this word means that it has to be from the root כו״ל/כי״ל (i.e., כָּל ‘measured’) rather than כל״י (i.e., כִּלָּה ‘finished’). However, the word קצר elsewhere in this same clause (see below) is without a heh mater but must have a vowel at the end of it. In the Hebrew Bible, the verb כִּלָּה ‘finished’ can be associated with קָצִיר ‘harvest’: e.g., ‏עַ֣ד אִם־כִּלּ֔וּ אֵ֥ת כָּל־הַקָּצִ֖יר אֲשֶׁר־לִֽי׃ ‘until they have finished all the harvest that is mine’ (Ruth 2.21). On the other hand, the point that a main theme in the inscription is whether or not the plaintiff fulfilled his quota would recommend כָּל ‘measured’. On the other hand, one might also suggest that the dispute was about whether or not he ‘finished’ his work, which does not necessarily imply that a quota be mentioned in the complaint. Either interpretation is thus possible. We opt for the root כל״י.

One other point to be made in favor of the root כל״י concerns the flow of the text and the nature of the pairing of the particle כאשר ‘when’ with the verb כל or כלת. While כאשר כלה … ואסם could conceivably be taken as ‘when measured … and stored’, it would seem odd to render the phrase כאשר כלת … לקח later in the inscription as ‘when I had measured … he took’. It seems more plausible to render ‘when I had finished … he took’.

את קצר

The fact that the noun קצר is preceded by the direct object marker את would seem to imply that it should be pronounced with a 3MS possessive suffix: i.e., */qaṣiːru(h)/ or */qaṣiːˈroː/ ‘his harvest’. This serves to suppor the claim that the absence of a heh mater in the verbal form כל is not conclusive for the root כו״ל/כי״ל over against כל״י.

ויבא … ויקח

In light of the comments above regarding the vayyiqṭol form, these are to be vocalised without gemination in the prefix: i.e., */wa-ˈjabo(ː)(ʔ)/ and */wa-jiqˈqaħ/ or */wa-jiqˈqiħ/. While the Tiberian tradition has a final pataḥ in the form וַיִּקַּח, there may be reason for thinking earlier forms of Hebrew might have had an */e/ or */i/ theme vowel. It has been suggested that the morphophonological shape of יִקַּח was influenced in part by that of יִתֵּן, which does exhibit an */e/ or */i/ theme vowel. Note also the fact that at an earlier stage of Hebrew, /ħ/ did not necessarily bring about the same lowering. The Secunda renders וְלָקַ֥חַת ‘and to accept’ (Mal. 2.13) as ουλακεθ.

כלת

Assuming we are continuing with a piʿʿel/piʿʿal verb from the root כל״י, we may reconstruct the pronunciation of this verb as */killiːtiː/ or perhaps */killiːt/ as a morphological biform without a final */iː/ vowel. Note that other forms below (קצרי and נקתי) make use of a final yod mater in such contexts. It is possible that the sequence כלת את */killiːtiː ʔit/ contracted to *[killiːtit] in quick speech and thus the verb was pronounced as if it terminated with /-t/. Note also that in the Hebrew Bible dissimilation in the final vowel of the stem before the 1CS ending is common: e.g., צִוֵּיתִי ‘I commanded’ alongside צִוִּיתִי (see Rubin 2001). If this phenomenon already obtained in the First Temple period, then we might also suggest */killeːtiː/ as a possibility.

קצרי

Note the use of a final yod mater for the long /iː/ vowel of the 1CS suffix in */qaṣiːriː/. It does not imply a consonantal realization.

זה ימם

The phrase זֶה יָמִים is also attested in the Hebrew Bible: e.g., ‏הֲלֽוֹא־זֶ֨ה דָוִ֜ד עֶ֣בֶד ׀ שָׁא֣וּל מֶֽלֶךְ־יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל אֲשֶׁ֨ר הָיָ֤ה אִתִּי֙ זֶ֤ה יָמִים֙ אוֹ־זֶ֣ה שָׁנִ֔ים וְלֹֽא־מָצָ֤אתִי בוֹ֙ מְא֔וּמָה מִיּ֥וֹם נָפְל֖וֹ עַד־הַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּֽה׃ ‘is this not David, the servant of Saul, king of Israel, who was with me already days or years and I did not find in him fault from the day of his fall until this day’ (1 Sam. 29.3). The expression can also be used with an adjective modifier for יָמִים: e.g., ‏לֹֽא־עֲזַבְתֶּ֣ם אֶת־אֲחֵיכֶ֗ם זֶ֚ה יָמִ֣ים רַבִּ֔ים עַ֖ד הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה ‘you have not forsaken your brothers for many days now all the way until this very day’ (Josh. 22.3); ‏וְאַל־תָּס֙וּכִי֙ שֶׁ֔מֶן וְהָיִ֕ית כְּאִשָּׁ֗ה זֶ֚ה יָמִ֣ים רַבִּ֔ים מִתְאַבֶּ֖לֶת עַל־מֵֽת׃ ‘and do not anoint with oil, but be as a woman who now for many days has been mourning over a dead one’ (2 Sam. 14.2). Idiomatically, the phrase זֶה יָמִים seems to mean something like ‘already for days’ which is extended to indicate ‘as always’.

אחי

From other Semitic languages like Arabic (أخ ʔaχ ‘brother’), we know that the ח in the word אח ‘brother’ goes back to /χ/ rather than /ħ/. At the time of this inscription, these sounds had not yet merged. Note also that in the plural form, the /χ/ consonant was probably doubled. This is likely in light of the behavior of certain suffixed forms in Tiberian Hebrew, like אֶחָיו ‘his brothers’. Therefore, we have vocalised אחי as */ʔaχχajj/.

יענו

Transcriptions from the Secunda suggest that at an earlier stage of Hebrew, not all I-ʿ roots had an /a/ prefix vowel in the yiqṭol form: cf. תַּֽעֲשׂ֔וּ ‘you do’ (Mal. 2.13) as θεσου. There are thus two ways to look at Tiberian יַעֲנוּ. The initial pataḥ is either a preservation of the original *yaqṭul pattern or it represents lowering in the environment of /ʕ/. Given the fact that lowering is avoided in forms like יִהְיֶה and יִחְיֶה (see Khan 2018), this suggests that perhaps at an earlier stage of Hebrew the prefix vowel was generally */i/.

אמן

The form אמן = */ʔaˈmin/ was originally a 3MS qaṭal verb expressing a wish: i.e., ‘may it be true!’ or ‘may it be faithful!’. Eventually, it developed into a liturgical or religious term. It is highly significant, though, that we have one of the few non-religious attestations of this word in this ancient letter. This perhaps provides some insight into the development of אמן as a religious term.

נקתי

This is a nifʿal form of the root נק״י. In light of the possible dissimilation of the final vowel of the stem from the vowel of the 1CS (see Rubin 2001), the form could be pronounced as */niqqiːtiː/ or */niqqeːtiː/.

[ועת ישב נא את]

Different suggestions have been put forward for filling in this missing portion. According to Aḥituv (2008, 159–160), the empty space may be filled in with a jussive command. Alternatively, one might suggest a direct address via an imperative form.

ואמלא לשר

The root מל״א normally means ‘to be full’ or ‘to fill’, but here it must mean something like ‘call out’ or some other verb of speech. Aḥituv (2008, 160, 163) renders ואמלא as ‘and I call out’, comparing the following biblical example: קִרְא֤וּ מַלְאוּ֙ וְאִמְר֔וּ ‘cry out and say!’ (Jer. 4.5). He also considers the alternative of ‘I will recompense’, citing the following example: וַיְמַלְא֣וּם לַמֶּ֔לֶךְ ‘and they gave them to the king in full’ (1 Sam. 18.27). But, as Aḥituv points out, it seems unlikely that the author would be seeking to pay or bribe the official here. Calling out seems more likely.

Other scholars have suggested dividing the words differently (e.g., Hackett), so that the sequence reads ואם לא ‘and if not’. If this is the case, then we could understand the wider context as: ‘let him return my garment! … but if not … it’s on the commander to return my garment!’. This would also be a reasonable reading.

ותת]ן

The first few letters of this word are restored. However, the pairing of נָתַן ‘to give’ and רַחֲמִים ‘compassion’ is attested in the Bible: ‏וְאֵ֣ל שַׁדַּ֗י יִתֵּ֨ן לָכֶ֤ם רַחֲמִים֙ ‘and may El Shadday grant you compassion!’ (Gen. 43.14); ‏וְנָֽתַן־לְךָ֤ רַחֲמִים֙ ‘and show you compassion’ (Deut. 13.18); ‏וְאֶתֵּ֥ן לָכֶ֛ם רַחֲמִ֖ים ‘and I will grant you compassion’ (Jer. 42.12).

רח[מם

In the Tiberian tradition, the word רַחֲמִים ‘compassion’ exhibits an irregular plural for a segholate noun. It appears to be formed off the singular base rather than with the typical a-insertion in the plural of segholate nouns: i.e., */raħm/ → */raħmiːm/, but cf. */malk/ ‘king’ → */malakiːm/ ‘kings’. Though uncommon, there are other such forms: e.g., שִׁקְמִ֣ים ‘sycamores’ (Isa. 9.9); פִּשְׁתִּֽים׃ ‘linen’ (Lev. 13.47) (see Fox 2003, 108). It is possible that this irregular plural developed to distinguish it from a hypothesized plural רְחָמִים ‘wombs’.

והש]בת

The lack of a final heh mater may suggest that והש]בת exhibits the 2MS morphological biform with just a final /-t/: i.e., */hiʃbitt/. Note that a similar form is attested in the Secunda transcriptions of Hebrew: הִשְׁבַּ֥תָּ ‘you have made cease’ (Ps. 89.45) as εσβεθ.

ולא תדחנו

There is scholarly debate about the correct reading of the final word. Some (e.g., Aḥituv 2008, 159) suggest ולא תדהמני ‘and do not confound me!’ from the root דה״ם. Others (e.g., Frank Moore Cross) suggest the reading ולא תדחנו ‘and do not drive him away’ from the root נד״ח with a 3MS object suffix as a reference to the servant (i.e., the author of the inscription) in the third person.

Bibliography:

Aḥituv, Shmuel. 2008. Echoes From the Past: Hebrew and Cognate Inscriptions From the Biblical Period. Jerusalem: Carta. Pages 156–164.

Bekins, Peter, and Benjamin Kantor. forthcoming. “The History of the Vocalization of the Definite Article with Inseparable Prepositions in Tiberian Hebrew.” 

Dobbs-Allsopp, F. W. 1994. “The Genre of the Meṣad Ḥashavyahu Ostracon.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 295: 49–55.

Fox, Joshua. 2003. Semitic Noun Patterns. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.

Huehnergard, John. 2015. “Biblical Hebrew Nominal Patterns.” In Epigraphy, Philology, and the Hebrew Bible: Methodological Perspectives on Philological and Comparative Study of the Hebrew Bible in Honor of Jo Ann Hackett, edited by Jeremy M. Hutton, and Aaron D. Rubin, 25–64. Atlanta: SBL Press.

Kantor, Benjamin. 2020. “The Development of the Hebrew wayyiqṭol (‘waw Consecutive’) Verbal Form in Light of Greek and Latin Transcriptions of Hebrew.” In Studies in Semitic Vocalisation and Reading Traditions, edited by Geoffrey Khan, and Aaron Hornkohl, 55–132. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers.

——. forthcoming. τὸ ἑβραϊκόν | TO HEBRAIKON: A Critical Edition of the Second Column (Secunda) of Origen’s Hexapla. Leuven: Peeters.

Khan, Geoffrey. 2018. “Orthoepy in the Tiberian Reading Tradition of the Hebrew Bible and Its Historical Roots in the Second Temple Period.” Vetus Testamentum 68: (3): 378–401.

Lambdin, Thomas O., and John Huehnergard. 2000. The Historical Grammar of Classical Hebrew. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University.

Naveh, Joseph. 1960. “A Hebrew Letter from the Seventh Century B.C.” Israel Exploration Journal 10, no. 3: 129–139.

——. 1964. “Some Notes on the Reading of the Mesad Hashavyahu Letter.” Israel Exploration Journal 14: 158–159.

Pardee, Dennis. 1978. “The Juridicial Plea from Mesad Hashavyahu (Yavneh-Yam): A New Philological Study.” Maarav 1: 33–66.

Rubin, Aaron D. 2001. “A Note on the Conjugation of Lamed-He Verbs in the Derived Patterns.” Zeitschrift für Althebraistik 14: (1): 34–41.

Smelik, Klaas A. D. 1992. “The Literary Structure of the Yavneh-Yam Ostracon.” Israel Exploration Journal 42, no. 1/2: 55–61.

Suchard, Benjamin D. 2020. The Development of the Biblical Hebrew vowels: Including a Concise Historical Morphology. Leiden: Brill.

I must also thank Jo Ann Hackett, who trained me in Northwest Semitic Epigraphy. Of course, any errors in the above are my own.

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