A Note on an Inscription from Kuntillet Ajrud
Debra A. Chase

Harvard University Cambridge, MA 02138
Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 246. (Spring, 1982), pp. 63-67.

(A Note on an Inscription from Kuntillet Ajrud, Debra A. Chase, 1982 AD)


In 1975-76 several Hebrew and Phoenician inscriptions were discovered in a fortress-like structure at Kuntillet Ajrud (Kuntillet Quraiyah) in the northern Sinai. Numerous reports on the finds have appeared, but the most complete is Israel Museum Catalogue 175, Kuntillet Ajrud: A Religious Centre from the Time of the Judaean Monarchy on the Border of Sinai, by Ze'ev Meshel. 1 In this monograph Meshel categorizes the inscriptions—those incised in stone vessels, those written on plaster and on pottery vessels, and letters on pottery—and offers transcriptions and translations. Among this material is a photo-graph of a fragment of a pithos (Meshel 1978b: photo no. 11), as well as Meshel's transliteration and translation of a "blessing" that appears on it. It is not possible to verify all of Meshel's transliteration, for only a portion of the first five lines of the inscription is visible. After scrutiny of the photo, however, I would like to suggest a reading for a part of the inscription that Meshel has left blank.

The inscription in question is one of several written in ink on one of the large pithoi.2 A transcription and translation of it are given below.

"Utterance of Amaryaw. Say to my lord, Is it well with you? I bless you by Yahweh... and by his/ its (?) asherah. May he bless and keep you and be with my lord."


Utterance of

1 mryw


2 mr l dn[y]

Say to my lord,

3 hslm

Is it well with you?

4 brktk [y]

I bless you by

5 hwh


6 wlr srth yb

and by his/ its (?) asherah.

7 rk. wysmrk

May he bless and keep you

8 wyhy m d[n]

and be with my lord.

9 y • • •]


At issue is the reading of line 3, where Meshel has only h . . . t.4 An abecedary written over the inscription at this point obscures the text.5 Exami-nation of the published photo, however, reveals a Sin, a lamed, and a mem beneath the abecedary.

Fig. 1. Drawing of the significant elements of the inscription, line 3.


The he at the beginning of line 3 is clear.6 Both the size and style of the form—broad strokes, square shape—mark it as part of the inscription.' Although the abecedary interferes with the sub-sequent letters of the text, it is easy to identify the forms of the abecedary and, thus, to distinguish them from the letters that belong to the inscrip-tion. Not only is the point in the sequence of the alphabet known but the style, which is character-ized by long sweeping tails and a narrow stroke, also contrasts with the more squat cursive of the inscription.

A sade directly above the initial he (and below the mem of line 2) establishes the place in the Fig. 2. Drawing of line 3 with the letters of the abecedary removed. alphabetic sequence. Next to the sae is the large round head of qop; its long tail runs alongside of the he. A re§, again with an elongated tail, is juxtaposed with the qop. The head of the re§ is below that of the qop. Following the re§ and at the same level as its head is a .fin.8 An x-shaped taw, visible at the edge of the photo, completes the sequence.

Beneath these letters it is possible to distinguish the fin, lamed, and mem belonging to the inscrip-tion. The tail of the qop divides the fin almost in half. The downstroke of the right v of the .in is visible to the right of the stem of the qop, running into the stem at about the same level as the top horizontal of the he. The point where the two v's of the fin join is visible to the right of the stem of the qop at a level a bit below that of the topmost point of the downstroke of the right v. The second v is narrower than the first. It is not as easy to delineate because of the darkness of the photo-graph,9 but the broad upstroke is clear.

The two strokes to the left of the he, which curve downward from the top two horizontals of the letter, under the fin (crossing the stem of the qop and continuing under the ref), cannot be interpreted as part of the inscription. The stance, curvature, and length of these lines is wrong for a bet, kap, mem, nun, or pe in this inscription.l° Furthermore, there is no trace of the head appro-priate for any of these forms. It is clear that the first downstroke of the .fin does not connect with either of these lines; and in any case, it is much too high to form the shoulder of either a mem or nun.11

The hook of the lamed, which is more tightly curled than that of the lamed in line 2, lies along-side the final upstroke of the fin. The stance of the letter is identical to that of the form in line 2. The topmost part of the downstroke intersects the head of the qop at the point where the head meets the stem of the qop.12

The shoulder of the mem lies alongside the lamed. The first (left) v of the head of the mem is visible to the left of the ref of the abecedary. The second v coincides roughly with the lower curve of the head of this ref, although both the point of this v and the shoulder of the mem are clearly distinguishable from it. The second (right) v is lower than the first, as in the mems found in lines 1 and 2. The stance of the mem is identical to that of the earlier mems, as is the long leg, which is drawn downward then angled to the left under the head.

To the left of mem there appears to be a rather large square word divider similar to that between the lamed and 'alep of line 2. The right v of the .fin belonging to the abecedary is written over the word divider, giving the fin an uncharacteristic bulge that cannot be interpreted as part of the letter.

Next, at the end of the line, are the 'alep and taw noted by Meshel (1978b, Hebrew section). The vertical shaft of 'alep is alongside the left v of the .fin of the abecedary. The stroke is broad, in the style characteristic of the inscription.13 The cross-bars, which are close together and rather high upon the shaft," are partially obscured by the .fin and taw of the abecedary. The lower crossbar is apparent on the left and the right side of the shaft, where it is at the same level as the bottom of the fin. It is not clear where the upper crossbar joins the lower one (to the left of the shaft) because of the curvature of the pithos in the photo, but a trace of this crossbar is visible breaking through to the right of the shaft, perpendicular to the upstroke of the second v of the fin.

The final taw that Meshel reads is not visible in the photo. One expects a form similar to the taw of line 4. The taw that intersects the shaft of the 'alep (at the edge of the pithos in the photo) belongs to the abecedary. Both the spacing and the narrow stroke of the letter indicate that it cannot be part of the inscription.


The reading of line 3—hlikdOm 'a[u],15 "Is it

well with you?", fills out the text of Pithos 2 with a greeting formula known from other epigraphic material. The most striking parallel to the inscrip-tion is the salutation of the Phoenician papyrus from Saqqara." After the standard address for-mula ('mr /PN 'mr PN2) the greeting continues:

(1) w.flm 't 'p 'nk §lm brktk lb

(2) `typn wlkl thpnhs ypclk

Is it well with you? I am well. I bless you by Baal Sapon and by all the gods of Tahpanhes. May they give you well-being.

Just as in the cAjral pithos, the simple address is followed by a question concerning the well-being of the addressee and then a blessing."

Similar greeting formulae are found in both Hebrew and Aramaic letters. The idiomatic PN1 slh 111m PN2 appears in `Arad Letters 16, 21, 40 (partially restored)," and in Murabbacit Letter 17,19 as well as in an Aramaic ostracon from Elephantine.20 In several instances this salutation is coupled with a blessing in the same manner noted in the text of the cAjral pithos.21 .flm

(Hebrew)/ §' §/m (Aramaic), a comparable idiom, is widely attested in Aramaic letters,22 as well as in `Arad Letter 18. The phrase also appears in biblical Hebrew as a greeting in non-epistolary contexts.23

The form found in line 3 of the cAjral text—interrogative he + hi/dm—is also attested in biblical Hebrew. Although this form is not found within a letter framework, it is clearly a word of greeting. The object of the question is usually introduced by 1e24 + pronoun or PN, but in one case, 2 Sam 20:9, the pronoun 'th appears.25

The epistolary formulae, attested in epigraphic material as well as in biblical greeting formulae, support the reading proposed for line 3 of the cAjral pithos. Not only is the same sequence of address, greeting, and blessing found, but even the same formulation of the greeting occurs in the Saqqara Papyrus and 2 Sam 9:20. Only the question concerning the identity of the addressee remains. Should there be a more specific title or personal name here, as in the inscription on cAjral Pithos 1? I think not. The title 'MOW/ may be used for any superior. In this context such a designation is specific enough to identify the recipient of the pithos. It is not impossible, for example, that the official designated here by 'ciclOni is the same as the one indicated four times on storage jars by the inscription lfr`r (sic), which Meshel reads as "leiarcir" (defective spelling) and interprets as the individual in charge of Kuntillet `Ajrtid (Meshel 1978a: 52-53; 1978b; 1979: 33).

This paper is the result of research performed for a seminar at Harvard University in the Spring of 1982.


'Meshel 1978b. For other reports see Singer 1976: 33-34; Meshel and Meyers 1976: 6-10; Meshel 1978a: 50-54; 1979: 24-35.

21n the discussions of the inscriptional material from the site this pithos is identified as the "second" one. See Meshel 1978b, 1979: 31, where Meshel notes that the pithos also bears several abecedaries and drawings.

31 have restored 'mr, Hebrew 'Omer, "speech", "word", on the basis of the parallel blessing found on Pithos I. From the photograph it appears that there may be traces of letters above 'mryw (what I am calling line I of the inscription). Directly above the mr of 'mryw there seems to be a tail of comparable length and stance to the m of 'mryw. In any case, there are certainly letters above and well to the right of line 1, which could be interpreted as an 'alep and a mem, although, admittedly, they do not appear to belong to this inscription.

Note that all subsequent bracketed letters—at the ends of lines 2, 3, 4, 5, and lines 6-9—are Meshel's readings (Meshel 1978b, Hebrew section). The translation, however, is my own.

4Meshel 1978b, Hebrew section (hmmeym hktwbym).

5Corrosion may also be a factor here, although it is difficult to determine the condition of the pithos from the picture.

6A line running vertically from the rim of the pithos downward may delineate the right margin of the inscription. In any case, the position of the he is comparable to that of the initial letters of the other lines of the inscription.

'Cf. the he at the beginning of line 5.

'Note the similar alignment of the qop, ref, and En in the abecedary visible at the bottom edge of the pithos.

9There may be corrosion here or a smudge of ink; it is impossible to determine from the photo.

'°See in particular, the kaps in line 4 and mems in lines 1, 2. "There is no hint of the cross stroke necessary for either the head of a nun or pe.

"Several lines intersect within the head of the qop. As noted, the downstroke of the lamed is apparent in the 7 o'clock position. The tail of the initial mem of line 2 crosses into the qop at 3 o'clock. One, perhaps two, marks are visible in the top right quadrant of the head of the qop. It is not clear from the photo whether these are ink strokes (if so, to which letter they belong is unclear) or surface deterioration.

"Cf. the 'aleps of lines I, 2, as well as the vertical strokes of the other letters of the inscription, e.g., re (lines 1, 2, 4), waw (line 1), yod (line I), dale: (line 2), and he (line 3). "Cf. the 'alep in line 2.

am reading the 2 ms pronoun, which appears here without the final he that serves as a mater for a. This short form is attested in biblical Hebrew: Ps 6:4; Job 1:10; Eccl 7:22; Neh 9:6. Note also that 't appears as masculine three times: Num 11:15; Deut 5:24; Ezek 28:14. See GKC paragraph 32g. I can see no other way to interpret 't; it cannot be construed with 'mr or with brktk, which is clearly a finite verb plus suffix.

I6See Aim6-Giron 1941: 433-60, pl. 40; Dupont-Sommer

1949: 52-57; and KAI no. 50.

'7Naveh (1979: 28-29) noted the similarity of the opening formulae of the `Ajr0d pithoi and the Saqqara papyrus in his discussion of the `Ajrficl material. He did not include, however, the phrase under discussion here—wiqm 't 'p 'nk glm.

'8The numbers cited for the 'Arad letters correspond to those of Aharoni 1975.

'See Benoit, Milik, and de Vaux 1961: 95-96, pl. 28. "Dupont-Sommer 1945: 17-28.

'Arad letters 16:1-3; 21:1-2; 40:2-3 (partially restored); Aramaic ostracon from Elephantine lines 2-3. See also Hermopolis 1:1-2; 11:1-2 (Bresciani and Kamil 1966: 372, 384 and pls.), where .f/m appears as a word of greeting before theaddress, which is followed by a blessing in the Ics.

22Hermopolis 1:3; VI:2, 7-8 (partially restored); VIII:? (partially restored). Also Aramaic Papyri (Cowley 1923) 30:1-2; 39:1; 56:1 and the following, all partially restored-17:1; 37:1-2; 38:2; 21:2; 40:1; 41:1. Pardee (1978: 315, n. 115) notes that in Aramaic the formula is only found in letters from inferiors to superiors and in letters between equals. The most frequent word order, according to him, is .flm-X DN(N) yr 1(w).

"E.g. Ps 122:6; Gen 43:27; Exod 18:7; Judg 18:15; 1 Sam 10:4.

24E.g. Gen 29:6; 2 Sam 18:32; 2 Kgs 4:26.

25h:s'lwm 'th 'hy.


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Aime-Giron, N.

1941 Adversaria Semitica (3) 7. Beal $aphon et les dieux de Tahpanhes dans un nouveau papyrus phenicien. Annales du Service des Antiquites de l'Egypte 40: 433-60, pl. 40.

Benoit, P.; Milik, J. T.; and de Vaux, R.

1961 Les Grottes de Murabba`dt. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert. Vol. 2 Oxford: Clarendon. Bresciani, E., and Kamil, M.

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Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Memorie, Classe

di Scienze morali, storiche e filologiche. Serie 8:


Cowley, A.

1923 Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C. Oxford: Clarendon.

Donner, H., and Rollig, W.

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l'Histoire des Religions 130: 17-28.

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1978a Kuntillet `Ajrild, An Israelite Religious Center in

Northern Sinai. Expedition 20: 50-54.

1978b Kuntillet cAjrad: A Religious Centre from the Time of the Judaean Monarchy on the Border of Sinai. Jerusalem: Israel Museum.

1979 Did Yahweh Have a Consort? Biblical Archaeology Review 5: 24-35.

Meshel, Z., and Meyers, C.

1976 The Name of God in the Wilderness of Zin. Biblical Archeologist 39: 6-10.

Naveh, J.

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