Kuntillet Ajrud Fortress and
Ostraca on Pithos Jar:
(Possibly one of Solomon's network of military border fortresses)
Introduction document: Solomon's network of military border fortresses
a. Kuntillet Ajrud is probably most famous for the inscription found there that indicates a period of mixing paganism with pure monotheistic Judaism: "Amaryau said to my lord. ... may you be blessed by Yahweh and by his Asherah. Yahweh bless you and keep you and be with you".
b. Founded as a Negev border fortress by Solomon, it was occupied by the pagan Jews from the corrupt northern tribes whose capital was Samaria.
d. Most striking is that this pagan inscription contains the oldest quotation of the Bible on earth from Numbers 6:24-26 “may the Lord bless and keep you”.
e. Although the text is in Phoenician, it predates the famous silver scroll by 140 years! (See details about the Silver Scroll from Ketef Hinnom)
f. The Phoenician inscription is not a direct match for the Torah words in Numbers 6:24, but it is clearly a paraphrase.
A. Date of the fortress at Kuntillet Ajrud: 950 BC or 830-775 BC
1. Archeologist Cohen, who excavated Qudeirat dated Kuntillet Ajrud to the 10th century BC.
a. Cohen dates the three successive structures from the time of Solomon.
b. The date for Kuntillet Ajrud is the 10th century BC by Cohen.
c. It has all the basic ear marks of a fortress with many similarities with, including the corner tower structures.
d. Cohen believed Kuntillet Ajrud had three continuous periods of occupation by a centralized government under the direction of several kings of Judah beginning with Solomon.
e. Secondary use of a fortress structure build by Solomon at the end of the 8th century BC is still a possibility.
2. One of the problems in the dating, is that those who date the site later are known reductionists, ie they view the monarchy of David and Solomon as a myth.
a. It is important to keep this in mind because future excavations and further examinations of the pottery by biblical conservative archeologists may one day confirm Cohen’s original dating of the site to the time of Solomon.
b. Reductionists Finkelstein and Ussishkin, both of whom view “David and Solomon as another Bible myth”, reject Cohen's view that this was built by Solomon and therefore date the structure to the 9th century or later.
c. Having said this, we must take into careful consideration the facts and details because their dating of the site to the last days of Elisha may be correct.
3. In support of a date for Kuntillet Ajrud of 830-775 BC or even later:
a. It is tantalizing to try to date Kuntillet Ajrud, to pinpoint in whose reign this religious center was established. The pottery and the form of the script suggests the end of the 9th to the beginning of the 8th centuries. (Did Yahweh Have a Consort, Kuntillet Ajrud, Ze'ev Meshel, 1979 AD)
b. The date of the site, determined by typological and paleographic analysis, and by the need to identify an historical period in which N Israelite influence over Judah was especially strong, points to the period after the death of Jehoshaphat of Judah (ca. 850 B.C.E.). The reigns of Jehoram, Ahaziah, and Athaliah (between 850 and 837 B.C.E.) seem distinct possibilities. However, the period of Joash king of Israel (ca. 801-786 B.C.E.), who captured Amaziah king of Judah, broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and seized the treasures of the Jerusalem temple and palace (2 Kgs 14:1-16 = 2 Chr 25:1-24) seems especially well suited. This would be reinforced if the reconstruction of on the top line of the Bes figurine inscription indeed is a reference to Joash. It may tentatively be suggested that Joash intended to gain direct access to the Red Sea, and that this was the reason for the war between the two kings. The victory of Joash is reflected in the construction of the buildings at Kuntillet Ajrud, and accounts for the concurrent references to the "Yahweh of Samaria" and the "Yahweh of Teman"; i.e., Samaria's god (as well as its king) having dominion over the entire region through which one reached "Teman" (meaning "the far south"). (Kuntillet Ajrud, Ze'ev Meshel, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1991 AD)
c. "The enclosure of Kuntillet Ajrud, excavated by Z. Meshel, is an unusual site, whose nature and function are far from clear. Although it is located in southern Sinai, the finds from the enclosure indicate strong cultural connections with the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The route and means of these connections are of great importance. Kuntillet Ajrud is located c. 50 km. south-west of Kadesh-Barnea; hence the assumption that Kadesh-Barnea served as a central station along the route from Israel and Judah to Kuntillet 'Ajrud. According to Meshel, Kadesh-Barnea was a station along Darb el-Ghaza, the road to Eilat which passed in the vicinity of Kuntillet 'Ajrud. Cohen's conclusion that the excavations at Kadesh-Barnea attest to settlement continuity from the 10th to the 5-4th centuries B.C.E. forms the background to the above view. According to Cohen, it included three successive governmental fortresses built by the kings of Judah. If that is so, Kadesh-Barnea must have been a central station on the long route from Israel and Judah to Kuntillet 'Ajrud. The opposite, however, seems to be true. Scholars agree that the enclosure of Kuntillet 'Ajrud is a single period site dating from the end of the ninth or the beginning of the eighth century B.C.E. During this period the site of Kadesh-Barnea was abandoned (E. Ayalon, who studied the pottery assemblage of Kuntillet `Ajrud, emphasized the absence there of the pottery assemblages characterizing Kadesh-Barnea22). Hence Kadesh-Barnea and its fortress were not a factor in developing connections between Israel and Judah and Kuntillet 'Ajrud beyond the fact that Kadesh-Barnea formed an oasis along the desert route. This strengthens the conclusion that Kuntillet 'Ajrud was a unique place, and is a factor that should be taken into account when the character and function of the site are being evaluated." (The Rectangular Fortress at Kadesh Barnea, David Ussishkin, 1995 AD)
4. More recent examinations of both Carbon 14 and pottery reading have dated the site to the period of 830-775 BC.
B. The structure, finds a lack of Negev ware pottery found:
More on Negev Pottery.
C. Strategic Location:
D. Many Ostraca: The inscriptions found at Kuntillet Ajrud: Religious center:
1. Many ostraca were found at Kuntillet Ajrud, including pithos jars that were reconstructed.
2. About the ostraca found at Kuntillet Ajrud:
a. In 1975-76 several Hebrew and Phoenician inscriptions were discovered in a fortress-like structure at Kuntillet Ajrud (Kuntillet Quraiyah) in the northern Sinai. (A Note on an Inscription from Kuntillet Ajrud, Debra A. Chase, 1982 AD)
b. The unusual finds (especially the inscriptions and pictures) testify to the- uniqueness of the site. The subject matter of the inscriptions, the references to various deities, and the presence of dedicated vessels all suggest that Kuntillet Ajrad was a religious center; however, the lack of things usually associated with ritual sacrifice (e.g., altars) and the architectural layout of the site indicate that the remains are not those of a temple. It appears that the site may have served as a "wayside shrine" that, due to its location, was associated with journeys of the Israelite kings to Elat and to Ezion-geber, and perhaps also with the travels of pilgrims to S Sinai. These were able to journey S along the Darb el-Ghazza from Kadesh-barnea, stopping at the place to make dedications to Israel's god in the bench room of the main building. The strong N (Israelite, not Judean) influence in the remains seems to connect Kuntillet Ajrud with the N kingdom of Israel or with one of the Judean kings closely aligned with the N kingdom of Israel. This N influence is evident in the reference to "Yahweh of Samaria," in the Phoenician-style writing, in the cosmopolitan style and motifs of the decorative and pictorial artwork, in the pottery types, and in the onomastic conventions (names ending in -yau, and not -yahu). The site, occupied for only a few years, was likely inhabited by a small group of priests dispatched from the N kingdom of Israel with an officer at their head. They were sustained by the various sacrifices and tithes that were sent as provisions primarily from Judah; in return, they rendered their cultic services to travelers. (Kuntillet Ajrud, Ze'ev Meshel, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1991 AD)
c. When the inscriptions were read, we discovered that they provided clear evidence that Kuntillet Ajrud was not merely a resting place for desert travelers but was principally a religious center. (Did Yahweh Have a Consort, Kuntillet Ajrud, Ze'ev Meshel, 1979 AD)
d. It would be tempting to call the building at Kuntillet Ajrud a temple, but it bears none of the architectural features we customarily associate with a temple. The plan of the building does not contain a holy of holies, nor does it conform to the plan of other temples known from excavations in the Near East. Moreover, we found the remains of no cult objects, such as animal altars or incense burners or cult altars. (Did Yahweh Have a Consort, Kuntillet Ajrud, Ze'ev Meshel, 1979 AD)
e. On the other hand, although the building was probably not a temple, we think that it was a religious center of some kind where people deposited their offerings in the bench-room. (Did Yahweh Have a Consort, Kuntillet Ajrud, Ze'ev Meshel, 1979 AD)
f. The site represents, in our opinion, a religious center which had some connection with the journeys of the Judaean kings to Eilat, Ezion-Geber and perhaps even to southern Sinai. The establishment of this center may have come about through identification of the site with one of the Israelite traditions concerning Sinai.
3. Translations of the many ostraca found at Kuntillet Ajrud:
a. OLDEST TEXT OF THE BIBLE ON EARTH: Phoenician inscription on Pithos Jar: “Amariah said to my lord. … may you be blessed by YHWH [of Samaria] and by his Asherah. YHWH bless you and keep you and be with you … ”
i. Notice how the above inscription is very close to the Priestly benediction of Numbers 6:24-26: "The LORD bless you, and keep you; The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.’" (Numbers 6:24–26)
ii. Most striking is that this pagan inscription contains the oldest quotation of the Bible on earth from Numbers 6:24-26 “may the Lord bless and keep you”. Although the text is in Phoenician, it predates the famous silver scroll by 130 years!
iiI. The fact the words in the inscription are different than the Hebrew words found in Numbers 6:24, do not change the fact that it was a paraphrase of this most famous Priestly benediction that was widely used.
See details about the Silver
Scroll from Ketef Hinnom
b. Pithos Jar inscription: “Utterance of ʾAshyaw the king: “Say to Yehallel and to Yawʿasah and to […]: ‘I bless you by Yahweh of Samaria and his asherah!”
c. Door lentil inscription: “and in the (just) ways of El” … “blessed be Ba’al in the day of … ” … “the name of El in the day of … ”
i. Notice the connection with the Law of Moses and the location where this inscription was found in situ in the door lentil.
ii. “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." (Deuteronomy 6:9)
1. The weight of archeological evidence for Kuntillet Ajrud points to a single occupation site by the northern kingdom of Israel, dating to 830-775 BC.
a. The emphasis of YHWH of Samaria (the capital city of the 10 northern tribes) is important because the site is located deep inside the southern Judean kingdom.
b. The mix of paganism and YHWH worship is characteristic of both Israel and Judah during the period.
c. The reforms to stamp out idolatry by Asa king of Judah and Jehu king of Israel, were as quickly forgotten as the latter reforms of Josiah.
d. We can point to the very dominant reign of king Jehu of Israel during the weak during the tumultuous reign of Queen Athaliah of Judah fit a date of 830-775 BC perfectly.
2. Regardless of whether or not it was founded as a border fortress by Solomon around 950 BC, all agree that the many ostraca do date from the period of 830-775 BC.
3. The oldest text of the Bible every excavated is found on one of the pithos jars. While it is in Phoenician script, not Paleo-Hebrew and while it uses different words than in the Torah, it is clearly a paraphrase of this most famous “priestly benediction” (Num 6:24f) also seen in the Silver Scroll that dates 130 years later.
By Steve Rudd: Contact the author for comments, input or corrections.