Zayit Stone

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Zayit Stone
Drawing of inscription on the Zayit Stone
MaterialLimestone boulder
Size38 pounds (17 kg)
WritingPhoenician or paleo-Hebrew
CreatedTenth century BCE

The Zayit Stone is a 38-pound (17 kg) limestone boulder discovered on 15 July 2005 at Tel Zayit (Zeitah) in the Guvrin Valley, about 50 kilometres (31 mi) southwest of Jerusalem.[1] The boulder measures 37.5 by 27 by 15.7 centimetres (14.8 in × 10.6 in × 6.2 in) and was embedded in the stone wall of a building. Although some scholars consider the text to be written in the Phoenician alphabet,[2] it is frequently considered to be the earliest known example of the complete Paleo-Hebrew alphabet; the flat side of the boulder is inscribed with a complete abecedary, although in a different order to the traditional version.[3] The first line contains eighteen letters (aleph through tsadi), while the second contains the remaining four letters (qoph through tav) followed by two enigmatic zigzag symbols.


One side of the stone carries the Paleo-Hebrew abecedary extending over two lines:

  • Line 1:
  • Line 2:
|  |    TofShinReshQuf

In modern Hebrew alphabet, the letters are:

  • Line 1:
א ב ג ד ו ה ח ז ט י ל כ מ נ ס ע פ צ
  • Line 2:
|  |     ק ר ש ת

There is some debate over whether the forms of these letters are anticipatory of later developments in Hebrew and should thus be characterized as "Palaeo-Hebrew" or whether they lack such features and should be characterized as "Phoenician" or more generally "South Canaanite."[4]

The side opposite this inscription has a bowl-shaped depression measuring 18.5 by 14.5 by 6.7 centimetres (7.3 in × 5.7 in × 2.6 in), a volume of approximately 1.8 litres (110 cu in).[5] Other similar ground stone objects have been recovered at Tel Zayit, their function is uncertain, but "they may have served as mortars, door sockets, or basins of some kind."[6]

The very top line of the inscription contain the letters:

Early Aramaic character - resh.pngEarly Aramaic character - zayin.pngEarly Aramaic character - ayin.png

In the modern Hebrew alphabet this translates to עזר, transliterated ʿzr. The word עזר (‘ōzêr) is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible many times and depending on the verse, it either translates to, "Help" or "Helper". For example: "Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me; Lord, be my helper" (Psalms 30:11), "And I looked, and there was none to help" (Isaiah 63:5).


The stone was discovered on July 15, 2005 by volunteer excavator, Dan Rypma,[7] during excavations under the direction of Ron E. Tappy of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary at Tel Zayit as part of the archeological excavations which took place during the 1999–2001, 2005, 2007, and 2009–2011 seasons.[8][9]

The inscription was discovered in situ in what appears to be a tertiary usage as part of wall 2307/2389 in square O19.[10] Like the Gezer calendar, the abecedary is an important witness to the letter forms in use in the Levant in the early Iron Age.


Several inferences may be drawn from its content and context:

  • The authors of the editio princeps support the conclusion that given "the well-established archaeo-palaeographic chronology of the Tel Zayit inscription... and the clear cultural affiliation of its archaeological context with the Judaean highlands, we may reasonably associate it with the nascent kingdom of Judah."[7] It should be noted, however, that this interpretation has been challenged on both palaeographic[11] and archaeological[12] grounds.
  • The Tel Zayit abecedary adds to the corpus of inland Canaanite alphabetic inscriptions from the early Iron Age and thus provides additional evidence for literacy in the region during this period. While claiming a certain "level" or "percentage" of literacy on the basis of this and similar inscriptions is notoriously difficult, one might argue, as one recent contributor to the discussion, that because "Tel Zayit is... small enough and distant enough from Jerusalem... the presence of this inscription there might be taken as testimony of more widespread writing across more far-flung and minor administrative centers of Judah."[13]
  • In addition to preserving writing as such, the inscription preserves an ordered sequence of letters, though this differs at points from those of other abecedaries from the Late Bronze and Iron Age Levant.[14] Particularly, waw is placed before he, het is placed before zayin, and lamed is placed before kaph. In this last instance, a large X appears to mark a mistake realized by the scribe himself; this may indicate that the author was poorly educated or that the alphabetic order had yet to fully stabilize.
  • The text may have played a significant role in making "an important symbolic statement for the cultural core that lay in the highlands to the east."[15] This is true "regardless of which cultural set [i.e. coastal Phoenician or highland Hebrew] one sees as the sponsor of the inscription."[15]

In addition to the above broad historical concerns, the inscription is significant primarily due to the light it sheds on the development of letter forms in the southern Canaanite interior of the early Iron Age; because the stratigraphy of the site and the date of the inscription itself are still debated, it is nevertheless difficult given the present state of research to attach any definite historical or chronologically absolute conclusions to the inscription's existence or content.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wilford, John Noble (November 9, 2005). "A Is for Ancient, Describing an Alphabet Found Near Jerusalem". Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  2. ^ Rollston 2008.
  3. ^ Tappy p.344
  4. ^ For an introduction to difficulties of labeling this script, see McCarter (2008) and Rollston (2008)
  5. ^ Tappy et al. (2006), p. 26
  6. ^ Tappy et al. (2006), p. 25
  7. ^ a b Tappy et al. (2006), p. 42
  8. ^ Tappy (2000)
  9. ^ Tappy (2011)
  10. ^ In the editio princeps, the authors write that "the utilization of the Tel Zayit stone as a writing surface seems likely to have been secondary to its original purpose, so that the subsequent appropriation of the inscribed boulder as a building block might be described as tertiary" (Tappy et al. 2006, p. 25).
  11. ^ Rollston (2008), pp. 61–63
  12. ^ Finkelstein, Sass & Singer-Avitz (2008)
  13. ^ Carr (2008), p. 126
  14. ^ For a useful chart, see Sanders (2008), p. 102.
  15. ^ a b Tappy (2008), p. 37
  16. ^ See especially Finkelstein, Sass & Singer-Avitz (2008), to which Tappy (2011) is a response.


Excavation website
Academic books and articles
  • Carr, David M. (2008). "The Tel Zayit Abecedary in (social) context". In Ron E. Tappy & Peter Kyle McCarter (ed.). Literate Culture and Tenth-Century Canaan: the Tel Zayit Abecedary in Context. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns. pp. 113–129. ISBN 9781575061504.
  • Finkelstein, Israel; Sass, Benjamin; Singer-Avitz, Lily (2008). "Writing in Iron IIA philistia in the light of the Tẹ̄l Zayit/Zētā abecedary". Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins. 124 (1): 1–14. JSTOR 27931826.
  • McCarter, Peter Kyle (2008). "Paleographic notes on the Tel Zayit Abecedary". In Ron E. Tappy & Peter Kyle McCarter (ed.). Literate Culture and Tenth-Century Canaan: the Tel Zayit Abecedary in Context. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns. pp. 45–60. ISBN 9781575061504.
  • Rollston, Christopher A. (2008). "The Phoenician Script of the Tel Zayit Abecedary and Putative Evidence for Israelite Literacy". In Ron E. Tappy & Peter Kyle McCarter (ed.). Literate Culture and Tenth-Century Canaan: the Tel Zayit Abecedary in Context (PDF). Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns. pp. 61–96. ISBN 9781575061504.
  • Sanders, Seth L. (2008). "Writing and early Iron Age Israel: before national scripts, beyond nations and states". In Ron E. Tappy & Peter Kyle McCarter (ed.). Literate Culture and Tenth-Century Canaan: the Tel Zayit Abecedary in Context. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns. pp. 97–112. ISBN 9781575061504.
  • Tappy, Ron E. (2000). "The 1998 preliminary survey of Khirbet Zeitah el-Kharab (Tel Zayit) in the Shephelah of Judah". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. 319: 7–36. JSTOR 1357558.
  • Tappy, Ron E.; McCarter, P. Kyle; Lundberg, Marilyn J.; Zuckerman, Bruce (2006). "An abecedary of the mid-tenth century B.C.E. from the Judaean Shephelah". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. 344: 5–46. JSTOR 25066976.
  • Tappy, Ron E. (2008). "Tel Zayit and the Tel Zayit Abecedary in their regional context". In Ron E. Tappy & Peter Kyle McCarter (ed.). Literate Culture and Tenth-Century Canaan: the Tel Zayit Abecedary in Context. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns. pp. 1–44. ISBN 9781575061504.
  • Tappy, Ron E. (2011). "The depositional history of Iron Age Tel Zayit: a Response to Finkelstein, Sass, and Lily Singer-Avitz". Eretz-Israel. 30: 127*–143*.
  • Tappy, Ron E.; McCarter, Peter Kyle (eds.). Literate Culture and Tenth-Century Canaan: the Tel Zayit Abecedary in Context. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns. ISBN 9781575061504.