Deutsch and Heltzer indicate (p. 27) that the first word, brk, might be a singular or plural imperative (“Bless … !”). But brk cannot be a plural imperative, which would have been spelled brkw at this time, when final long vowels were indicated in spelling by vowel letters. This was in contrast to the much older system that was in effect, for example, at the time of the inscribed arrowheads discussed above. In that earlier orthography final vowels were not marked, so that there would have been no difference between the spelling of the imperative of brk, “bless,” in the singular (barek, spelled brk) and plural (bareku, also spelled brk).
There are other possible readings of the term brk. At a BAS summer seminar, BAS member Gerta Cole of Toronto, Canada, suggested to me the interesting possibility of interpreting brk as “Baruch,” the name of the stonecutter.
Deutsch and Heltzer say that the second word, hsbk, might be singular (“your stonecutter”) or plural (“your stonecutters”), but in the language of Judah at this time the plural, which they prefer, would have been hsbyk. This is because diphthongs remained uncontracted in all positions in pre-exilic Judahite Hebrew. In other words, the plural ending with the suffix would have remained -aykca, and the word would have been written hsbyk in the inscription. If the plural ending with the suffix had contracted to, –êkaµ, as in Biblical Hebrew, it would have been written hsbk, as it is in this inscription. But we know that the contraction had not taken place, so that hsbk can only be singular, “your stonecutter.” The first word in the second line cannot mean “will rest” (plural) for the reason already cited: It is spelled ysûkb and must be singular (“he will rest” or “he will lay to rest”), since the plural would have been spelled ysûkbw at this time. It follows from this that the unambiguously plural noun rendered by Deutsch and Heltzer as “the elders” (zqnm) cannot be the subject of the singular verb ysûkb.