Institute of Archaeology/Tel Aviv University

Iron Age homework. Found in an early-11th-century B.C.E. context at ‘Izbet Sartah (possibly Biblical Ebenezer), the inscription on this sherd from a broken storage jar includes four rows of seemingly meaningless sequences of letters and, in the bottom row, an early alphabet written in proto-Canaanite letters. William Dever writes that this abecedary, probably a schoolboy’s exercise, indicates the beginning of “functional” literacy among the early Israelites. Unlike later Hebrew, however, this inscription seems to read from left to right. Hebrew as a national tongue and script may not have emerged until the establishment of the monarchy in the tenth century B.C.E.