Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University

Hebrew homework. This ancient school tablet, the Izbet Sartah ostracon (an inscribed potsherd), seems to have belonged to a less advanced student than the author of the Gezer calendar (see photograph). On the bottom line of the tablet, the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet appear from left to right, indicating that the right-to-left order of later Hebrew had not yet become a fixed convention. This abecedary may have been a model for a person in the first stages of scribal training.

Most scholars date the Izbet Sartah ostracon to the first period of settlement at that site, the early 12th century B.C. Israel Finkelstein, however, pulls the find spot of the Izbet Sartah ostracon down about two centuries, to the late tenth or early ninth century B.C. In his view, the ostracon belongs to the Canaanite tradition of the late second millennium B.C.E.; “meaningful writing,” in his view, did not appear in Israel before the eighth century B.C.