Courtesy of The Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums

A supplicant’s plea to redress a wrong, this ostracon from the late seventh century B.C. was found in the gate guardroom of Mesad Hashavyahu, a small coastal fortress near Yavne-yam, ten miles south of Tel Aviv. The salutatory formula, “Let my lord the governor hear the word of his servant,” recalls David’s way of addressing Saul in 1 Samuel 26:19: “Now therefore let my lord the king hear the words of his servant.” With much repetition characteristic of the style, the petitioner tells his story: “Before the rest, when your servant had finished his reaping, and gathered as usual, Hoshaiahu son of Shobai came and took your servant’s garment.” Apparently an officer had unjustly confiscated the garment. After more repetition, the plea concludes, “Let your servant’s garment be returned and do not dismiss him.” The cursive script indicates that the reaper dictated the letter to a professional scribe. The letter’s discovery in a guardroom raises doubts as to whether it ever reached the governor. Did the officer intercept it?