These early inscriptions, together with a few names on pots, provide some evidence of literacy and perhaps civil administration during the time of the United Monarchy.
Beth Shemesh game board The owner of this double-sided game board, discovered at Beth Shemesh in the 1990s, inscribed his name—Hanan—on it in paleo-Hebrew script. Frank Moore Cross dated it to the latter half of the 10th century B.C.a Hanan doubtless treasured his game board enough to sign it. The board also indirectly indicates that the other game board players at Beth Shemesh possessed enough literacy to distinguish between signed game boards.1
Gezer Calendar This calendar, discovered in 1908 at Tel Gezer, records agricultural activities over a 12-month period on a piece of soft limestone. Sometimes thought to be the product of a schoolboy’s writing lesson, the calendar lists the months of the year associated with sowing, harvesting and the processing of flax and barley. Scholars are divided as to whether the inscription— generally dated to the 10th century—was written with early Hebrew or Phoenician script. They are also divided as to the language in which it was written—whether early Hebrew or Phoenician.b
Tel Zayit Abecedary In 2005, Ron Tappy of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary discovered this abecedary—an inscribed alphabet—on a mid-10th-century limestone boulder at Tel Zayit, about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem. Perhaps representative of a young scribe’s writing practice, the abecedary departs four times from the traditional order of the Phoenician-Hebrew-Aramaic alphabet—the result of following an alternative alphabetic convention or scribal error or both. The excavation’s epigrapher Kyle McCarter believed the script of the two-line inscription is somewhere between Phoenician and Hebrew.2
Qeiyafa Ostracon This much-discussed five-line ostracon was discovered by Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University in 2008 at Khirbet Qeiyafa, about 13 miles west of Jerusalem. Generally dated to the late 11th–early 10th century B.C., the language of the script could be Hebrew, Canaanite, Phoenician or Moabite, according to major scholars. Though the text is too poorly preserved to reconstruct fully, it appears that the words “king,” “servant” and “judge” are mentioned, indicating that the ostracon may be a literary or ethical document rather than a business or commercial one,c although all the words could occur in proper names.