Eight scholars (two a pair) have offered their opinions of the inscription recently recovered south of the Temple Mount—each one different from the other!
1. Shmuel Ahituv, Emeritus Professor of Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Ben-Gurion University, reads from left to right: ]m p q ḥ n l? n[ … , which gives no sense.1
2. Christopher Rollston, visiting scholar of Northwest Semitic literature at Tel Aviv University, offered another reading, also from left to right: … ]m q l ḥ n r? n [ … , and found the word qlḥ, meaning a pot of some sort, perhaps with prefixed m-, although that form is otherwise unknown. He speculated that the name Ner might follow it, giving “pot of Ner” or “Ner’s pot.”2
3. Aaron Demsky, professor of Biblical history at Bar-Ilan University reads, from left to right: … ḥ] m r l ḥ n [n] [space], giving a sense “[w]ine/ [ho]mer belonging to Han[an].”3 P. Kyle McCarter, William Foxwell Albright Professor in Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at the Johns Hopkins University, independently came to essentially the same conclusion.4
4 Gershon Galil, professor of Biblical studies and ancient history at Haifa University, has examined the sherds—not just a photograph. Reading the letters from right to left, he has proposed [ … ]m [y y ] n ḥ l q m [ … ]. He interprets them to mean “[in year twent]y/[thirt]y low grade wine from …” He assumes that the letters made a label like some found on Egyptian wine jars, giving a date, the content of the jar and its place of origin. Hebrew ostraca from Samaria, written early in the eighth century, display a similar pattern. Galil regards the first surviving letter—m—as the end of a number, twenty or thirty (Hebrew shloshîm, ‘esrîm). If the writing belongs to the 10th century B.C., that could be from a year of Solomon’s reign. But this Hebrew text does not necessarily follow the Egyptian pattern closely, nor even the Samarian one. The first letter m could be the end of a proper name, as in “[For Jerusal]em … ,” or “[For Rehobo]am … ,” for example.5 While early on several scholars considered the possibility that the writing was intended to be read right to left, Professor Galil is the only major scholar who continues to hold this position. I too believe the writing reads from left to right.
5. Reinhard Lehmann and Anna Zernecke of the University of Mainz examined the shapes of the letters, comparing them closely with those of the Gezer Calendar, and, reading from left to right, proposed m—q—p—ḥ—n—m—ṣ—n, or, reading right to left, n—ṣ—m—n—ḥ—p—q—m, but did not offer a translation.6
6. Brian Colless of Massey University in New Zealand, who has written extensively on early alphabetic inscriptions, followed another path. He read from left to right m r p ḥ n [n] [ṣ] n [n], “nice, cool, clear water.”7 I do not find his interpretation of the letters acceptable, especially treating m as a word-sign for “water.” Nor does Kyle McCarter find Colless’s interpretation acceptable.8
7. Barnea Levi Selavan, codirector of Foundation Stone, reads from left to right and opens the text with “[ … in/to/from the va]lley” ([ … m n ‘]m q),9 following it with a name, “for Han x x” (l ḥ n x.). But the name might not be Hanan (pace Aaron Demsky) because the traces of the letter following the n do not duplicate it, as would be required for Hanan.