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Identifying Biblical Persons in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200-539 B.C.E.

Identifying Biblical Persons in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200-539 B.C.E. By LAWRENCE J. MYKYTIUK. SBL Academia Biblica, vol. 12. Atlanta: SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE, 2004. Pp. xx + 327. $42.95 (paper).

This book began as a 1998 doctoral dissertation at the University of Wisconsin under the direction of Keith N. Schoville and Michael V. Fox. According to the author, there are more than 1,200 preexilic inscriptional sources (Hebrew seals, bullae, and ostraca) which contain Israelite names (p. 2). It is surprising that there has only been piecemeal work on these names and inscriptions, so there is a real need for scholars to treat the entire corpus. Of the few inscriptions which have been treated in scholarly literature, not all have been dealt with systematically. Mykytiuk treats only first-millennium inscriptions prior to the Persian period (539 B.C.E.) "because of their variety and because of historical interest in the First Temple and exilic periods" (p. 4). He has further limited his analysis to "eleven Hebrew inscriptions, the Mesha Inscription, and the Tel Dan stele. These thirteen artifacts were chosen both because they exemplify the kinds of conditions ... that permit a demonstration of the capabilities and limits of the identification system and because they offer identifications whose historical significance makes them too important to ignore" (p. 4).

Mykytiuk seeks to develop a system for making identifications between biblical personal names and inscriptional names by being sensitive to the ways in which Near Eastern writing identifies individuals, e.g., patronym, title, or special identification found on seals. He suggests, further, that there is much to be learned from modern misidentifications (the seals of "Jotham" and "Eliakim, steward of Jehoichin"). Finally, using the results of the above techniques, Mykytiuk compares the results with criteria adopted by Nachman Avigad in his short article "On the Identification of Persons Mentioned in Hebrew Epigraphic Sources," Eretz-Israel 19 (Michael Avi-Yonah Volume, 1987): 235-37 (in Hebrew, English summary 79*). Avigad requires a precise correspondence between the biblical and inscriptional names, a title or epithet, making the case better, and a chronological match.

After discussing in careful detail the scholarly literature dealing with the above mentioned misidentifications, Mykytiuk sets out his eleven criteria for linking inscriptional names with biblical persons based upon three diagnostic questions: Question I: How reliable are the inscriptional data? 1) What was the means of acquisition? Was the inscribed artifact taken from a controlled excavation or was it purchased from an antiquities dealer? 2) What was the provenance? Do we know the findspot within the site? Is the site identified by its ancient name? 3) Is this an authentic inscription? Was it properly excavated? Is the paleography clear? What are the results of expert technical analysis? Are there confirming expert opinions? Or, does the piece exhibit clear signs of a forgery?

Question II: Does the general setting of the inscription permit a match between the inscriptional person and the biblical person? 4) The date of the person. Can the inscription be dated accurately by paleography? Since there were very few changes in the script from the eighth through the sixth centuries, it would be difficult to get the date of the inscribed name and the biblical name to fall within fifty years of each other within the period (p. 43). But the inscriptional date can be verified through stratigraphy, ceramics, epigraphy, historical linguistics, as well as a host of sophisticated tests used currently in the physical sciences. 5) Identifying the language of the inscription. 6) The socio-political classification of the inscription. Does the personal name indicate a Judahite, Israelite, or Ammonite locus? This can be determined in a number of ways including specific socio-political references in the text, theophoric elements, onomastic features, or paleographic analysis.

Question III: How strongly do specific identifying data in the inscription count for or against an identification? 7) Personal names in the inscription. Is the name clearly legible? Are the consonants in accord with at least one biblical spelling? 8) Family or other interpersonal relations. Does the inscriptional patronymic match a biblical one? Is there a name of a servant/slave? Is there a paternal title such as "the king's son"? 9) Title information. Is the inscriptional title also mentioned in the Bible with reference to the person in question? 10) Other identification (marks of the individual). This is a miscellaneous bin for anything unique. 11) Identification on grounds of singularity. Is the inscriptional person unmistakably identified? E.g., the opening line of the Mesha Inscription: "I am Mesha ... king of Moab."

Having set up the criteria in chapter one, Mykytiuk explains in chapter two how "application of the criteria enables researchers to sort identifications or non-identifications into grades of strength or weakness" (p. 57). These are: Grade S identifications: certain, using the seal of Abdi the minister of Hoshea as an example; Grade 3 identifications: virtually certain to reliable, using the bulla of Baruch the scribe, son of Neriah; Grade 2 identifications: reasonable but uncertain, the test case being a modern impression of the Seal of Asayahu, the king's minister; Grade 1 identifications: doubtful, seal impression of Zecharyaw (Tel Dan); Grade 0 (zero) non-identifications: without any clear basis; and Grade D non-identifications: disqualified. In chapters three and four, the corpus under investigation, i.e., the eleven Hebrew inscriptions, the Mesha Inscription, and the Tel Dan stele, are divided into two groups, provenanced and unprovenanced, after which the criteria are applied to each and a grade is assigned.

There are six appendices (A-F) of which B is the most interesting, since Mykytiuk here expands his corpus and completes grading not only Hebrew but almost all Northwest Semitic inscriptions from before the Persian era. There is a twenty-five page bibliography current through July 2002.

Mykytiuk is surely to be commended for the task he has completed here in working out such detail in the criteria and then, with perspicacity, applying them to a large number of inscriptions previously unstudied. He has done thorough and careful work and it should attract the attention of specialists in the field as well as those who watch from the sidelines. It will be interesting to see how the system and its results might be employed in the ongoing debate among historians regarding the size and significance of pre-Persian Judah.


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Author:Veenker, Ronald
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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