Contents of Beth Shemesh cuneiform tablet discovered: it is not a sacred text

Cuiform tablet from Ugarit exhibited in the Louvre. Credits: Mbzt, CC BY–SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

There tablet in cuneiform characters found in 1933 at Beth Shemesh, an ancient archaeological site Canaanite civilization in the central region of Israel, and dating back to 3300-3400 years ago, had been interpreted as a sort of sacred text composed of prayers and invocations, but a new study conducted by a group of researchers from the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, in Israel , demonstrated that the tablet was actually thewriting exercise of a young apprentice scribe.

After its discovery, the Beth Shemesh tablet greatly interested archaeologists. The document was in fact written inUgaritic alphabeta writing system originating from Ugarit (city in present-day Syria that was flourishing in the Bronze Age) which he had the distinction of using cuneiform characters to represent sounds, similar to modern Western alphabets, rather than concepts or syllables as in the Mesopotamian cuneiform alphabets. It is one of only two examples of Ugaritic writing found outside Ugarit.

During the twentieth century, experts attempted to decipher the contents of the Beth Shemesh tablet. Shortly after its discovery, some scholars in the sector proposed translations, interpreting the text engraved on the clay as gods prayers or of invocations towards the deities. However, in the 1980s, some scholars proposed that rather than being a complete text it could be a simple one alphabetical successioncomparable to our order “a, b, c, d…”.

To try to resolve the issue, the research group from the University of the Negev, composed of Cécile Fossé (unfortunately passed away during the study), Jonathan Yogev, José Mirao, Nicola Schiavon And Yuval Goren he subjected the clay tablet to a careful petrographic and epigraphic study. The first phase of the study highlighted how the clay and the manufacturing technique used to create the object were of a rather high standard. coarse, qualitatively much lower than that of other tablets of the kind from Ugarit. Analysis of the clay then established that the material he did not come from the Ugarit areabut it was of local origin.

After this first phase, the researchers identified aFingerprint compatible in size with that of a child, who probably created the object in a very superficial way. By analyzing the cuneiform characters engraved on the clay under the microscope, the scholars realized that many letters had been badly written and corrected latereven engraving the correct character directly above the incorrect one.

Researchers at the University of the Negev have proposed a transcription which interprets characters as the alphabetical succession “h, l, ch”. This is a substantial difference compared to the Ugaritic alphabet, which had an “a, b” order similar to ours, highlighting the existence of a dialect difference Canaanite. The alphabetical order of the Beth Shemesh tablet is compared to that of the language Ge' Ezused by Ethiopian Jews.

According to scholars, the tablet is nothing other than thewriting exercise under dictation of a young man scribe's apprenticewrong and then corrected by his teacher, as happened to many of us during the first years of primary school.