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Tell es-Safi Ostracon Tracing and Comments (UPDATED)

13th November 2005

I was taking a closer look at the picture of the Tell es-Safi ostracon and decided to trace the letters in Photoshop. I found it quite difficult to identify some of the characters — especially the aleph. I should warn you that I am not a paleographer, though I do find this sort of stuff quite interesting. Any and all correction are most welcome!

So, for what it is worth, here are the images:

The reported reading — ×?לות ‘lwt and ולת wlt — is not too difficult to make out. From right to left you find a somewhat odd aleph with the horizontal cross stroke transversing the two V-strokes (kind of like the aleph at Gezer or from the plaque at Shechem). I am not sure what to make of the two small verticle lines just to the left of the aleph, however. Next you find a lamed, which instead of the almost vertical stroke with a hook to the right at the end, you find it more like a coil. This is similar to the lamed on the potsherds from Tell ed-Duweir (Lachish; dated around 1250 BCE). Following the lamed you have a waw followed by a tav. Then after the vertical stroke, you have another waw followed by what is a very poorly inscribed lamed followed by a partial tav.

In regards to the interpretation of the ostracon, Jim West has reproduced some comments from the Biblical Studies email list by Yigal Levin (who worked on the dig), as well as a summary.

UPDATE: Enlarged Image of Ostracon

Duane Smith over at Abnormal Interests wonders about the identification of the initial aleph on the ostracon. While I think it does begin with an aleph, I am not sure what the two vertical strokes between the aleph and the lamed are supposed to be. I don’t think it is a tav as Duane suggests. I magnified and adjusted some settings in Photoshop so that the letters/mrkings may be seen a bit more clearly:

Anyone have any thoughts as to what those strokes represent?

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