Ancient Hebrew alphabet found in Israel, archaeologists suggest

Archaeologists have found a tablet inscribed with two lines of an alphabet which scholars say is the most concrete evidence that Israelites were literate as early as the 10th century B.C. Ron E. Tappy, a professor at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and Professor P. Kyle McCarter of Johns Hopkins University were scheduled to discuss the findings at a news conference later Wednesday at the seminary. The tablet was found during a dig in June at Tel Zayit, in the lowlands of ancient Judah in Israel.

William Dever, a professor emeritus from the University of Arizona, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the finding is significant because it involves a subject of intense debate among scholars: whether the ancient Israelites were literate and, by extension, whether the Hebrew scriptures found in the modern Bible were written down or passed on word of mouth.

Scholars, like Dever, who support the view that the ancient Israelites were literate believe the tablet Tappy found dates to the middle of the 10th century B.C.

Skeptical scholars who viewed photos of the tablet have disagreed, saying it's unclear if the language is Phoenician, Hebrew or a blend of both, the AP reports.

Scholars say if Tappy is correct, the tablet likely was made when Israel was a united nation under three great kings, Saul, David and Solomon, between 1020 and 930 B.C.

The finding will be discussed at a conference held by the Society of Biblical Literature which begins Nov. 19 in Philadelphia. A.M.