Hebrew Bible and ANE History Lists Commentary

News and Comments that relate to the Hebrew Bible and to my posts on various ANE and Hebrew Bible related mailing lists - Yitzhak Sapir

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Solomon and Jerusalem

Updated March 2: Added links to Duane Smith's comments and my followup/response.

"urusalem" in Amarna cuneiform according to CIAS
Photo source: California Institute for Ancient Studies
A recent and still ongoing discussion on ANE focused on the names of Solomon and Jerusalem. The discussion spanned the times from the Execretion Texts in the early 2nd Millenium BCE to the Massoretes in the late 1st Millenium CE. It began when "John" suggested that Solomon's name and the name of Jerusalem, the name of the Canaanite god Shalim as well as other names of the period such as Absalom are related, theophoric, and are "suspicious." Now, I have paid quite a bit of attention to this in the study of the early Iron Age that I'm working on, so this was pretty interesting, although I did not want to involve arguments from my study. So I just asked questions: Why is it suspicious? What does it suggest?

Professor Niels Peter Lemche has been kind enough to respond and even later make available a study of his that deals with the issue (See Jim West's blog post here). Robert Whiting pointed out that in this paper, the assumption is made that Jerusalem is written with the Akkadian determinative URU as URU-salem, but in fact it is written URU u-ru-sa-lim. How well can we still identify the component of "urusalem" as the word Shalem or diety Shalim? It's not clear. I suppose that the Biblical books provide evidence that some identification was made, at least in the Second Temple period and perhaps even the First Temple period. If so, why are we to suppose that before then it wasn't so identified?

Subsequent to publishing this Duane Smith commented on my post in his blog and I published a followup/response.

References and Related Articles:

Another Antiquities Theft Bust

The recovered antiquities
Photo source: Israel Antiquities Authority
An Israel Antiquities Authority press release, an almost equivalent Arutz 7 news report, a ynet news flash, and an NRG (Maariv) news flash (all Hebrew) as well as other Israeli news sites report that in a search of IAA inspectors assisted by Hadera police, ten tons of ancient stones and architectural items (columns and column bases) that date to the Roman and Byzantine periods were recovered. These were recovered during a search, with a Hadera Peace Court search warrant, at a building materials storage site that belongs to a local Hadera citizen. The IAA suspects that the items were stolen from a Caesarea antiquities site.

The head of the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit told Arutz 7 today that "lately we are witnessing a severe phenomenon where antiquities sites are destroyed by criminals that are dismantling ancient buildings and causing irreversible damage to our land's glorious ancient past and tradition."

The recovered antiquities were taken as legal evidence and have been placed in the IAA offices. The investigation continues.

Related Links:

Monday, February 27, 2006

Ashdod Museum Exhibit on Antiquities Theft

Ynet and a Israel Antiquities Authority press release (both Hebrew) reported on a new stolen antiquities exhibit at the Ashdod Museum two weeks ago. Following up to the recent confiscation of antiquities in a Jerusalem souvenir shop, here is a translation:

New Exhibit: Antiquities Theft in Israel
by David Hakohen

Some of the items were stolen from the above cave
Photo source: Israel Antiquities Authority
A new exhibit was opened recently at the Corine Maman Ashdod Museum, titled "Antiquities Theft in Israel," where ancient artifacts of all ages that have been confiscated by the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority are on display for the first time.
On display at the exhibit are dozens of items that have been stolen from Jewish burial caves of the Second Temple period, from sunk ships at the bottom of the sea, various pots and shards of the Byzantine period that were confiscated in a raid at the home antiquities thieves at Wadi Ara, glass items, clay lamps and jewelry that are typical of the Roman and Byzantine periods, and coin hoards and bronze utensils that were stolen from secret underground systems in the Bar-Kokhba period.

From the "World of the Philistines" exhibit
Photo source:www.ilmuseums.com
The exhibit illustrates the issue of antiquities theft in Israel with the artifacts and pictures: the phenomenon, the people, the thieves, the middlemen, the trade and the collectors. Furthermore, some of the texts deal with the Antiquities Law and its enforcement by the Israel Antiquities Authority. The Museum's curator, Yael Wiesel, noted that some of the artifacts are of unknown provenance.

The exhibit will be on display until June 2006, next to the regular exhibit, "The Philistine's World."

Ashdod News reports that among the displays will be a thief during arrest, an ancient marble column found in a private living room, ancient architectural items that were placed as part of a Caesarea home garden, and an ancient coin hoard imprinted with the figure of Alexander the Great of unknown provenance.

Related Links:

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Journal of Biblical Studies 6:1 published

Photo source: JBS Website
Jim West reports that the Journal of Biblical Studies put out a new issue dated January but he also said it's out after a certain hiatus. He also forwarded a call for submissions.

The following seem to be of interest to studies of the Hebrew Bible:

Related Links:


Sunday, February 26, 2006

Antiquities retrieved in Jerusalem souvenir shop

Updated Feb. 27: Added links to walla News report, English Arutz 7 report, and IAA news release

Arutz 7 and an Israel Antiquies Authority news release report (both Hebrew and almost word-for-word duplicates) that during a regular inspection of the Israel Antiquities Authority inspectors in the Old City of Jerusalem, dozens of ancient artifacts were retrieved from a souvenir shop . Among the artifacts are dozens of clay pots and shards from the Iron Age, the Second Temple period and the Byzantine period. These were most likely stolen from burial caves in the Jerusalem area. Also apprehended were miniature glass artifacts that are suspected to have been smuggled from the Persian gulf.

The items retrieved will be used as evidence in court, the operation of the store was halted, and the owner of the store was taken for interrogation on suspicion of breaking the Antiquities Law. The head of the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit, Amir Ganor, noted that unauthorized trade in antiquities carries up to three years prison term according to the Antiquities Law.

The photo in the Arutz 7 website is unrelated to this report. Walla News (Hebrew) had a one line news update on the recovery following Israel Radio, just saying the IAA confiscated rare artifacts. Joseph Lauer also mentioned that Arutz 7 also put up a short English report.

See also: Ashdod Museum exhibit on Antiquities Theft

ירחו yrhw in the Gezer Calendar

Updated March 4 - added link to negative comments on ANE-2 regarding Anson Rainey's Canaanite in the Amarna Tablets.

The Gezer Calendar
Photo source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Much of my recent discussions had related to the pre-exilic orthography. Now that the discussions are pretty much completed, I'm working on converting the mailing list arguments into posts. Among other things, I argued that certain letters normally taken to be matres lectionis (vowels) could perhaps simply be consonantal. For example, the third person possessive pronoun was written in pre-exilic inscriptions with a final ה h. Eventually, the masculine possessive developed into a final -o: vowel and in the Massoretic Text it is written with a ו w. In pre-exilic inscriptions, the spelling shifts from the use of ה h to ו w starting from the beginning of the 6th century BCE.

It is possible to reconstruct the development of the third person possessive pronouns in Hebrew. Originally, in Common Semitic, these were m. *-su, f. *-sa . In Central Semitic, these had become m. *-hu, f. *-ha. The feminine possessive suffix retained the consonantal ה h all the way to the times of the Massoretic vocalization appearing as a Mappiq. However, the masculine possessive suffix lost this, and eventually became -o: in the Massoretic vocalization. But the Massoretic vocalization represents a period no earlier than 500 CE What about the pre-exilic vocalization, before 500 BCE, more than 1000 years earlier? Did that vocalization have a consonantal ה h or just a simple -o: that was represented in the spelling using an ה h as a vowel letter?

Having read now some articles on orthography and the ancient Semitic languages, it appears that the Gezer "Calendar" provides some and perhaps the only evidence to the effect that the h was lost in pre-exilic times. ...

It is definitely considered the clearest evidence. The Calendar is a list of periods of the agricultural year. Throughout the calendar, two variants of the word ירח yrh "month" are used: the simple ירח yrh and the suffixed form ירחו yrh. The natural interpretation of the list of agricultural periods is to see the suffixed forms as dual forms, because this way all the agricultural periods fall in their correct places along the year and all the periods together add up to a twelve year cycle.

The standard interpretation is to see this as development from the conjectured Proto-Semitic form of the dual. This is reconstructed in Proto-Semitic as *warha:na in the nominative and *warhayna in the accusative/genitive (oblique) form. But if the final *-na is dropped, the word becomes part of a construct chain. It now means "two months of (what follows in the construct chain)" instead of just "two months." The construct oblique form, suffixed by the third person masculine possessive pronoun, becomes *warhaysu ("two months of him" = "his two months"). According to the commonly accepted derivation, apparently suggested by W. F. Albright, Proto-Semitic *warha:su > NWS *yarha:hu (prevocalic /s/ shifts to /h/ in many cases, and initial /w/ shifts to /y/) > *yarhayhu (the nominative case ending is lost and the oblique/accusative displaces it) > *yarhe:hu > ירחו yarhew. This derivation explains pretty much all the consonants in the text, the evolution of the word, and the meaning of the word in the text. It also has implications for the singular forms in the list - ירח yrh, suggesting that they also mean "his month" and are therefore suffixed by the possessive pronoun. But since there is no consonant to denote this possessive pronoun, it is conjectured that they had already developed into the vowel -o:. This is why, if one accepts this reading, the later use of ה h in Israelite inscriptions to denote the possessive suffix should probably be read as a vowel letter and not as a consonant.

Amarna Letter from Burnaburiash to Amenhotep IV
Photo source: The British Museum
Although there are some problems with the above reconstruction (to be discussed in a moment), it does work out quite nicely. But I had raised my own pet theory in the discussion, which is the matter of this post. My solution is actually similar to an early solution proposed by H. L. Ginsberg and supported by G. R. Driver. This solution suggests reading the ו w as a vowel letter for -o:. According to this reconstruction, the oblique/accusative case endings had not yet displaced the nominative endings, and so the nominative was yarha:. But the Canaanite shift *a: > o: led to this form being yarho:. This solution has been criticized on grounds that we know the Canaanite nominative dual case ending had not shifted to o: from a Canaanite gloss in the Amarna tablets which normally display this shift: he-na-ia *ce:na:ya "my two eyes" (EA 144:17 sent to Egypt from Sidon). A. Lemaire suggested that the dual nominative construct form -ay developed from an earlier form *-aw which is what the Gezer Calendar form represents. But this solution is very unlikely given that -ay is attested across many other Semitic languages and *-aw is not. G. Garbini suggested that this is not a dual at all but a plural, in which case the nominative construct ending would have been *-u: and this is what the ו w represents. It is hard to accept this solution since the ו w is consistently used for duals only in the Calendar. The main object to W. F. Albright's solution by the others has been that "his month" and "his two months" do not mention to whom the word "his" refers.

My solution is that ירחו yrhw represents an otherwise unknown dual form and has no possessive suffix attached. Now isn't that a simple solution? It solves all the problems. This is a dual form, not a plural one. The final ו w is a consonant, not a vowel letter for *-u: or -o:. The form with a ו w at the end is not to be traced back as the precursor of -ay but is a new if short-lived development. There is no "his" that suggests a reference to some person not mentioned in the text. The only problem with such a solution is that it appears to be otherwise without evidence, and the reconstruction of a new rare form that is otherwise unattested appears to be concocted to fit the evidence.

However, I have another example of this form in a very common word in the Bible: יחדו yahdaw "together." The root of this form is yahd-, which is related to Proto-Semitic *)ahad, and a variant form that appears in Central Semitic, *wahd- > NWS yahd-. This word means variously "one," "individual," or "singular." According to my suggestion, יחדו yahdaw "together" is the dual of -יחד yahd- "individual." This is a pretty attractive suggestion, and it forms the meagre "evidence" for the reading of final ו w as an independent dual form.

It is perhaps even possible that there are other instances of this form. For example, in Psalms 114:5, normally read ההפכי הצור אגם-מים, חלמיש למעינו-מים "Who turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of waters." The last two words could be read as a dual of מעין mcyn or עין cyn "fountain" = "two fountains." Perhaps the use of the same word for "fountain" as for "eyes" led to the use of a dual but there is nothing in the verse itself to suggest that this is necessarily a dual form. This word, however, is unusual, exceptional and not standard in Biblical Hebrew and it is always interpreted as an archaic poetic use. The reading cyn "eye"/"fountain" presupposes that the prefix is the archaic למ lm "to." The form of the noun cayn "fountain" is then exactly parallel to the previously discussed words yarh and yahd. This would suggest that the ו w suffix was a rare dual form that perhaps developed only in segholates or nouns of a CVCC/CaCC structure.

The Ahiram Sarcophagus Inscription
Photo source: Drews University course page
Other objections to W. F. Albright's solution could be raised on the grounds that it assumes a very quick development for Hebrew. It assumes that *ay shifted to e. This is actually reasonable, given that it is attested earlier at Ugarit and contemporaneously at Phoenicia, and later in Moab and Israelite areas to which Gezer would be related. However, it also assumes a loss of the nominative case-endings which may be considered unlikely. These were not lost at Ugarit, nor were they lost in the Amarna Canaanite glosses. In the contemporaneous records, the consonantal script makes it hard to tell but there is evidence that they were not lost at Phoenicia either. It also supposes that after they were lost, the third person masculine possessive on singular nouns had developed from *-ahu > *-aw > -o:. If we can compare with the Phoenician 10th century evidence, the Ahiram sarcophagus suggests that all this has not yet occurred. (This development is attested in later Phoenician inscriptions). To top it off, all this is supposed to have happened in the three centuries between the 13th century (Amarna period where case-endings are attested) and the 10th century (the time of the Gezer tablet). During this period, almost the entire Ancient Near East was in a "dark age" and individual communities were relatively free from foreign influences. To me, such conditions suggest that the languages of the area would have been more conservative during this period. It therefore seems unlikely to me that such significant linguistic change beginning with the loss of case-endings would have occurred in this period.

The strengths of my theory are the relatively significant yet unlikely linguistic changes presupposed by the standard (W. F. Albright's) reconstruction, and the attractiveness of the etymology for the word יחדו yahdaw "together." The main weakness is that it presupposes that the form is a rare local form that is relatively unattested. The evidence from יחדו yahdaw "together" is useful, but more evidence would have been better. It serves to show that the assumption that final ה h was a mater lectionis for -o: in pre-exilic inscriptions is rather precarious. Perhaps the reason ה h was written in the third person masculine singular pronoun suffix is because Hebrew had not yet lost the consonantal h in that suffix, after all.

In the context of researching this, I had either made use of the following references and reviews or felt they pertain to this discussion:

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

International Conference - "Mediterranean Mosaic: enhancing archaeological sites for shared development"

Update - Feb. 23: Another news report after the signing of the "Modica accord" added.

Undersecretary Drago presenting the conference in Venice
Photo source: Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Today (Feb. 23) ends a two day international conference in Modica, Italy, that aims to seek ways to colloborate on protecting archaeological sites with Mosaics. It is titled also "Mediterranean Mosaic: promotion of archaeological sites with mosaics". More advanced forms of management for the areas that have archaeological sites with an important mosaic component will be discussed in Modica. These new methods will be examined with a view to arriving at ways of enabling the countries concerned to apply them in coordinated fashion. “By doing this we will increase the overall value of the archaeological sites in the Mediterranean, allowing for an easier use and promotion of them,” said Italian Undersecretary of State Giuseppe Drago.

Invited were delegations from Algeria, Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and, for the European Union, Cyprus, France, Greece, Malta, Spain and Turkey. However, according to a news report from yesterday, it appears that the delegations for Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Greece, Spain, and Turkey were not in attendance. Perhaps the absence of some or all of the delegations are simply a slip of the reporter and they are all there. Update: A news report about the actual signing of the accord suggests that only nine countries signed. Since nine delegations, not including Italy, were reported to be in attendance, it appears that none of the above listed countries bothered to show up.


Monday, February 20, 2006

Jerusalem Post: Caesarea Archaeological finds spark debate

Part of a Byzantine wall discovered in Caesarea
Photo source: Com&Sense Communications in The Jerusalem Post
The Jerusalem Post reported (Feb. 14) on claims that the Caesarea Development Company is pressuring the Israel Antiquities Authority to forfeit its control over certain areas currently marked as a recreational, nature zone despite "finds in recent weeks" that include "portions of a Herodean wall, as well as a Byzantine mosaic and a necropolis." This seems to be basically another round of publicity for a report coming just a couple of weeks after a similar report in Globes (via PaleoJudaica).

The opus sectile glass panel with gilded plates on the bottom right
Photo source: Orly Feister and Niki Davidov, via IAA
It seems to me that these do not relate to the excavations reported five months ago that described various rare finds relating to a mansion in Caesarea. Perhaps they come as a follow up to those excavations. While those finds, including a glass opus sectile panel with glass gilded and colored platelets, have received wide publicity, very few photos have been released with the news reports. So here are various links and references that include such images.



  • Porath, Y. "The Israeli Viewpoint, Archaeology: The golden opus sectile panel". National Geographic (Hebrew edition). 86 (2005).
  • Reich, Rony. "A Figurative Mosaic at Caesarea". cAtiqot (English Series) XVII (1985):206-212.
  • Porath, Y., Gorin-Rosen, Y., and Nager, J. "A glass opus sectile panel from Caesarea, Israel". Journal of Glass Studies. 2006. (forthcoming)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Rebirth of the ANE List

Photo source: ANE-2 List Homepage
This blog is about my posts in various lists, and the ANE List is pretty much one of the most useful tools for anyone interested in the Ancient Near East. All time time, one sees scholars ask for references, for emails of other scholars, or just general questions, and there's no doubt this list truly brings the power of the Information Age to the study of the ANE. It is sad that the ANE list in its old format had to go, but perhaps good can only come out of such a thing. The reborn ANE List is moderated by Chuck Jones, the original moderator of ANE, Jeffrey Gibson, who organized the effort to renew the ANE List, as well as other influential scholars such as Niels Peter Lemche, Marc Cooper, Robert Whiting, and Trudy Kawami. A great big thanks to all of them for taking up this task and giving us a new, better, ANE List.

I joined the ANE List in the aftermath of the Joash Tablet "discovery", trying to understand what it was about. After a while, it had occurred to me that the ANE List might be the perfect place to pose a question regarding a study I had tried years earlier in regards to a certain word in the Book of Esther ("pitgam") and its etymology. My post on the issue generated a lot of responses, and I was able to trace the history of the study of this word's etymology all the way to the 19th century. On the Linguist List, when I asked the same question a few years earlier, I received no responses. On the ANE List, I was able to continue off list, and in one case was able to suggest ideas and see how well they work out with someone who had studied Old and Middle Persian.

...This study has now been placed "on hold" while I work on a different study that has to do with the Song of Deborah and the Iron Age I/IIA. In this study, just recently I was wondering whether the Akkadian "Sutu" are the same as the Egyptian "Shasu." The two terms seem similar and they are used to refer to pretty much the same kinds of people in texts where the only difference is the language -- Egyptian or Akkadian. But do scholars think that they really be identified? For me, the first answer was to be found in, where else, the archives of ANE, in an old post by Niels Peter Lemche, who wrote, "an element of so-called Shasu (and/or Sutu to name the Akkadian equivalent) would have been present in the Iron Age population of Palestine." Later, I found a comment to the same effect in Gösta W. Ahlström's book, The History of Ancient Palestine.

If you are just starting to learn about the ANE, and you are interested in a general modern introduction to the subject, I can mention my recent query on the ANE List for just that. The offlist suggestion to read Amelie Kuhrt's The Ancient Near East proved to be very satisfactory. This is a very useful book that answers many of my questions and needs for a general overview of the ANE. On specific details, where I knew the material beforehand, I felt it was lacking. For example, it doesn't represent the state of studies as regards ancient Israel and Judah properly, suggesting a synthesis of Biblical and Archaeological data of the type which is controversial today. I felt it should have at least mentioned that this view is controversial. However, as a general introduction to the the history of the region on the large scale, it is great.

I'm sure these examples show just how useful the ANE List can be for scholars and amateurs alike. So, if you haven't joined the new ANE List yet, join now!

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Driving out the off-road drivers from Tel Goded

Photo source: Dafna Meroz,
Israel Nature Conservation Society
via ynet
ynet has a news report in Hebrew and English on the planned restoration of Tel Goded (Tell ej-Judeideh). It begins:
After years of unsuccessful campaigns, Jewish National Fund and Israel Antiquities Authority decided to act and protect the archeological site at Britain Park from modern-day trespassers – lawless off-road drivers who trample thousands of years of history and natural habitat, and refuse to stick to marked trails.
and finishes with the recommendation, that "it is possible and highly recommended to travel by foot through this important site, where history lurks under every cave."

Tel Goded is generally identified with Moresheth Gath, Micah's apparent hometown, which is also mentioned in the Amarna letters. Shmuel Vargon has suggested identifying it with an otherwise obscure place name, Gedud, apparentely based on Micah 4:14. The verse contains the term בת-גדוד Bath-Gedud, which normally translated as "daughter of troops" but comes in opposition to two other mentions of placenames in the chapter: מגדל-עדר Migdal-cder and בת-ציון Bath-Sion.

Some more pictures of Tel Goded

  • Gibson, Shimon. "The Tell ej-Judeideh (Tel Goded) excavations; a re-appraisal based on archival records in the Palestine Exploration Fund". Tel Aviv 21,2 (1994): 194-234.
  • Sagiv, N., Zissu, B., and Avni, G. "Tombs of the Second Temple Period at Tel Goded, Judean Foothills." cAtiqot 35 (1998): 7*-21* (Hebrew), 159-61 (English).
  • Vargon, Shmuel. "Gedud, a place-name in the Shephelah of Judah". Vetus Testamentum 42,4 (1992): 557-564.
  • Vargon, Shmuel. "The book of Micah: Introduction" (Hebrew). World of the Bible: Minor Prophets II, ed. Zeev Weisman. Tel Aviv: Divrei Hayamim Publishing, 1995.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

רעו rcw in the Siloam Inscription

Update - Feb. 14: Bibliography updated. Feb.15: Bibliography updated, added paragraph following the quote of James Davila that surveys other views of this word in scholarship, added paragraph regarding spelling of this word in Jeremiah.

In the context of a discussion that dealt in part with matres lectionis - letters that sometimes stand for a vowel in the mostly consonantal script of the Hebrew language, I discussed the question whether the pre-exilic language spoken by the peoples of Judea ("Judaean" as it is called in the Bible) had final sounds in words, and if so, if it denoted them by the use of matres lectionis. The most common case in the Bible is the use of the masculine third person singular possessive pronoun, when joined to a word: "His servant" is עבדו cbdw and the final ו w denotes the sound. In pre-exilic inscriptions, we usually find a final ה h in these cases. One notable exception is in the Siloam Inscription,
Photo source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
where the digging of Hezekiah's tunnel is described in very dramatic words. We find the phrases: "each crew toward the other," "the men calling out to each other," "the stonecutters hacked toward each other." In each of these cases, "other" is written רעו rcw- "his fellow" - and is commonly translated in the singular. Sometimes, scholars have gone to great lengths to explain how the singular possessive ending was not written with an ה h as is common in pre-exilic inscriptions, but with what appears to be a later convention - the ו w. ...

Jim Davila on PaleoJudaica, wrote:

the vocalized form of רעהו rchw would have been *ricihu (with the normal u-vowel before the suffix assimiliated to the i of the noun, probably under the influence of the gutteral. Cf. BH recehu). This appears to have collapsed into the form riciw, which is a reasonable possibility. (It may also be that the word is plural, in which case the orthography would be unremarkable.)

This goes along the lines of Saenz-Baedillos, who reconstruct the pre-exilic pronunciation as recew (p. 66). In a full length study that investigates the situation anew and takes into consideration additional inscriptions discovered since Cross and Freedman's work, Zevit (1980) reads this apparently as a m.l. for . For support, he uses the Mesad Hashavyahu ostracon and reads the ו w in קצר ואסם qsr w)sm as a m.l. - "his harvest." This is criticized on linguistic grounds by Anson Rainey in his review of Zevit's work.

Perhaps the interest in reading it in the singular is based on Jer 6:21, but given the Vulgate's translation it may be possible to reconstruct שכן ורע ויאבדו ŝkn wrc wy)bdw and suggest that perhaps due to the use of the perfect where the imperfect would be expected, the ורעו wrcw received its second ו w from a redivision of the words. This suggestion can also explain the Qere/Ketiv as attempts to deal with the word.

As much as the reconstruction is interesting, I found his final comment more interesting. The common spelling of "his fellows" in the Bible is רעיו rcyw but the יו -yw suffix which is the common spelling for the masculine third person plural possessive pronoun is commonly written ו w in the pre-exilic inscriptions. So a reader who knew no better who came and read this inscription would interpret רעו rcw as "his fellows." This maintains the usage of ה h for third person singular possessive and ו w for third person plural possessive.

My רע fellow to the discussion questioned this and claimed that there is no such usage in the Bible of using the plural in the phrase of the form "each other." Fair enough, although I think that it is not necessary for pre-exilic inscriptions to have the exact same grammatical usage forms as the Biblical text and no additional ones. Indeed such usage does exist in the Bible:

Numbers 26:54 איש לפי פקדיו )y$ lpy pqdyw 1 Samuel 30:6 איש על-בנו ועל-בנתיו )y$ cl-bnw wcl-bntyw

Interestingly, the second case features בנו bnw for "his sons" - like the pre-exilic spelling. There is therefore no reason to question the use of this phrase with a word in the plural.

So what do I think it all mean in the end, if we use plural? It is a reference to each crewmen's fellows on the other side. This is how I would translate the Siloam inscription in light of all this:

[...] the tunneling; and this was how the tunneling was completed: As [the laborers employed] their picks, each crew towards the other, and with three cubits remaining, the voices of each man calling to his fellow crewmen on the other side [could be heard], since it got louder on the right [and lef]t; the day the opening was made, each stonecutter hacked towards the crewmen on the other side, pick against pick. And water flowed from the source to the pool [twel]ve hundred cubits, and the height of the rock was hundred cubits above the stonecutters' heads.

In the context of researching this, I had either made use of the following references and reviews or felt they pertain to this discussion:

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Who am I?

Hello, and welcome to my blog.
I am Yitzhak Sapir. I am a software engineer in Petah Tikva, Israel. I am a frequent poster on various Bible and ANE related mailing lists, and this blog came about to store in a more readable form some of the posts and arguments I make on those lists. Many times I feel that my ideas get lost amongst the argumentation made on the list. It will also serve to highlight news events and scholarship, mainly related to the Hebrew Bible and Israel. I intend to provide references to scholarship, with an emphasis on critical and/or online forms of studies and articles. An emphasis on Hebrew articles will also be attempted. My ideas as presented here have not been subject to review except so far as they have been stated on mailing lists and criticized or commented there. I am also not a scholar, have no Biblical Studies related degree, and have not learned Biblical or related studies in any formal program. So while I try to follow methodological guidelines that would ensure my ideas are able to stand amongst the scholarship that I quote, I am never sure they do and I hope that I don't mislead you into thinking that they do. Maybe some of them will eventually grow and become published in the academic process and gain that special status that differentiates the scholarship from the popular.