All round Palestine therefore we now have evidence, unknown to our fathers,
of the free use of writing back to a time far earlier than that of
We can also bring new evidence from Syria and Palestine themselves.
In the year 1887 an Egyptian woman found, amid the ruins of an ancient
city about half-way between Thebes and Memphis, a collection of some
350 clay tablets inscribed with strange markings.
The city is now well known as Tell el-Amarna, the capital of
the remarkable king Amenhotep IV, or Akhenaten, who made a vain attempt
to revolutionise the religion of his country, and was the father-in-law
of Tutankhamen, the discovery of whose tomb by Lord Carnarvon made
such a sensation at the end of 1922.
The tablets of Tell el-Amarna,
however, raised an almost equal sensation among Oriental scholars;
for here, in the middle of Egypt, were documents written not after
the manner of the country, in the Egyptian language and upon papyrus,
but engraved upon clay in the unmistakable cuneiform, or wedge-shaped
script characteristic of Mesopotamia (see Plate II).
Nor did their
surprise lessen as the writings were deciphered and their meaning ascertained.
For these tablets proved to be the official correspondence of Egyptian
governors or vassal-princes, from various places in Palestine and Syria,
with their overlord, the king of Egypt.
Their date is about the year
1380 BC, which, according to the view now generally accepted,
and which seems to be confirmed by the recent excavations at Jericho,
is the period when Joshua and the Hebrews were overrunning southern
while the Hittites were conquering Damascus, and the Amorites were
invading Phoenicia. Jerusalem, Lachish, Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer, are
mentioned by name;
and complaints are made of the assaults of the Habiru,
who have been generally regarded as the Hebrews, though the identification
is not accepted by all scholars.
Description & picture from 'Our Bible & the
Ancient Manuscripts' by Sir Frederick Kenyon (1895 - 4th Ed. 1939)
& Plate II. (Page fragment illustrated: 15 x 10cm.)