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Gezer Calendar, 10th century BCE

Date- 10th century BCE

Current Location- Istanbul

Language and Script- Archaic Hebrew, northern dialect, or Phoenician; alphabetic


General Information-

• This small limestone tablet contains a list of months according to the agricultural activities that occurred during each. The list begins at an unusual point in the yearly agricultural cycle- during the fruit harvest. It would seem to coincide with the autumnal Hebrew New Year, the subsequent Festival of the (Olive) Harvest, and/or with the autumnal equinox. Orthographic (spelling) and linguistic analyses have placed the text somewhere between Byblian (Phoenician) and Archaic Hebrew along the spectrum of ancient Canaanite languages. Good arguments can be made in either direction, so the precise identification is uncertain. If the text of the Gezer calendar were Hebrew, then its dialect predates the complete spread of the Jerusalem dialect, which later became the main Hebrew dialect. Its author is quite possibly an Israelite in light of the name of the scribe, “Aviyah,” in the margin, which means “Yah is my father” (Yah is a shortened form of “Yahweh,” the name of the Israelite God. It also might contain a pun at its end on the words “qayiz/qez,” or “summer/end” that is paralleled a couple hundred years later in the writings of the prophet Amos (8-1-2).

• Some scholars have suggested that the Gezer Calendar was a peasant’s almanac or a schoolboy’s writing exercise, in which case it could be a poem that was taught to remember the names of the months, a simple choice for a practice text. Although this interpretation fits the material of the tablet, a limestone surface that is easily scraped for reuse, and its shape, with a hole for one finger and indent for another, it implies that literacy was a widespread phenomenon at a rather early date. That objection is not strong enough to keep the writer’s learning tablet option as the primary theory, since it may have been used by a young scribe in training. An alternative suggestion is that the text was a sort of blessing tablet, placed in a local temple to be a constant reminder before Yahweh or another god to bless the crops in their seasons.
Professor Ian Young, of the University of Sidney, compares the unusual language used in the Gezer Calendar to stylistically archaic passages of poetry in the Bible. He sees this connection as good proof to believe, like William F. Albright, that the text is a poem of the agricultural year and that it is written in a recognizable Hebrew poetic style.

Circumstances of Discovery and Acquisition- The tablet was discovered in 1908 during excavations at Gezer by the British archaeologist R.A.S. Macalister. He dug there from 1902 to 1909 as Director of the Palestine Exploration Fund, marking the beginning of scientific archaeology in Palestine. In an attempt to save the antiquities of Palestine from plunder and in the hope of discovering an archive, he led a brutish excavation that dug across the tel in wide trenches, dumping the refuse from one trench into the previous. Not only did he lack professional workers, but his methods did not allow for enough collection of information for reinterpretation by later archaeologists, nor for adequate exposure of strata from different parts of the site to ensure a solid stratigraphy. The Gezer Calendar proved to be the crown jewel of his efforts there.

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