04 February 2011

The Gezer Calendar

by Timothy S. Wilkinson

In 1908, Irish archaeologist Robert Alexander Steward Macalister was excavating the ancient Canaanite city of Gezer, just west of Jerusalem. Among his many discoveries was a soft limestone tablet inscribed with a short poem. The ancient Hebrew script, likely from the 10th century B.C.E., was written quite crudely, leading most scholars to believe that the tablet was a schoolboy's writing or memory exercise. Alternate theories suggest that it is a breakdown of farming taxes or a agrarian folk song. The translated text reads, roughly:
Two months gathering
Two months planting
Two months late sowing
One month cutting flax,
One month reaping barley
One month reaping and measuring grain
Two months pruning
One month summer fruit.

The poem is signed "Abijah." 

What makes the find extraordinary is the antiquity of the alphabet, script, and language--among the earliest extant Hebrew writing. It also provided scholars with some of the clearest information about the Hebrew agricultural calendar, information that has contributed to our understanding of ancient Israelite life in general.

Below is a picture of a recreation of the Gezer Calendar made by my brother, Axel Wilkinson.

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