Stamped Jar Handle
Israel, late 8th century B.C.E.
- Clay: impressed and fired
- 2 1/2 x 3 x 2 in. (6.4 x 7.6 x 5.1 cm)
- The Jewish Museum, New York
- Purchase: Archaeology Acquisition Fund, JM 12-73.271
- Digital image © 2006 The Jewish Museum, New York Photo by Ardon Bar Hama
Lamelekh jars offer direct evidence for centralized rule by a king in 8th-century BCE Israel, though monarchical rule is actually believed to have begun in the 11th century BCE. The rise of the monarchy is marked in archaeological excavations by the sudden appearance in Israelite territory of new city plans, including fortification walls and large city gates. Many cities also included fortresses and palatial residences. Such building projects could not have happened without the organization of a centralized government and resources collected in the form of taxes and conscripted labor. In exchange for these taxes, the government protected the people from enemy attack and maintained order in the land. The ancient Israelites faced frequent wars with their neighbors.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF WRITING
The presence of Hebrew lettering on lamelekh jars and other finds from Israel suggest some degree of literacy in the first millennium BCE. The earliest forms of writing developed in Mesopotamia and Egypt. These were pictographic writing systems, in which a word is represented by an abstracted picture. The subsequent emergence of alphabetic writing in the area of the eastern Mediterranean was an important innovation. Alphabets had only a couple of dozen letters, rather than thousands of characters. This brought literacy within the reach of common people and took it out of the hands of specialized scribes. The alphabetic system we use today is descended from that of the Phoenicians and Israelites.