A Sabaean Inscription on a Large Clay Jar Deciphered and Discovered Less Than 300 Meters from the Site of the Jerusalem Temple

The Inscription Points to the Connection Between Israel Under the Reign of King Solomon and the Kingdom of Sheba

Jerusalem, Israel – April 3, 2023 – In a new study published in Hebrew University’s Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology, Dr. Daniel Vainstub deciphered a partially preserved inscription that was found on the neck of a large jar dated back to the time of King Solomon.

The jar was originally discovered together with the remains of six other large jars during excavations carried out in 2012 in the Ophel area south of the Temple Mt., led by the late Dr. Eilat Mazar from the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. From the original inscription, only seven letters survived. Over the course of the last decade, more than ten researchers suggested various readings without reaching a consensus, but they agreed the inscription is written in Canaanite script, from which the ancient Hebrew script that was used during the time of the First Temple, was developed. In the study, Dr. Daniel Vainstub determined the script is “Ancient South Arabian,” the script that was used in the south-west part of the Arabian Peninsula (the Yemen region of today), where the Kingdom of Sheba was the dominant kingdom at that time.

Dr. Vainstub explains, “Deciphering the inscription on this jar teaches us not only about the presence of a speaker of Sabaean in Israel during the time of King Solomon, but also about the geopolitical relations system in our region at that time – especially in light of the place where the jar was discovered, an area known for also being the administrative center during the days of King Solomon. This is another testament to the extensive trade and cultural ties that existed between Israel under King Solomon and the Kingdom of Sheba.”

According to the new interpretation, the inscription on the jar reads, “[ ]shy l’dn 5,” means five “ šǝḥēlet,” referring to one of the four ingredients mentioned in the Bible (Exodus 30:34) required for the incense mixture. The “ šǝḥēlet ” was an essential ingredient in the incense that was burnt in the First and Second Temples and was called “tziporen” in Rabbinic literature. This indicates a clear connection between Jerusalem of the 10th century BCE (the days of the Kingdom of Solomon) and the Kingdom of Sheba. It appears that the pottery jar was produced around Jerusalem and the inscription on it was engraved before it was sent for firing by a speaker of Sabaean, who was involved in supplying the incense spices.

The Ophel site in the Archaeological Park at the foot of the southern wall, within the area of the Jerusalem Walls National Park, includes a trail that passes between 2,000-year-old mikvahs used by pilgrims to the Temple. This is also the area where an administrative center of the kingdom of King Solomon was located.

During the 10th century BCE, the Kingdom of Sheba thrived as a result of the cultivation and marketing of perfume and incense plants, with Ma’rib as its capital. They developed advanced irrigation methods for the fields growing the plants used to make perfumes and incense. Their language was a South Semitic one. King Solomon is described in the Bible as controlling the trade routes in the Negev, which Sabaean camel caravans carrying perfumes and incense plants passed through on their way to Mediterranean ports for export.

The initial excavation led by Dr. Eilat Mazar was funded by Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman of New York, with assistance from Herbert W. Armstrong College in Oklahoma, USA, and the East Jerusalem Development Company.


The 10th century BCE inscribed pithos jar fragment from the Ophel. Photo: Daniel Vainstub; Dr. Eilat Mazar, after Mazar 2015


Trans-Arabian trade routes to the Mediterranean. Provided courtesy Shani Jaffe of FINN Partners


About the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is Israel’s leading academic and research institution. Serving some 24,000 students from 80 countries, it produces a third of Israel’s civilian research and is ranked 12th worldwide in biotechnology patent filings and commercial development. In 2022 Hebrew University was ranked at number 77 in the 2022 Academic Ranking of World Universities by Shanghai Ranking, making it the leading Israeli university in the world. Faculty and alumni of the Hebrew University have won eight Nobel Prizes and a Fields Medal. For more information about the Hebrew University, please visit http://new.huji.ac.il/en.


Article Source: News release provided by FINN Partners, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Subscribe to Popular Archaeology Premium. Still the industry's best value at only $9.00 annually.