Sunday, November 08, 2015


Ben Haring, on an Ostracon of the early New Kingdom?
Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 74, 2 (2015) 189-196.
The document that Ben Haring is examining in this article is Ostracon no. 99.95.0297 from Theban Tomb TT99, the burial place of an Egyptian named Senneferi; and it is being hailed as “the earliest known abecedary” (Universiteit Leiden News & Events). The use of the term ‘ostracon’ is far removed from the original meaning (a potsherd with names of people to be ostracized). The news report from Leiden University called it a”shard of pottery”, but it is actually a small piece of limestone with an ink inscription on each side; thus it is a tablet with Egyptian writing on it. Note carefully that Haring has a question mark in the title, and he is asking whether the items in this  text are arranged in an alphabetical order, following the sequence that starts with HLH.M, as opposed to the familiar ’Aleph Beth Gimel Daleth scheme (originally ’BGHD).
   Anticipating the answer to Haring’s question: what we find is a list of words (nouns rather than names, apparently) with the first four having the initials HRH.M; this looks like a failed hypothesis already, but in Egyptian writing there is no L-sign or l-sound available, so r is used for l (though we will need to keep in mind that  l could also be transcribed by n, nr, and 3 [’aleph]).
   The HLH.M sequence-order for the letters is not known before Hellenistic times in Egypt (4th Century BCE onwards) but it is attested in Syria-Palestine in the Bronze Age (before 1200 BCE) and in Arabia in the Iron Age.[1]
   Is this an onomasticon (a list of names or words) or an abecedary (an inventory of alphabet letters arranged in a standard order)?  If it is an onomasticon, why is it being hailed as the earliest known abecedary? Nevertheless, it could be both, because each word has a symbol after it, and some of them look like letters (‘pictophonograms’) of the original alphabet. But the total number of such symbols on this fragmentary document is ten, a long way from the expected double dozen or more; but Haring (195a) surmises that the ostracon was originally twice as long as the surviving fragment.
   It must be said at this point that Haring does not mention the oldest complete copies of the early alphabet in its pictorial stage (two inventories on three limestone tablets) which also come from Thebes, and should be cited in any study of the infant alphabet; but, astonishingly and deplorably, they are never consulted, even though they provide the solution to all the speculation that goes on in the search for the original letters of the alphabet (by Gordon Hamilton, for example)[2].  However, they have been examined by myself, publicly though not ‘publicationally’, in connection with the theories of Colless and Hamilton.[3]
   We now begin an examination of this promising artefact. Since Haring (192) gives strong indications that “Group Writing” (Egyptian “syllabic orthography”, a system for transcribing foreign words and names) is present here, we might expect the texts to be Semitic; but he has little success in taking this approach. However, I will affirm at the outset that the words are West Semitic, and that the original pictophonograms that I have proposed for the letters HLH.M are all there on side A of the tablet.
   Haring identifies the sides as obverse (A) and reverse (B), and he notes that the top of A corresponds to the bottom of B, and there are lines missing at these two positions.
(Click once on the photograph to see it enlarged.) 

[A1]  H
The sign on the left is a hieratic form of Hieroglyph A28, which is believed to be the basis for proto-alphabetic H /h/ and the origin of Greco-Roman E.  It represents a man rejoicing, and my long-standing hypothesis (1988: 35-36) connects it acrophonically with West Semitic hll (rejoice, exult, jubilate, celebrate, as in hallelu-yah). The various shapes it has in the inscriptions also relate it to A32 (man dancing) and even A29 (man standing on his hands).[4]
Haring's transcription of the accompanying text (on the right, and reading from right to left) is h3whn; he supposes this is for Egyptian hy hnw ‘rejoice’, and he sees it as a perfect match with the rejoicing figure. Certainly, but perhaps we can find a Semitic word for this slot. In this regard, Egyptian N (the water-wave sign that gives alphabetic M, pictured further down on this tablet, though reduced to a horizontal straight line in the hieratic script, as shown here immediately to the right of the rejoicer) was also employed to transcribe Semitic l, and so the the two Egyptian letters at the end (HN) could represent hl.[5] Furthermore, the eagle-vulture representing 3 (’aleph) could stand for l (though it would normally be indicating a vowel, here ha or hi.  Haring mentions the possibility of another N (and thus an additional l), and I can almost find *hillul, which I see as the word that gave HI in the West Semitic syllabary and H in the proto-alphabet (Colless 1992: 67). Still, the final hl might suffice to make the confirmatory connection that I have been waiting for, since 1988. Haring follows the standard line that the name of the letter is Hoy (or Hey, presumed to be what the man is shouting) and Hoy happens to be the Ethiopic name of the equivalent letter. Another Ethiopic letter name will be invoked in the next section. Notice in passing that the H-sign (hieroglyph O4, a field house) was one of the models for the letter B (bayt ‘house’; Hamilton 2006: 38-52); indeed, it was the one that survived into the Phoenician alphabet.
[A2]  L
Haring transcribes the text as rw (rawi) and looks for a word to go with the “curl or rope at the end”. Actually, it is an established idea that the original letter L was a ‘coil of rope’, corresponding to hieroglyph V1 (Hamilton 2006: 126-127). Also, Egyptian r was used to render Semitic l (more usually than n for l, as proposed in A1 above); remember that there was no ­l-sound in Egyptian.  If we are looking for a word lawi, we can find it in the Ethiopic name for L, Lawi. Romain Butin (Harvard Theological Review 1932: 146, and Colless, Abr-Nahrain 1988: 44) noted this, and pointed to a root lawa ‘wind, coil’ (as in Arabic); Hamilton records this in a footnote (2006: 136, n. 157) but he rejects the other possibility of a shepherd’s crook (S38, S39) as the prototype (2006: n. 148). However, on the two alphabets from Thebes, neither  L has a coil: one has a crook (like S38) and the other has an inverted example of S39 (looking just like our l). It could be that they are allographs: either the coil and the crook are both original, or else one developed from the other.
[A3]  H.
Here the text is transcribed as h.rpt. (Note that when I place a dot after a letter it should be understood as actually being beneath the letter, in accordance with the standard transcription system for h., s., z., t. .) The H. sign is M16 (clump of papyrus) used in Group Writing instead of the normal V28 (hank or wick), which became H in the proto-alphabet. Haring offers a proper name h.rpt in Ugaritic cuneiform sources, but he wonders how this and his other suggestions would relate to the sign on the left. He identifies it as “M22” (“a reed plant”) but the sign has two shoots on each side, whereas M22 has single shoots, and so this is M23 or M26 (sedge).  If we search for Semitic h.lpt we discover h.lp, as a species of rush with sharp edges (root h.lp ‘be sharp, cut’) (Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of Talmud etc, 456f) and ‘shoot’ (plural –ym or –wt) (Jastrow, 472a); it is cognate with Arabic h.alaf or h.alfa’, and it is especially found in Egypt; it is glossed as ‘Schilf oder Riedgras’ (Jacob Levy, Wörterbuch über die Talmudim und Midraschim, II, 63a). ‘Schilf’ is ‘sedge’ (Germanic sagjaz; sag- ‘saw’). (QED)
   Now, the sedge sign that comes at the end of the h.lpt sequence  is not in any proto-alphabetic text that I have seen, though M22 with single shoots does occur in the syllabary, apparently as mu, from mulku, ‘kingship’, after M23 nsyt, ‘kingship’ (Colless, Abr-Nahrain 1992: 82-83). It might have served as an allograph for H. in the proto-alphabet, but my choice has always been the mansion sign for H., acrophonically based on h.z.r (Hebrew ‘court, mansion’ (Colless 1988:38-41).  Its form in the alphabet in the Iron Age is an upright rectangle, divided into two squares; in the Bronze Age, the earliest form has the mansion with two rooms and a courtyard, but because it is a house it is usually, but mistakenly, placed in the B (bayt, house) category (Hamilton 2006: 48). The courtyard can be rounded, and it so happens that this very character occurs here: to the left of the rush sign a smudged vertical line appears, and further to the left and lower down we can reasonably discern the mansion, with the square house on the left, and the round courtyard on the right. I have waited a long time for this confirmation, while others have been seeing as a fence (Hamilton 2006: 97-102).
   Note that at least 18 of the 22 letters in the Iron Age (Phoenician) alphabet had a counterpart in the ancient syllabary (which likewise represented only 22 consonants) but this form of H. is absent from the syllabary. It appears quite clearly in the top left corner of Thebes alphabet 1, and in the same position on Thebes 2 (but indistinct).
[A4]  M
Here the text is transcribed mw n3. The first character consists of three parallel lines (actually wavy lines in the hieroglyph, M33b, “three ripples”, mw, ‘water’).  The single “ripple” is Egyptian N (from nt ‘water’), and in the West Semitic syllabary it functions as mu (an allograph of the rush sign for mu, as seen in section [A3] above); in the proto-alphabet it is M, and only two of its waves remain (Colless 1988: 44-45; Hamilton 2006: 138-144). The proto-alphabetic sign, here with four waves,  could indicate that a word starting with m precedes it, or even the word from which M originates.
[A5]  R?
I am convinced that the HLH.M sequence is present in A1-A4. But where does it go from here? In the attested examples of this order (from Syria-Palestine and Arabia) the next letter should be Q, as recognized by Haring (193b, though Haring’s Table 1 erroneously shows O) followed by W, and then Sh and R. I can perhaps make a case for this fifth character as R, but not Q.
   The text is damaged, so the transcription is r/t/d ssh p3. The West Semitic word r-sh-p refers to ‘plague’ or the god of pestilence, or ‘burning’. The accompanying object looks like a pot with a handle and a spout; it could be for pouring libations. The letter Q was originally a cord wound on a stick (qaw, a line, a cord used for measuring) sometimes with one end of the cord projecting at the top (Colless 1988: 49-50); this is widely attested in the inscriptions, and on both copies of the alphabet from Thebes, but Hamilton overlooks this and argues for Qop as a monkey, using the letter that is actually Sadey for his fruitless chase (2006: 209-221). This is not an ape that is confronting us here, but it could be a human head, inverted, with ears and neck. The name of the letter R is Rosh, ‘head’, and rssh might be a transcription of that. Rather than hieroglyph D1 (head in profile) this would be D2 (front view of head with neck and ears and eyes, h.r ‘face’).  However, the initial R of the text is not certain, and the final –p3 is left unexplained.
   The symbol could even be F34 heart (Egn ’ib, WS lbb), and this leads to a whole new round of speculation.…
[A6] K?
The text to accompany this sixth sign is lost, but it must have been brief. Haring suggests, plausibly, that it is a seated man with arms hanging (hieroglyph A7, wrd ‘tired’). I have seen this in association with an early alphabetic inscription from Timna in the Wadi Arabah (Colless 2010) but I took it to be an ideogram there. 
   Another possibility springs to mind, with inversion once again (as for A5 above). Could this be hieroglyph M16, “clump of papyrus” which was used in a hieratic form for h. at the start of section A3 above? Hamilton (2006: 196-209) invokes this as his origin for Sadey, after having employed the true S. character for Q, and his pet monkey (In his note 254 he labels my choice of V33, a tied bag, as “bizarre”, but that true S. sign could be lurking at B6 below.) In the present connection, Hamilton (200, Fig. 2.61) provides drawings of early hieratic versions of M15 (“clump of papyrus with buds bent down’) which match the character here before us (without inverting it) and compares them with South Arabian forms of S.; this is a very attractive idea.
   My very tentative suggestion is that we have an inverted K here, and it stems from the identification I make for the three-branched character which is taken to be S. by others, but in my scheme as syllabic KI and alphabetic K, and it would derive from kippa ‘palm branch’, alongside a hand sign for KA and an alternative K, from kap ‘palm of hand’ (Colless 1998: 43-44, modified in 1992: 78-79). However, this character could simply be a hand sign with only three digits shown (the example on Thebes 1 is like this, but it could be either animal or vegetable), but the bent middle figure is puzzling. Yet again the writer’s intentions are not yet clear to us.
[A7]  Y?
No text is available on the broken tablet for the last sign on side A.  Haring proposes a phallus or an animal. If it is a letter of the alphabet it could be a human arm (yad) with the hand pointing downwards, and hence Y.
   We now turn the tablet over to side B, the reverse side, which Haring accepts as containing the final half of the end of the inscription, and on which he sees six items. (Click for enlargement)

This is “lost except for some traces”; or else there was never anything there; but I will retain Haring’s numbering.
[B2]  T?
The tentative transcription is t/r/d/n.w-t3…(?); the final cluster of three marks is left undeciphered. Haring’s guess is the name of the cobra goddess Rnn.t. The female determinative sign (hieroglyph B1, a seated woman) is present, and the Semitic goddess TNT might be intended. If the initial lettter is T, the expected symbol at the end would be a cross (+ or x); the x is vaguely possible; or else the TNT symbol, which is a female version of the rejoicer.
Two ibises and two reed flowers, and a few more undecipherable marks, give us bby. The symbol looks like a beetle or a bee. If it were an ox-head with a neck (like the one on Thebes 2, or ’A in the syllabic texts from Byblos) and there were two Egyptian vultures (G1 3, ‘aleph) instead of ibises, then 33 could represent ’l, but there is no p or b to produce ’lp. Still there are marks preceding the ibises, which could be the true initial letter. If 3 for Aleph were to fill the gap, we would have ’bb, ‘green ear of corn’, or the month of Abib, to go with the sedge shoots in [A3] above, and we begin to wonder whether this could be a calendar of some kind, with twelve months itemized.
The first letter of the text is the Egyptian G (W11, a ring-stand for pots, nst ‘seat’); it can transcribe Semitic g, q, k, or gh.  Haring’s transcription is gr(y), for which he proposes ‘bird’, and the accompanying symbol is apparently a bird in flight.  After the ear of barley in section [B3], Hebrew goren (‘threshing floor’) comes to mind. However, next to the supposed bird is an example of proto-alphabetic Sh (shimsh, ‘sun’, based on the symbol of the sun-disc with a serpent on either side) and the main figure could be the single serpent with the sun. Can we be sure that the initial letter is G?
Haring gives t3’ity(?) and makes numerous suggestions for the symbol (sarcophagus, shrine, temple door, vertical loom) and the word (temple door, Tait the goddess of weaving, bale of linen, loincloth, curtain). It reminds me of the grapevine structure (cp. M42) which is the letter Gh(ayin) from ghinab, ‘grape’.
The transcription dr “seems inescapable”, Haring remarks, and the symbol appears to be a vessel. It certainly looks like a pot, but it could be a bag, which is the sign used for S. (Sadey), as already noted. The D is a fire-drill (U28), and d is also used for Semitic s. (Sadey).  My long-held acrophonic source for S. is s.rr, ‘tied bag’ (Colless 1988: 48-49). Am I having yet another Eureka experience here?
   As is ever the case, only the person who composed this document knew what it means. Maybe the HLH.M sequence was coincidental here; it is extremely difficult to make the expected sequence continue according to rule.
   What could the significance of this document be? Was it apotropaic, using Semitic signs and spells and names of goddesses, to ward off evil in the tomb? The West Semitic serpent spells in Egyptian royal tomb inscriptions (5th Dynasty)might offer an analogy here, but I can not see a connection (Richard C. Steiner, Early Northwest Semitic Serpent Spells in the Pyramid Texts, Winona Lake, 2011).

   Neither Haring nor myself have succeeded in finding the standard sequence past the H-L-H.M incipit, and perhaps we should accept this as a remarkable coincidence.
   However, more opinions are needed on the right readings for the hieratic texts and symbols on the document. and other suggestions for the purpose and purport of this intriguing artefact.
Note that the two inventories of the letters of the alphabet from Thebes have no set scheme for organizing the signs; they differ from each other in their arrangement.

(Note again that when I place a dot after a letter it should be understood as actually being beneath the letter, in accordance with the standard transcription system for h., s., z., t. .)

For reference here is the H-L-H.M sequence (from Ugarit and Beth-Shemesh):
H L H. M Q W Sh/Th R B T (D) K N H S. S´  P ‘ D./Z. G D Gh T. Z (D) Y

[1] Haring (193-195) conveniently summarizes the evidence for the use of the HLH.M and ’ABG systems of arranging the letters.
[2] Gordon Hamilton, The Origins of the West Semitic Alphabet in Egyptian Scripts (Washington, DC 2006). This book is dedicated to the memory of Romain F. Butin, S.M. (1871-1937), but Hamilton follows the teachings of the William Foxwell Albright school, particularly as transmitted to him by his mentor Frank Moore Cross at Harvard University. To my mind, Butin’s writings on the early alphabet (in Harvard Theological Review!) should be the starting point for any research in this field.
[4] For my views on this and the other letters of the original alphabet, see the essay cited in the previous note, and also my response to Orly Goldwasser:
[5] Tables of signs used by ancient Egyptians for transcribing foreign words are available in:  James E. Hoch, Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts of the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period (Princeton 1994) 431-437, 487-512; Benjamin Sass, Studia Alphabetica (Freiburg 1991) 8-27.

Saturday, June 13, 2015



The ʾIšbaʿal Inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa 
Authors: Yosef Garfinkel, Mitka R. Golub, Haggai Misgav and Saar Ganor 
A copy of the article can be purchased here (JSTOR).
An account of the find is available from BAR.

At long last we are allowed to gaze at another inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa, beside the important ostracon (but there is still one that is being tantalizingly kept under wraps).
   As we can see from the Tal Rogozin photograph, even though the broken jar has been painstakingly  reconstructed, important pieces containing parts of the text are missing.
   It appears that there are fourteen letters, and half of them are incomplete characters; but in the middle of the inscription we can read fairly securely(from right to left):
   ' Sh B ` L (Aleph, Shin, Beth, `Ayin, Lamed)
This looks like a personal name, and if  ʾIšbaʿal is the correct rendering of the word (as in the title of the article) then it is masculine, meaning  "Man of Ba`al" (though this is certainly not certain).
    This happens to be the name of one of King Saul's sons, who had his own kingdom after his father's death. But the late scribes of the Bible had him as Ishbosheth (Man of shame): 2 Samuel  2 (11x). The Chronicler was allowed to call him 'Eshba`al (1 Chr  8.33,  and 9.39) : "Ner begat Qish ... begat Sha'ul... begat ... 'Eshba`al".  Accordingly, 'Eshba`al was the son of King  Saul.
     But this Qeiyafa  'ShB`L apparently  styles himself  B[N]  BD`. 
    Is BD` another name of Saul? Is it really a personal name?

The first scholar  to propose (publicly) a complete interpretation of the text is Gershon Galil, transmitted through Jim West:
"In my opinion the correct reading of the second Qeiyafa inscription is:
KPRT 'SHB`L BN BD'[M] = The expiation of Ishba’al son of bdʿ[m]."
   I don’t see how we can know “the correct reading” when only half of the letters are complete, and in any case only the writer really knew what his message meant. Nevertheless, we must try.
   "Expiation" sounds a bit abstract for [K] [P] [R] [T] (all four letters are incomplete). 
We could suppose that  kprt refers to the contents of the pot: bitumen? henna? copra (coconut oil from India)?
   Maybe the expiation was achieved by smashing the jar; or it was  a victim of the rampaging destroyers of the town; but some other storage jars in the same spot were still intact.

(3/7/15 postscript) Gershon Galil has added more fuel to his atonement fire, by adducing twelve pithoi from Kuntillet `Ajrud (ca 800 BCE); each bears the letter 'Aleph, presumed to be an abbreviation. He suggests it stands for 'asham, "guilt-offering". This was usually a ram ('eyl, also beginning with 'Aleph, but not something that would fit easily into a jar); this was to be brought to the priests at the sanctuary (Leviticus 19.20-22, in connection with making atonement (yes, the verb is kpr) for sinful carnal knowledge of a betrothed slave-woman.
   The place where the jar was found (Room B of Building C11, 6x5 m) apparently had no roof, and with its central hearth and water-basin, it could have been a sanctuary for performing sacrifices. (A cultic chamber, with a standing stone, has been excavated elsewhere in Area C.)
   The sequence ' Sh B ` L , if read as 'Eshba`al, could mean "fire of the Lord"; and if the Lord is not human but divine,  he is not necessarily the weather god Ba`al Hadad, but Yahweh.  Christopher Rollston  (in his first account of this inscription) refers us to a Benjaminite in the service of King David with the personal name “Ba‘alyah” (1 Chr 12:5/6), a name that means “Yahweh is Ba‘al  (or "Yah is Lord").

(3/7/15) In this regard, Ryan Chew (see his attached comment) has asked whether the supposed BN sequence ("son of") might actually be BG. Let's play with this possibility.
   Below (that is, at an earlier time) I suggest that the final sequence (BD`) could be interpreted as "house of knowledge", referring to this Room B; and BG could be understood as begaw, "within" or "inside". Hence we have: "the fire of Ba`al within the house of knowledge".
   However, the reading BN can be defended: what looks like a G (an angle) is more likely to be the top part of a Nun, as represented on the Gerbaal arrowhead, and in the new inscription from Beth-Shemesh. 

 (13/6/2015)  I had thought the choice of 'I$ba`al, with the vowel -i (as seen in the title of the BASOR article) was premature, when the form 'eshba`al offers other possibilities.
   The presence of a hearth in the room where the storage jar was discovered suggests that it might be 'e$ b`l, "fire of Ba`al", and the container held fuel (oil?) or air-freshener (pitch?!) for this fire-place. Or does the basin in the room suggest the jar was for water? 
   The form 'I$ba`al seems to be confirmed in Ugaritic documents, showing initial 'i. But 'i$ as 'man' has not been found at Ugarit, has it? Also, "fire" is '$t ('ishat) in Ugaritic, but 'e$ in Hebrew.
   The idea of the name meaning not "Baal's man" but "Baal is" or "There is a Baal" or Baal is really someone" is appealing; but in early Israel? Yes, since Ba`al could refer to Yah/Yahweh in those days, as already noted, above.

(10/8/2015) Allow me to add a posthumous comment from William Foxwell Albright (1891-1971),
Archaeology and the Religion of Israel, Baltimore, 1968 edn.
'One of Saul's sons was called "Esh-Baal" (Baal exists)' (p. 113)
'The usual translation, "Man of Baal," is linguistically difficult, and must, in my opinion, be replaced by the rendering in the text [Baal exists]. Note that in the Baal Epic of Ugarit the resurrection of Baal is greeted with the triumphant words, "And I know that triumphant Baal lives (h.y), that the Prince, lord of the earth, exists ('it, which would be 'ish in later Canaanite)." Moreover, there are several passages in the Bible where 'ish or 'esh is employed instead of classical yesh.' (p.207, n.62)

   Can Gershon tell us how his hypothetical [M] helps with the unknown name BD` ?
The answer is actually provided in the BASOR article (p.230): it might be an abbreviation of bd`m, and this could mean "in the hand (bd) of the divine uncle (`m)"; or "in the hand of D`m" (a  West Semitic deity, new to me).
   Alternatively, it is a hypocoristic  (abbreviated) theophoric name with the deity's name dropped: "[God] has created" (the root BD` occurs in Arabic: produce, invent).
  Here's a thought: I have long maintained that the letters of the protoalphabet could be used as logograms; Beth represents a house (bayt) and could stand for "house" here,  followed by d`; hence "house of knowledge", preceded by "son of", that is, a student of that school.
   Looking at that D again: it could have had a stem, which has been lost in the break; it would then be R, like the 6th letter in line 4 on the ostracon, or the second character in line 5. This is "stretching" it, literally and figuratively, but we are now looking at a word BR`. This could be "house of evil", but also a personal name. There is Bera` (King of Sodom, Gen 14.2), and four instances of Beri`â, one of whom belonged to the tribe of Benjamin (1 Chron 8.13), as did King Saul.
    In the current square Hebrew script , Resh and Dalet are easily confused (both are basically a right angle) but at this stage, in the Iron Age, it is Q and R that cause us grief. And the fourth letter here has a stem and a missing circle (Q?) or triangle (R?)
   So, the first word could be KPQT or KPRT; and since the P is represented only by a single horizontal stroke, a telegraph-pole Samek could be constructed. KS is found at the start of inscriptions with the meaning "cup"(written on bowls), but that does not seem applicable here.
    But KSRT and KSQT are possible as restored readings.

   However, let's explore some possibilities for the extremely uncertain reading  kprt.
   The final letter is only half there, but it is probably T (a cross, +). It could mark the plural of a feminine noun, or singular -at (construct state).
   As a toponym it might be Kepirâ, one of the Gibeonite towns (Joshua 9.17). This is worth considering, as a place name is a likely word to appear as the source of the pot or its contents; and Gibeon is not far north of Khirbet Qeiyafa. If the H on the end of the Hebrew form indicates an original -at ending, then it would fit the presumed KPRT nicely.
   As a substance it could be koper, henna, though its plural is in -im, and likewise koper, bitumen.
   As an object it could be a kepor (m), a bowl, or a kepir (m), a copper vessel, but it is neither.
   As an idea it could come from the root kpr, cover, make expiation, and we immediately think of Yom kippur, the Day of Atonement; and yet this word always appears as kippurim in the Bible. Another term with the same connection is, yet again, koper (m), ransom
   There is one KPR noun that would fit kprt, and that is  kaporet (f), a mysterious word, said to mean the cover or lid of the Ark of the Covenant, and then "the mercy seat" where a propitiatory rite was performed on Atonement Day.
   It could be a verb: "Thou hast atoned, O Eshbaal". Incidentally, that is how I see the beginning of the Qeiyafa ostracon: "Thou hast cursed" ('LT). But that was on an ostracon; a sermon or oracle would probably not be engraved on a storage jar.
   Actually, the first three letters of the supposed KPRT only have tiny remnants of their originals.
   We must draw a veil over the possibility of  kepir, young lion, which would raise the spectre of the Lion of Judah (cp Gn 49.9).
   Another thought: if the final T (constructed from a remaining right angle) was in fact  M, KPRM would suit kippurim, 'atonement'. QED
   However, it needs to be said that the drawings made by Ada Yardeni (figs 15, 16, 17) are plausible in their reconstructing of the text. Here is one of them:

   Nevertheless, the three remaining strokes of the first reconstructed letter (K but possibly a horizontal Shin, though Shin is vertical in the following personal name) could accommodate the YYN (wine) that Gershon Galil proposed for filling the gap on the Jerusalem pithos inscription.

 Notice the strokes separating the words. They are horizontal when we read the text vertically, from top to bottom. But, reading from right to left, with the jar upright, these are vertical bars.
    In my experience of Semitic writing, I have heard that a text can be written vertically though it is intended to be read horizontally. Aaron Demsky thinks the Q1 ostracon should be read vertically. That would mean that the text is set out in columns, but this seems unlikely, because all the letters with upright stems are now reclining. We have this problem when we attempt to read the inscriptions on arrowheads": which way up?
    I wonder whether the scribe in this case had the (wet) pot standing or reclining.
The idea of writing "ad stomachum" (written vertically but for reading horizontally) came to me from my Syriac studies, but we can ask whether it was practiced in ancient Israel.
    In the case of the Qeiyafa jar: vertical reading gives the Phoenician stances of 'A B D, and `ayin (!), but Shin (3) becomes M; the upright vertical stem of the Q/R settles the matter (as also the [K] and [P] !): read me horizontally, the text declares.
    The word-separators are a surprise, in that the Qeiyafa ostracon (as far as I can see, and I study it every day!) has no word-separating spaces, dots, or bars (though some of the dots have been understood as punctuation, meaning pause-marks).
    However, divider-strokes are found on the Qubur el-Walayda bowl (shu mi ba `i li | 'i ya 'i li | ma kh-, L > R);
 and also on the Gath (Safi) inscription ('lwt | wlt,  L < R)
    (Both could be Philistine, but the language is "the lip of Kana`an" in the QW text, which also has a baal name.)
   You may have noticed my hypothesis about a "neo-syllabary" in Early Iron Age Israel and Palestine (Philistia), whereby the stances and shapes of the letters can indicate syllables (-i, -a, -u).

    As a general rule:
   syllabic inscriptions run from left to right (Q ostracon, QW, Izbet Sartah and its abagadary);   
    simple consonantal texts go from right to left (Tel Zayit stone abgdary, Gezer calendar).
    There can be no doubt about reading this Q2 inscription from right to left (the direction that became standard for West Semitic writing, including Arabic), since the name '$b`l gives a clear indication.
I now have to consider the question whether the letters are used syllabically (as I feel sure they are on the Q ostracon:
-->line 2 has sha-pa-t.a "judged” and shi-pi-t.i “judgements”) . Unfortunately there are not sufficient of them here on Q2 to determine that.
Yes, the trouble is that there are not enough letters, and not enough of the letters that are there.

And the struggle with the ostracon from the same site continues:

May I remind readers that I treat all the essays that are published on my websites as tentative explorations, and I may alter them at any time with additions or deletions or corrections.
I am sorry that I have to talk aloud on the web to disseminate my ideas, but the fact is that I have officially passed my expiry date (b.1936) and time is running out.

Isaiah 34.9 "burning (b`r) pitch (zepet)". Any clues here?