Royal Steward Inscription, from Silwan, near Jerusalem, 7th century BC
The British Museum sign for this artifact says: "The text states that the tomb is that of the 'royal steward,' and that there is no gold or silver inside, but just his bones and the bones of his maidservant. It ends with a curse on anyone who voilates the tomb. Although the inscription is broken at the point where the official is named, it is thought that he was Shebna, the royal steward of king Hezekiah of Judah. This may be the tomb mentioned in Isaiah 22:15-16, where the prophet rebukes a royal steward, Shebna, for building too conspicuous a tomb."
See also this link and this link, which mention this inscription.
With my very limited knowledge of Biblical Hebrew, i have attempted to read this inscription. Here are the results:
A transcription into modern square Hebrew alphabet (letters in red are those i am unsure of).
Note: Hebrew is written from right to left.
zo't .... ...yahu asher 'al ha bayt 'ain kesef ve zahav
im .... ve 'etsem amatah 'itah arur ha 'ish asher
yiftach 'et zo't
This .... ...iah who was over the house. There ain't no silver or gold
but rather .... and bone of her maidservant with her. Cursed be the man who
will open this.
- Line 1, 4th word from the left This word is bayt, meaning "house" or "household", but the middle letter seems poorly written and looks a bit like dalet instead of yod. The line sticking out to the right from the bottom of it marks it out as a yod however.
- Line 1 last word The first two letters of what may be the word zahav (gold) are very unclear. The letter zayin consists of a single horizontal line, and the hey could be a resh. Only the final letter, bet, is clear.
- Line 2 second last word Only the first letter, aleph, is clear. The second is porly written and could be a dalet or a yod (like the one in the word bayt in the first line). If it is a dalet, the word could be adam instead of 'ish and the third letter would then be mem. Both adam and 'ish mean "man".
- Third line first word Only the first two letters, yod and pe, are clear.
- The caligraphy is inconsistent, some letters appear poorly written, and whoever wrote this got the spaces between words wrong in some places. It may be the the workman who inscribed this was a foreigner unfamiliar with Hebrew writing and was just copying the shapes of the letters from the written instructions given by his employer. This effect can be seen on some English language signs today, in countries where English is not the first language of sign makers.
- The style of alphabet is similar to that of the Siloam inscription (picture), found in the water tunnel that King Hezekiah had constructed, which suggests that it dates from the same period.
- A more complete form of the name Shebna is found in Nehemiah 9:4 "Shebaniah", the last syllable being yahu in ancient Hebrew. This is the bit of the name left on the stone after the big hole.
- The big hole was made by tomb robbers who broke into the tomb looking for the silver and gold that the sign said wasn't there. This royal steward must have had a reputation for having lots of silver and gold, sort of like the corrupt government officials in scam emails.
- The British Museum and the websites cited above suggest that the second line reads "but his bones and the bones of his slave-wife with him". However, what it appears, to me with my limited knowledge of Hebrew, to be saying is, "but .... and the bone of her maidservant with her". If this is so, then the tomb may perhaps have contained the bones of some female relative of the royal steward and her maidservant, and not the bones of the royal steward himself. This is yet another hint that this may have been the tomb Shebna had built, because if what Isaiah said to him came true, then he died in exile and would have been unable to occupy his own tomb near Jerusalem:
Isaiah 22:15-19 (ESV): Thus says the Lord GOD of hosts, "Come, go to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the household, and say to him: What have you to do here, and whom have you here, that you have cut out here a tomb for yourself, you who cut out a tomb on the height and carve a dwelling for yourself in the rock? Behold, the LORD will hurl you away violently, O you strong man. He will seize firm hold on you and whirl you around and around, and throw you like a ball into a wide land. There you shall die, and there shall be your glorious chariots, you shame of your master's house. I will thrust you from your office, and you will be pulled down from your station.