Weekly Summary: 31st January - 6th February, 2023

Each week, Studies of Biblical Interest brings you a brief summary of the discoveries, news items, and advances across the fields on which we focus. If you have a story you'd like us to share, please email the details to editors@biblicaljournal.org.

The ancient Egyptian official, Khety, is known for his many journeys to the Sinai Peninsula in search of minerals. Our knowledge of his travels begins with the discovery of his tomb by Howard Carter in the necropolis of Birabi. An inscription from the doorway of the tomb, translated by philologist Alan Gardiner, described Khety's exploits in the Sinai, including his inspection of Biau and traveling around Tjenhet. Biau is a regular Egyptian word for the copper and turquoise mining area of the southern Sinai, while Tjenhet is a foreign word, likely from a locally-spoken Semitic language. The name is spelled as Ṯnht in Egyptian hieroglyphs and is transcribed as Tjenhet in Egyptological transliteration. The placename Tjenhet interests scholars because of its connection to the Semitic speakers in the Sinai desert who are credited with creating the Proto-Sinaitic script, the precursor to Hebrew and Phoenician scripts. The analysis of hundreds of Semitic loanwords in Egyptian texts suggests that the Egyptians used the ṯ sound to transcribe the s sound in Semitic languages, leading some to believe that Tjenhet may have been the earliest mention of the placename "Sinai" in the 11th Dynasty (c. 2150-1990 BCE)

This article presents two before unknown Old Babylonian tablets with bilingual vocabularies, where the right-hand column is in Old Babylonian Akkadian and the left-hand column is North-West Semitic with some Akkadian. The language in the left-hand column is concluded to be a variety of Amorite based on a grammar and vocabulary analysis. The content, composition, and intellectual background of the two vocabularies are discussed, along with an appendix of a related Middle Babylonian synonym list and an index of the Amorite words in the two Old Babylonian vocabularies. The Amorite language found on the Old Babylonian tablets is related to the Semitic language of the ancient Hebrews, providing insight into the linguistic background of the peoples and cultures depicted in the Hebrew Bible.

A deep defensive moat and a mysterious hand imprint have been uncovered during an excavation carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority at Sultan Suleiman Street in Jerusalem. The moat is believed to date from the 10th century CE and was part of a fortification system that surrounded the city and prevented enemy forces from breaking in. The fortification walls and gates of the Old City seen today were built in the 16th century by Sultan Suleiman I. The earlier fortification walls were more formidable, consisting of many walls, secret tunnels, and obstacles to slow down enemy armies. The carved hand imprint remains a mystery, and its purpose has not yet been deciphered by archaeologists. The finds provide a glimpse into the dramatic events and upheavals that the city underwent.

A study of Neanderthal behaviour is casting them in a new light. Scientists have discovered that Neanderthals lived in larger social groups than before thought by examining bones and stone tools found near a lake in east-central Germany. The sheer quantity of food that was harvested from the butchered remains of massive elephants (4 tons from each animal) and the organization required to carry out the butchery suggests that Neanderthals formed much larger social groups. The researchers believe that the meat from a single elephant would have been enough to feed 350 people for a week, indicating that the Neanderthal groups were large enough to slaughter and process an entire elephant and consume it. This new information is challenging the previous perception of Neanderthals as humanoid brutes, and shows that they were more sophisticated.

As a university student in the early 2010s, the author recalls the simple origin story of Homo sapiens evolving in East African savannahs around 150,000 years ago and a mutation around 70,000 years ago that gave them the capacity for complex symbolic behaviour, which allowed them to leave Africa and replace all other humans. Yet, more recent discoveries have challenged the East Side Story, with fossil evidence suggesting early H. sapiens populations were inhabiting different African regions, and genetic studies and archaeological evidence showing vast social networks connecting ancient African societies. DNA studies have also shown evidence for H. sapiens' deep biological history in Southern Africa and the discovery of a 315,000-year-old skull in Morocco has raised questions about our ancient ancestors' origin. The Congo River Basin in Central Africa, which is home to the largest and most diverse group of active hunter-gatherers, has been excluded from research into human origins due to its challenging environment for preserving fossils and social and political unrest.