May 21 2008

Negev Graffiti

Category: Israel

While staying a couple of the days in the Dead Sea region I explored some of the many interesting rock formations behind the place we were staying between Qumran and Qalyah. There are lots and lots of signs with serious warnings not to disturb the endangered bats who deserve their peace so I gave those a miss. What I found however, was a really magnificent scenery in a dry Wadi that looked as if only recently had been dug by tremendous floods and mud slides. The gravel was still packed into bizarre and fragile patterns like after a heavy flood that probably reshaped this area again and again in the rainy season only a couple of months earlier. Surely I haven't been the first one visiting this particular place: On one side of the Wadi entrance, further up these cliffs, I found this odd rather graffiti:



This certainly doesn't look like your typical street tag in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv but ancient and archaic. I must dissapoint you though, because considering the paint and the fact that the graffiti is still very well readable, this cannot be very old. Definitely not older than 5 years because the harsh climate here with the strong gusts of wind that blow around these rocks constantly would have definetly rendered it unreadable after more than a couple of years.

But what could it possibly mean? Thise stylized script looks like its using letters in Moavit, Aramaic and/or Phoenician. I searched for a chart so I could translate it, but some letters really irritate me, e.g. the wiggly horizontal line. Joel Nothman who has seen a similar graffiti in Efrat was so kind to help me with the translation of this highly stylized script and came up with this:

כי משורש נחש יצא צפע ופריו שרף מעופף


It is from the Book of Yeshayahu (Isaiah in English) and could be translated as “For out of the snake's root will come out a viper and its fruit will be a fiery serpent“. The full citation from Isaiah 14:29 is "Do not gloat, Philistia; Because the staff that struck you is broken; For out of the serpent's roots will come forth a viper, And its fruit will be a fiery serpent“. I'm not going to interpret Isaiah 14:29 here, since prophets usually make sense in a larger context and you need a lot of historical knowledge and a background of Torah study to make anything halfway meaningful out of this. In general the snake, the viper and the fiery serpent in Isaiah 14:29 are often associated with the miserable situation of the Palestinians and their corrupt leadership that seems to get only worse and worse. So we can assume that It wasn't exactly a leftist group who left this inscriptions. The second graffiti I found reads “Brith Avraham” and on the side of the low stone on the the ground you can see another script reading “Brith Ya'acov”:



Now the next task is to find out, who wrote this. Who is strolling with a bucked of paint through the cliffs between the dead sea and the judean desert to paint graffiti in ancient stylized script on rocks? If you have a hint, please feel free to contact me. Update: The first hints by Chanen suggest that it could be much older than I thought, about 20 years old. Also, it could have been part of some scavenger hunt.


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