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Reconsidering the Function of Tomb Inscriptions in Iron Age Judah: Khirbet Beit Lei as a Test Case

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The following article challenges the widely held view that refugees wrote the inscriptions preserved on the tomb walls of Khirbet Beit Lei. We argue that the so-called “refugee-hypothesis” should be based upon a stronger methodological foundation and that the interpretation of the inscriptions at the site should give more serious consideration to their context in the space of a tomb. Toward this end, the article argues that the inscriptions should be connected to the funerary context in which they appear and that their content should be understood as relating to the larger function and materiality of the mortuary complex at Beit Lei. Rather than reconstructing a hypothetical scenario in which refugees stopped and inscribed “hymns” or “prayers” on the walls of the tomb, the article argues that the function of the inscriptions was largely semiotic and served to mark the boundary between the antechamber and bench rooms of the tomb complex.

Affiliations: 1: University of Wisconsin-Madison ; 2: University of California Los Angeles


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