Epigraphy is the study of literary texts written on durable materials (with the exception of coins, the study of which is classified as numismatics). Inscriptions take many forms. They include everything from monumental political inscriptions (for example, commemorating a military victory) to insets in mosaics noting a donation in a holy place, to epitaphs (perhaps the most common), to graffiti scratched on a stone. It is estimated that about 15,000 such inscriptions from Israel/Palestine that date between the sixth century B.C.E. and seventh century C.E. are extant; more are constantly being discovered. Written by Jews, Christians, and pagans, in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin, these texts provide a fascinating window into the ancient world.
These inscriptions are so important for historical research because they provide information that cannot be gleaned from the literary sources. Although a relatively (for the ancient world) large corpus of (non-epigraphic) literary texts from Israel/Palestine are extant, they are highly biased. In the vast majority of cases, these texts were preserved either by "victorious" groups that had a vested interest in them (and thus did not preserve the texts of its competitors), or by accident (e.g., the Dead Sea scrolls). In virtually all cases, the texts were written within and for narrow, elite social class: Remember that a literacy rate of 10% in the ancient Mediterranean is probably optimistic! They were almost all written by and for men.
Below we hope to offer a full range of analytical resources dealing with epigraphy of Israel/Palestine. These resources will have scholarly and educational applications. At present, we offer a scholarly contribution:
Inscriptions from Israel: Jewish or non-Jewish Revisited (Jan Willem van Henten and Luuk Huitink). This scholarly essay raises important methodological questions about how an inscription can, and cannot, be classified as "Jewish."
The Jewish Inscriptions from Israel as Presented in SEG (Jan Willem van Henten and Luuk Huitink).