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Shebna inscription

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The Shebna Inscription or Royal Steward Inscription, known as KAI 191, is an important ancient Hebrew inscription found at Siloam outside Jerusalem in 1870. After passing through various hands, the inscription was purchased by the British Museum in 1871.[1]

Shebna inscription
Shebna inscription
Size160cm long, 52 cm high
Created7th century BCE
Present locationBritish Museum, London
Identification1871,1107.1, WA 125205

The inscription is broken at the point where the tomb's owner would have been named, but biblical scholars have suggested a connection to Shebna, on the basis of a verse in the Bible mentioning a royal steward who was admonished for building a conspicuous tomb.

The text is considered to have a "remarkable" similarity to that of the Tabnit sarcophagus from Sidon.[2]


The inscribed lintel was found in 1870 above the entrance to a cave near Jerusalem. At one stage it belonged to the French archaeologist, Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau, before being purchased by the British Museum one year after its discovery.


The limestone inscription was so severely damaged that it was not possible to completely decipher the script until 1952. Nevertheless, the inscription is significant because it allegedly describes a figure from the Bible called Shebna who was sent by King Hezekiah to negotiate with the Assyrian army. The three-line Hebrew funerary inscription indicates that the cave was the tomb of Shebna, the royal steward of King Hezekiah (715–687 BCE).

Inscription textEdit

The writing is in Biblical Hebrew in the Paleo-Hebrew script and can be dated to the seventh century BCE. The transliteration below is to Square Hebrew script, invented about 400 years after the actual inscription.

Square script זאת [קבורת ...]יהו אשר על הבית. אין פה כסף וזהב
[כי] אם [עצמותיו] ועצמות אמתו אִתו. ארור האדם אשר
יפתח את זאת
Transliteration z’t [qbwrt…]yhw ’šr ‘l hbyt ’yz ph ksp wzhb
[ky]’m[‘ṣmwtyw]w‘ṣmwt ’mtw ’tw ’rwr h’dm ’šr
yptḥ ’t z’t
Romanization zo't [... ...]yahu asher 'al ha bayt 'ain kesef ve zahav
im [...] ve 'etsem amatah 'itah arur ha 'ish asher
yiftach 'et zo't
Translation This is ... [... ...] ...iah, the royal steward. There is no silver or gold here
only ... [his bones] ... and the bones of his maidservant with him. Cursed be the man
who opens this

The "maidservant" is referred to by the Hebrew ‘amatah, equivalent to the term "handmaiden" used to refer to concubines at various points in the Torah.

Royal Steward of JudahEdit

The royal steward or court chamberlain was a powerful figure in Ancient Judah. According to the Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 22:15–16), the royal steward appointed by King Hezekiah was called Shebna and he was admonished for building himself too grandiose a tomb. Although the name of the royal steward is broken at the point where the official is named, it has been conjectured on the basis of the biblical verse that this monumental inscription originates from the tomb of Shebna.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ British Museum Collection
  2. ^ Christopher B. Hays (2010), Re-Excavating Shebna's Tomb: A New Reading of Isa 22, 15-19 in its Ancient Near Eastern Context, Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft; "The similarity of the inscription to that of Tabnit of Sidon (KAI1.13, COS2.56) is remarkable, extending even to the assertion that there are no precious metals within"

Further readingEdit

  • F. Frances (Ed), Treasures of the British Museum, London, 1972
  • D. Colon, Ancient Near East Art, British Museum Press, London, 1995