US archaeologists say they have found what could be the immediate precursor to the Hebrew alphabet - dating back from the 10th Century BC.
The finding is about to spark a vivid debate
The two rows of letters were found on a stone in Israel near Jerusalem.
"This makes it historically probable there were people in the 10th Century BC who could write," said Ron Tappy, the archaeologist who directed the dig.
But others have cautioned the writing could be Phoenician. A conference is due to be held later this month.
Warding off evil
Mr Tappy teaches at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in the US.
His team - that also includes members from the Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Southern California - discovered the stone on a wall at Tel Zayit, in the Beth Guvrin Valley in the lowlands of ancient Judah.
Ron Tappy believes the inscription is a transitory alphabet
The 22 letters were carved on one side of the 38lb-stone (17kg) - which resembles a bowl on the other.
Mr Tappy told the BBC News website that it may have been put on the wall because of a belief that the alphabet warded off evil.
Another member of the team, P Kyle McCarter said it was a "Phoenician type of alphabet that is being adapted" - and as such a transitional abecedary.
If the inscription is confirmed as a sample of proto-Hebrew writing, it will fuel further debate and controversy about the existence as early as the 10th Century BC of an advanced political system that has been portrayed in biblical scriptures.