Inscribed in Metal

23 Words that Could Change the Face of Biblical Archaeology

Houston, Texas, March 24, 2022: Like a scene out of an Indiana Jones movie, archaeologist Dr. Scott Scripling, Director of Excavations for the Associates for Biblical Research at ancient Shiloh, together with a team of distinguished scholars, assembled to announce the preliminary results of an amazing discovery found on Mount Ebal, Israel. The subject matter is a tiny, 2x2-centimeter square of folded lead metal found to contain the inscription:

Cursed, cursed, cursed - cursed by God YHW.

You shall die cursed.

You shall surely die cursed.

Cursed by YHW - cursed, cursed, cursed.

The defixio, or curse amulet, had actually been found back in December 2019 when archaeologists wet-sifted material that the late Israeli archaeologist Adam Zerbal had excavated more than thirty years ago. Folded in half, the metal was far too brittle to pry open by hand, so Scripling dispatched it to a specialist team of researchers in Prague, who used state-of-the-art tomographic techniques to scan and recover the hidden text.

Amazingly, the scan revealed an ancient proto-Hebraic text, consisting of 40 letters arranged into 23 words. Intriguingly, the curse mentions the name of the God of Israel, YHWH (pronounced YAH-weh), but depicted in a shortened, three letter form (‘Yud Heh Vah’) of the familiar Tetragrammaton (‘Yud Heh Vah Heh’). (A tetragrammaton is a four-letter name. When capitalized as Tetragrammaton, it generally refers to the Hebrew name for God, “I Am That I Am,” revealed to Moses as recorded in Exodus 3:14.)

The distinctive lettering convinced Dr. Scripling that he was dealing with an early form of the Hebrew language common to the very beginning of the Late Bronze Age (1550-1200 BCE). One of the decipherers of the text, Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa, said, “From the symmetry, I could tell that it was written as a chiastic parallelism, but each day we recovered new letters and words written in a very ancient script.”

The shortening of God’s name, as presented on the curse amulet, is not without precedent. Indeed, we see shortened versions of the Tetragrammaton in several places in the Hebrew Bible, such as in Psalm 68:4 and Isaiah 12:2, to name but two.

Evidence for the Historicity of Exodus?

Scripling had the lead metal comprising the amulet analyzed, with the results showing that it was derived from a mine in Greece that also dated to the Late Bronze Age. Though full authentication of the text awaits the results of a peer-reviewed paper due out in late summer 2022, Scripling believes that the inscription is the oldest example of proto-alphabetic Hebrew discovered in Israel. If the dates are confirmed, it will open up a veritable Pandora’s box for secular scholars insisting on a mythological Exodus.

The tiny lead defixio comports well with the list of curses from Mount Ebal outlined by Moses and the Levitical priests in Deuteronomy 27: 9-26. Yet the discovery of the defixio represents the tip of a proverbial iceberg for those who challenge the Pentateuch as a reliable account of historical events.

Additional Accumulated Evidence

Dr. Zerbal also excavated what is widely believed to be the stone altar originally erected by Joshua as depicted in the Old Testament:

Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the Israelites (Joshua 8:30-31).

In addition, Dr. Zerbal has uncovered stones at the site of the altar that were covered in plaster, affirming the biblical text from Deuteronomy 27:

When you have crossed over the Jordan into the land the LORD your God is giving you, set up some large stones and coat them with plaster (Deuteronomy 27:2).

Dr. Zerbal also found a metal stylus among the stones of the altar of the type that could have been used to inscribe the curse, and which was mentioned in Job:

Oh, that my words were recorded,

that they were written on a scroll,

that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,

or engraved in rock forever!

Scripling outlined a number of other issues raised by these new archaeological finds and noted the implications for theories about how and when the Bible was written:

This is a problem for the Documentary Hypothesis that states that the Bible was composed in different sections, hundreds of years apart, and later redacted. This is also a challenge to the theory that states that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch [the first five books of the Bible] because an alphabetic script did not exist early enough. Here we see that it did exist.

A Literate Early Israelite Society

If the main findings of Scripling et al. are upheld in the greatly anticipated peer-reviewed paper, it will show that the Israelites were in the Holy Land a few centuries earlier than most secular scholars would like to admit. In general, they reject the historicity of Exodus because they claim the evidence of the event is fragmented at best, with no real “smoking gun” to pin it down. But it fits the biblical narrative perfectly.

Furthermore, one of the epigraphers assigned to deciphering the inscription noted that the quality of the writing was extraordinary, and claimed that the same person would have been capable of writing the entire Pentateuch. The consensus among scholars of the ancient Middle East was that the early Israelites were illiterate, but this too looks likely to be dismissed in light of the exciting findings from Mount Ebal.

In short, as Scripling astutely noted about the amulet, “It’s at the right place, at the right time, and has the right stuff” to completely overturn these assumptions.

We live in exciting times!

is working on a new book, Choosing Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts, which will be published by Springer Nature in late 2023.

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