Ian Patrick, FISM News
Archaeologists working near Mt. Ebal in the West Bank have recently unveiled their discovery of an ancient lead tablet written in a proto-alphabetic Hebraic inscription that pre-dates any previously known documentation of the Hebrew language from ancient Israel.
The Associates for Biblical Research (ABR) which issued the excavation held a press conference on the tablet, hosted by Scott Stripling, an ABR member and the Provost and Director of the Archaeology Institute at The Bible Seminary.
The MEDS Project (Mount Ebal Dump Salvage), as it was called, was tasked with looking through discarded materials from a previous excavation in the area throughout the 1980s by archaeologist Adam Zertal. Using a process called wet sifting, the team sifted through these materials, eventually finding the tablet.
What was found written on it and what time period it comes from are what makes the find particularly important and unique.
According to a write-up of the discovery on the ABR website, “The ancient Hebrew inscription consists of 40 letters and is centuries older than any known Hebrew inscription from ancient Israel.” During the conference, Stripling said that tablets like this one “are well known in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, but Zertal’s excavated pottery dated to the Iron Age I and Late Bronze Age, so logically the tablet derived from one of these earlier periods.”
Because the language was ancient and difficult to decipher, Stripling reached out to other experts to help in the process. These included four scientists from the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and two epigraphers, who specialize in deciphering ancient text.
The deciphered text reads as follows:
Cursed, cursed, cursed – cursed by the God YHW.
You will die cursed.
Cursed you will surely die.
Cursed by YHW – cursed, cursed, cursed.
Stripling said that this is likely “a self-imprecatory curse which was the point of the Deuteronomy 27, 28 covenant.” In these chapters of the Bible the Lord commands Moses and the other Israeli leaders to write down what he tells them on stone tablets and place them on Mount Ebal, the location where the ABR team found the tablet.
What follows according to the Biblical text in Deuteronomy 27 is Moses splitting the tribes in half, sending the first half to “Mount Gerizim to bless the people” and the other half to wait “on Mount Ebal for the curse.” (Deuteronomy 27:11-13, ESV). Verses 15 through 26 in that same chapter list a series of curses that serve as a warning against disobedience from God.
Stripling says the tablet represents this portion of the text which indicates someone in that time saying, “I accept the blessings that come by keeping the covenant, and I accept the curses that will come upon me if I break this covenant.” Stripling adds that he is unsure if the language is meant to reference all of the people of Israel or one individual confirming participation in the covenant.
“We call this a defixio, or a ‘curse tablet,’ because many of these are known,” said Stripling when describing the day of the discovery. “We all knew that we had a curse tablet from the site of the curse mentioned in the Bible,” he added.
Mount Ebal is also referenced in Joshua 8:30, which says, “At that time Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal” (ESV). Stripling said previously that the location was known as “the mountain of the curse.” Zertal, the archaeologist who excavated in this area back in the ’80s, believed that he had discovered Joshua’s altar.
When asked during a Q&A session about how important the “synchronization” of this discovery with the Biblical text is, Stripling gave an enthusiastic response.
On a scale of one to 10, this is a 10. It doesn’t get any bigger than this. We talk about verisimilitude, or a consistency between what we read in a text and what we find in the material culture, that correlation. It doesn’t get any better than this. This is…if the text were true, this is what we would anticipate finding and indeed it is what we found.
A peer-reviewed paper on the discovery is currently underway and is likely to be released in the summer of 2022.