2 May 2022

Oldest Hebrew Text?

Archaeology in Israel is always thrilling. Often, I’ve walked around Jerusalem’s Old City and looked at the patches of earth between the streets and the city walls. Sure enough, from time to time I read about yet another interesting discovering, whether ancient stone steps, or amulets, or some other link to Israel’s past.

For years before the Six Day War, when the Arabs controlled the area, virtual mountains of dirt built up around the city walls, burying countless artifacts. Once the Israelis settled in after 1967, the Israel Antiquities Authority began digs and uncovered invaluable proof that the ancient Israelites were here, including proof that the Temple once stood above.

The Arabs of course had a vested interest in literally covering up evidence of Jewish life in biblical times.

They can’t do that anymore.

Recently, in March, came a report that is actually a big deal: an ancient seal with early Hebrew script was found. This puts a lie to the contention of many liberal scholars the past 100 years that Moses couldn’t have compiled the Pentateuch because he couldn’t write. That was always false.

From the Times of Israel, in March:

“Archaeologist Dr. Scott Stripling and a team of international scholars held a press conference on Thursday in Houston, Texas, unveiling what he claims is the earliest proto-alphabetic Hebrew text — including the name of God, ‘YHWH’ — ever discovered in ancient Israel. It was found at Mount Ebal, known from Deuteronomy 11:29 as a place of curses.

“If the Late Bronze Age (circa 1200 BCE) date is verified, this tiny, 2-centimeter x 2 centimeter folded-lead ‘curse tablet’ may be one of the greatest archaeological discoveries ever. It would be the first attested use of the name of God in the Land of Israel and would set the clock back on proven Israelite literacy by several centuries — showing that the Israelites were literate when they entered the Holy Land, and therefore could have written the Bible as some of the events it documents took place.

“’This is a text you find only every 1,000 years,’ Haifa University Prof. Gershon Galil told The Times of Israel on Thursday. Galil helped decipher the hidden internal text of the folded lead tablet based on high-tech scans carried out in Prague at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.”

Stripling is now head of ongoing excavations at Shiloh.

In fairness, the find hasn’t been peer-reviewed, and this is all playing out in the media. Finally, for purists, the find wasn’t made following strict protocols (it was found using a different sifting technique than has been used before). However, once the image is circulated and analyzed by other professional, I’m confident it will hold up to scrutiny.

The piece was found near the biblical site of Shechem and the modern Muslim city of Nablus.

Specifically, with regard to the writing on the piece:

“According to the researchers, it reads: ‘Cursed, cursed, cursed – cursed by the God YHW./ You will die cursed./ Cursed you will surely die./ Cursed by YHW – cursed, cursed, cursed.’”

Haifa University professor Gershon Galil said:

“The person who wrote this text had the ability to write every text in the Bible.”

That is remarkable, and huge. Again, it challenges critics who claim the ancient Israelites were illiterate, which is absurd if one takes the Bible at face value. Even Job—from the book scholars believe is very ancient—spoke of writing.

Moreover, if Moses was educated in Egypt, he certainly knew how to write. This was good training for later, when he compiled earlier records of the patriarchs.

With such finds, we can be confident that the Bible’s history is accurate, with uncanny detail.