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Oldest Hebrew Inscription Discovered, and it's a Curse!
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Recently, a folded lead tablet containing an early Hebrew inscription was discovered on Mount Ebal near Nablus during an excavation in the 1980s. In a recent development, the tablet underwent x-ray tomographic measurements, which unveiled hidden text.
The tablet was found on Mt. Ebal, and when scanned with X-rays, revealed an inscription that dates 200-year further than previous Hebrew writings.
Through epigraphic analysis of the data, researchers uncovered a formulaic curse written in a proto-alphabetic script, likely dating back to the Late Bronze Age. This inscription predates any previously known Hebrew inscription in Israel by at least 200 years. The findings have been published in the journal Heritage Science by a team of experts, including Prof. Gershon Galil from the University of Haifa, Scott Stripling from the Archaeological Studies Institute in Katy, Texas, Ivana Kumpova, Daniel Vavrik, and Jaroslav Valach from the Czech Academy of Sciences, and Pieter Gert van der Veen from the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz in Germany.
The inscription on the tablet reads: "You are cursed by the God YHW."
During an expedition in December 2019, the excavation team sifted through discarded material from previous excavations led by the late Adam Zertal, a University of Haifa archaeologist. The folded lead tablet was discovered in the east dump pile, which contained discarded material from two structures interpreted as altars dating to the Late Bronze Age II and Iron Age I. The smaller round altar was found beneath the geometric center of the larger rectangular altar.
To unveil the hidden Hebrew inscription, the tablet underwent x-ray tomographic measurements with different scanning parameters. This enabled the researchers to reveal the text inscribed on the tablet without damaging it.
According to biblical tradition (Joshua 8:30), Joshua, the successor of Moses and leader of the Israelites, constructed an altar on Mount Ebal as part of a covenant renewal ceremony upon their return from Egypt to Canaan. The researchers suggest that Zertal's findings may be related to this biblical verse, stating that the folded lead tablet likely derived from the fill of the altars.
In Deuteronomy (11:26, 29), Moses instructs the nation that upon entering the Land of Israel, they should recite blessings on Mount Gerizim and curses on the opposite mountain, Mount Ebal. The priests and Levites were to stand in the valley between the mountains, with half of the tribes on each mountain, responding with "amen" after each statement.
During Zertal's excavations, piles of excavated soil were left behind after examination. In December 2019, Scott Stripling wet-sifted a portion of the discarded material from Zertal's excavation. The folded lead tablet, the focus of this study, was found in the east dump and likely originated from one of the altars, according to the researchers.
In addition to the folded lead tablet, the project yielded significant floral and faunal remains, as well as 268 diagnostic pottery shards (95% Iron Age I, 4.75% Late Bronze Age, and 0.25% Early Roman), 75 diagnostic flints, and 79 small objects. The lead tablet measured 2x2 cm when unfolded and 0.3 cm thick when folded, with the thickness of the lead strip itself measuring only 0.4 mm. Indentations were visible on the outside of the tablet. The Czech Republic's lab of X-ray tomography performed several reconstructions of the tablet, revealing writing on both its exterior and interior.
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Prof. Gershon Galil believes that all 48 letters are clear in the scans and suggests that the inscription dates to the end of the 13th century BCE. However, the other authors of the study propose that it may be even older.
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