You never know what you'll find in the trash.
Near an ancient round altar on Mt. Ebal, originally identified by Adam Zertal as Joshua's altar, a folded lead tablet lay insignificant and undetected by the passersby. Approximately two centimeters long and wide, it was scooped up by Zertal's team and tossed on a dump pile. It sat there until another archaeologist showed up with a new technique.
Now I want to pause here because this archaeologists' technique jogs memories for me of pebbles gleaming from various Michigan shorelines like jewels. I couldn't resist reaching down to pick one out of the water. Neither could any of my children. Our pockets drooped with our treasures only to find that after the stones dried they were ordinary rocks. No beautiful rich colors. Nothing special. That is until you wet them down again.
The archaeologist with the new technique was Dr. Scott Stripling. He uses wet sifting to examine discarded material from excavation sites. Wet sifting is just what it sounds like. You wet down what looks like gravel or shards or rubble. But oh what you can find. Seeds, bones, bullas. This is how Eilat Mazar discovered King Hezekiah's bulla, a flattened lump of clay about a centimeter wide laying in a different dump. Without wet sifting, no one would have noticed the little piece of lead from Mt. Ebal had writing on it.
The tablet, the altar and Mt. Ebal all go together. Their story is found in Joshua 8:30-35 and Deuteronomy 11:29-30. After the battle of Ai, Joshua took the Israelites to Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal as Moses commanded. The mountains are next to each other. Joshua built an altar there and sacrificed to the Lord. The people split into two groups, half on Mt. Gerizim and half on Mt. Ebal. Joshua read the Law to the people, and they renewed their covenant with the Lord. They put the blessing on Mt. Gerizim and the curse on Mt. Ebal.
Since the initial find in December 2019, Stripling and his team were able to decipher the inside of the tablet by scanning it. Forty Hebrew letters were recognized in a script Stripling describes as Proto Alphabetic which predates Paleo-Hebrew. (Paleo-Hebrew was used on the Tell Dan Inscription circa 9th century BC.)
The tablet has the word curse on it about ten times and God's name YHW on it twice. The tablet dates to about 1400-1300 BC, making it the oldest known Hebrew found in the land of Israel. (Proto-Sinaitic is thought to be earlier, 2100-1500 BC, but it was found in Egypt.)
Stripling's discovery is important on so many levels.
For years we have been told the Israelites invented their religion and history as captives in Babylon. We have been told they could not read or write before they lived in Babylon and met real civilization. There was no way they could keep written records. They invented their histories from reading other empire's histories. They wrote the Bible after the more educated and mentally developed Babylonians taught them how to read.
For years we have been told the Exodus didn't happen. It is called the founding myth of Israel. But if it did take place, it was much later than the Bible says it happened. The late date for the Exodus is around 1270 BC give or take a few decades. That would mean Joshua entered Canaan around 1210 BC give or take by their estimates. Therefore the Bible is inaccurate and unreliable.
All bosh, bosh and exceedingly BOSH.
Stripling and his team have discovered Hebrew writing at a Hebrew site referenced in a Hebrew text in the land of Hebrew Israel before there was a Nebuchadnezzar in a Babylon to take them captive. The discovery reveals a ceremony happening on Mt. Ebal described in Joshua 8 dating to the time the Bible says the Israelites were entering Canaan.
This is so-o good. We all need to praise the Lord for days...
And then there is YHW. In the land of Israel written by an Israeli in his own language near an Israeli altar. The land the altar sits on, where the tablet was found, where it lay for thousands of years, is said to be the heritage of others who came later. The land is in a section of the West Bank they claim today. They can say they live there, but they can't say they were there before the Israelis. Big difference.
So a little note written by someone who agreed to the rules laid down by God concerning blessings and curses and who inscribed his consent to be governed by their consequences has gifted us with evidence of Israelite literacy. To this author I say thank you. I hope it went well for you, the blessing thing. Because you have blessed believers everywhere.
You can listen to Dr. Stripling talk about his discovery here.
If you would like to learn more about ancient Hebrew culture and archaeology check out our books on Noah and From Abram To Abraham here.
If you would like to know more about Israel's history, check out our book, Countries in the Bible:Who They Are Today here.
Image by Gurimrat Ganda courtesy of Unsplash
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