Dr. Richard S. Hess

Old Testament Questions from the desk of Dr. Richard S. Hess

What do you think of the early Hebrew inscription found on Mt. Ebal? Is it authentic?

Here is the publication information: Scott Stripling, Gershon Galil, Ivana Kumpova, Jaroslave Valach, Pieter Gert van der Veen, and Daniel Vavrik, “You are Cursed by the God YHW:” an early Hebrew inscription from Mt. Ebal,” Heritage Science volume 11, Article number: 105 (2023).

Pieter van der Veen has done valuable work, especially in his 2005 thesis on Late Iron Age seals and bullae from Judah and in his English language chapter for our Ancient Israelite History on this period.  He has long argued a fifteenth century date for the exodus on the basis of a reconstruction of a broken Egyptian fragment of the name “Israel.”  I see the same argumentation here.  A few fragments of earlier pottery from a site containing perhaps 1000’s of pottery fragments and other dating points, does not establish a date of occupation.  Such a small amount is more likely to be something else, such as an heirloom preserved by a family; and thus it does not date site occupation to when he and the other authors wish.  

I am not competent to comment on the XCT and other processes that were involved in revealing the material on the lead inscription.  This may or may not prove correct. If it is correct, the photos do not immediately suggest what is then reproduced on the line drawings.  In some cases (the “he,” for example) it seems that the forms vary a great deal.  From here, the interpretation of the drawings, which the writers indicate create words going in multiple directions on the tablet, would make the reconstruction of the text one among many possibilities.  I missed a discussion of why they chose the order that they did to read the text the way they have.

The two earliest references to forms of Yahweh/YHW outside the Bible are both written by non-Israelites (the Egyptian Shasu inscription and the Mesha stele).  Therefore, the appearance of YHW does not in itself prove it must be Israelite (assuming everything else about the interpretation is correct).  

The attempt to date the forms of these letters, relatively few in number as they are, on the basis of similarity to Serabit el-Khadim (mines in W. Sinai) and other Proto-Canaanite scripts must await other analyses.  As I say it is difficult for me to read this material and I don’t find convincing the conclusion that the paleography cannot date after 1250 BC.  Why not?  Orthography can remain unchanged for centuries with one group while it evolves elsewhere.  See, for example, the use of 10th century numbers from Egyptian demotic script centuries later in the Hebrew ostraca.  

I would encourage patience as I am sure other epigraphists and scientists are evaluating the publication (and I don’t know the name of the journal in which it is published – what is its reputation?).  A few months will, I am sure, produce reactions that will need to be taken into account.   

These then are some initial thoughts.

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