Dr. Scott Stripling, excavations director for the Associates for Biblical Research (ABR), made a significant biblical archaeology discovery on Mount Ebal in 2020. Stripling found the amulet in the eastern dump pile, and they believe it came from one of the altars that Professor Adam Zerta excavated more than 30 years ago.
Tomographic scans revealed an ancient proto-alphabetic Hebrew inscription on the amulet, hundreds of years older than any other known Hebrew inscription from ancient Israel. Two epigraphers, Pieter Gert van der Veen and Gershon Galil, identified the amulet as a curse tablet (defixio). The word “cursed” appeared ten times in the inscription, as did the tetragrammaton (YHWH) twice.
Mount Ebal is significant in biblical history because it was where curses were pronounced during the covenant ceremony before the Israelites’ entry into Canaan (Deuteronomy 11:26ff). Due to its discovery within the ruins of an altar, Dr. Scott Stripling and Pieter Gert van der Veen propose a link between the discovered amulet and the biblical covenant renewal ceremony (Joshua 8:30ff). Furthermore, Prof. Gershon Galil’s textual analysis suggests that the person who inscribed the amulet was most likely a prominent figure, and the deliberate placement of the talisman near the religious site supports the biblical account of Joshua’s altar’s historical accuracy.
What is the significance of this? The consensus is that Israel entered Canaan around 1250 BC or in the 13th century BC. (Metych) Scholars have long assumed that they had no written language when they arrived in Canaan. Furthermore, scholars believe that the Hebrews only wrote their Scriptures once imprisoned in Babylon or even the Persian or Greek eras. Consequently, scholars think that various cultures influenced a substantial portion of the concepts presented in Scripture. (e.g., Noah of Genesis vs. Utnapishtim of The Epic of Gilgamesh).
However, this Ebal inscription predates the pottery discovered in the 2010s, dating back to the end of the First Temple period 2,710 years ago. (Staff) The engraving on Ebal is at least three hundred years older. And, despite being written in a proto-alphabetic script, the message indicates that those who placed the amulet there were YHWH worshippers. YHWH is God’s covenant name, which He taught Moses when He tasked the latter with leading His people out of Egypt (Exodus 3.14). And now we have proof that people in Joshua’s time could write.
There is also the implication that the Exodus may have occurred earlier than previously believed. The Pharaoh Merneptah created a victory stele discovered in Thebes in 1896. (Kettley) Merneptah claimed to have defeated the nomadic people “Israel” in his campaigns in Canaan on the stele. Merneptah was a little-known pharaoh who ruled from 1213 to 1203 BC.
Suppose Israel was already present in the early 13th century BC. Could we not deduce from the evidence atop Ebal that these “nomads” against whom Merneptah fought were not a people devoid of civilization and culture? Why would Merneptah boast about his victory over them if they weren’t fearsome and capable of mounting a defense? Some believe that Merneptah’s father, Rameses II, ruled Egypt during the Exodus. If true, though I am skeptical, Merneptah may have wanted to boost his image following his father’s failure.
I am mindful of the warning from the Hebrews’ writer that “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10.31 NASB1995). Even so, I don’t think I have ever been happier to read about God’s curses. It may be one of the few times that you can build your faith when you read: “Cursed, cursed, cursed—cursed by the God YHWH. You will die cursed. Cursed, you will surely die. Cursed by YHWH— cursed, cursed, cursed.” (Eliyahu Berkowitz)
Metych, Michele, editor. “Canaan | Definition, Map, History, and Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 14 Apr. 2023, www.britannica.com/place/Canaan-historical-region-Middle-East.
Staff, JPost. com. “2,700 Year Old Hebrew Inscription Uncovered in City of David.” The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com, 18 Aug. 2013, www.jpost.com/features/in-thespotlight/ancient-engraved-earthenware-discovered-in-city-of-david-323438.
Kettley, Sebastian. “Merneptah Stele: How This 3,200-year Artefact Could Prove Bible RIGHT.” Express.co.uk, 26 May 2020, www.express.co.uk/news/science/1285868/Merneptah-Stele-Israel-artefact-ancient-Egypt-Pharaoh-Merneptah.
Eliyahu Berkowitz, Adam. “‘Curse’ Text on Ancient Amulet Could Change Way Scholars Read Bible.” The Jerusalem Post – Christian World, 24 Mar. 2022, www.jpost.com/christianworld/article-702243.
Sudilovsky, Judith. “Researchers Decipher Oldest Known Hebrew Inscription on ‘cursed’ Tablet.” The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com, 24 Mar. 2022, www.jpost.com/archaeology/article-702271.
Siegel-Itzkovich, Judy. “Ancient Tablet Found on Mount Ebal Predates Known Hebrew Inscriptions.” The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com, 14 May 2023, www.jpost.com/archaeology/article-743039.