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Ancient lead amulet discovered on Mount Ebal finally deciphered

The six Hebrew tribes pronouncing the blessings associated with obeying the law stood on the slopes of Mount Gerizim located to the left. Six tribes pronouncing the curses for disobeying the law stood on Mount Ebal on the right. The Hebrew priests and Levites stood in the valley between the two mountains. Credit: יאיר דב/Wikipedia/Creative Commons 4.0

The wording on a folded ancient lead tablet discovered on Mount Ebal has finally been deciphered. It confirms the Bible’s description of this ancient location as the mountain of cursing.

The small lead tablet was discovered in December 2019 during the sifting of a refuse pile leftover from a previous archaeological excavation that took place on Mount Ebal between 1982-1989 by Israeli archaeologist, Adam Zertal.

Folded lead tablet found on Mount Ebal
Photograph by Michael C. Luddeni.

Researchers with the Associates of Biblical Research used Tomographic scans to painstakingly reveal the hidden lettering.

They discovered 40 ancient Hebrew letters, that according to the research team was “centuries older than any known Hebrew inscription from ancient Israel.”

The deciphered text confirmed that Mount Ebal was the mountain of curses as described by the Bible:

The ancient amulet read:

Cursed, cursed, cursed – cursed by the God YHW.
You will die cursed.
Cursed you will surely die.
Cursed by YHW – cursed, cursed, cursed.

Based on pottery shards and other items found with the amulet, archaeologists dated this formulaic curse to Iron Age I or the late Bronze Age.

This puts it during the time when Moses instructed the Hebrews to declare the blessings and curses associated with obeying or disobeying the Law, when Israel entered the Promised Land.

29 And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, you shall set the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal. (Deuteronomy 11:29 ESV)

During these declarations, six Hebrew tribes stood on the slopes of Mount Gerizim declaring the blessings, and six tribes stood on Mount Ebal declaring the curses. The Priests and Levites stood with the Ark of the Covenant in the valley separating these two mountains (Joshua 8:33).

The Bible also adds that Joshua then built an altar to the lord on Mount Ebal (Joshua 8:30-35), where he made animal sacrifices.

During the previous excavation at Mount Ebal, conducted by Zertal in the 1980s, the Israeli archaeologist uncovered an altar made of uncut stones and as well the bones of animals sacrificed at the site.

Zeral believes this was the remains of Joshua’s altar, as it fits the Biblical description that it was made from uncut stone:

30 At that time Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal, 31 just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, “an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings. (Joshua 8:30-31 ESV)

Also notice the reference to iron tools in the passage, which confirms the archaeological dating.

Though some have disputed Zertal’s claim, the discovery of the amulet not only helps confirm that it was Joshua’s altar, it also substantiates Ebal’s ancient reputation as the mountain of cursing.

Equally important, this is also the earliest appearance of YHW from the archaeological record, which is evidence the Biblical text is much older than what many Liberal theologians want us to believe.

READ: Researchers Say They’ve Deciphered an Ancient Tablet Found on Biblical Mountain AND Ancient curse amulet discovered from Mt.Ebal

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