ToI Podcast

Podcast: Does a tiny ‘curse tablet’ from Mt. Ebal date to the Israelite settlement?

Hear Dr. Scott Stripling explain the biblical resonance of what, if verified, could be the earliest Hebrew writing in the Land of Israel

Welcome to a bonus episode of Times Will Tell for an archaeology update of an item that, if verified, may be one of the greatest discoveries of the century.

On Thursday, March 24, Dr. Scott Stripling held a press conference in Houston, Texas, unveiling what he claims is the earliest proto-alphabetic Hebrew text discovered in ancient Israel.

He has discovered what he claims is a 2 cm x 2 cm folded lead curse tablet or defixio that he dates to the late Bronze Age, before or around 1200 BCE. If this dating is verified, it would make the text centuries older than the previous record-holder for Hebrew in the Land of Israel.

However, there are some challenges: In 2019, it was discovered outside of a carefully excavated stratified context while his team was re-examining a dump pile from 1980s excavations at Mt Ebal that were held under Prof. Adam Zertal. The earth had been dry sifted then, and in 2019 Stripling’s team resifted it, in a wet sifting technique that was developed at the Temple Mount Sifting Project, where Stripling once worked.

Views of the outside of the arguably Late Bronze Age lead curse tablet discovered on Mt. Ebal in 2019. (Michael C. Luddeni/Associates for Biblical Research)

The folded interior of the tablet has undergone hi-tech scans in a lab in Prague at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. The dating of the tiny tablet is mostly based on epigraphical analysis of these scans, along with analysis of the lead and potential ancient sources for it.

The scans were read by a few epigraphers, including Haifa University Prof. Gershon Galil, and Stripling says it holds 40 letters. The reading includes the words “arur” (cursed) and “YHWH” (the tetragrammaton or the name of God).

The problem is that Stripling has not released images and the tablet has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal. So the academic community still has to weigh in. In the meantime, you can hear what Stripling has to say about it here.

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