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An incredibly rare archaeological discovery could change everything we know about ancient Israelite literacy. A small lead tablet that was engraved with early proto-alphabetic Hebrew text has been unearthed at Mt. Ebal, dated to the 15th century BC. The find, which predates the Dead Sea Scrolls by more than a millennium, represents the oldest known mention of the Hebrew name of God.
The Name of God
The Times of Israel describes the artifact as a 2 cm x 2 cm lead tablet, which has been folded. It is called a “curse-tablet,” which is similar in some aspects to a legal document. The tablet reminds the one who carries it that they will be cursed if they do not fulfill some sort of obligation. The inscription reads:
“Cursed, cursed, cursed – cursed by the God YHW./ You will die cursed./ Cursed you will surely die./ Cursed by YHW – cursed, cursed, cursed.”
Haaretz’ Ruth Schuster explains that the 40 letters inscribed on the tablet were illuminated through the use of high-tech scanning and analysis. The word “curse” appears 10 times and the Hebrew name of God, “YHW,” appears twice. This is now the oldest known example of the tetragrammaton, which is seen written on later artifacts as “YHWH.”
In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, lead archeologist Dr. Scott Stripling argued that the discovery dashes assumptions that the Bible was written long after its events took place. He noted that the author of the tablet would have been highly educated for his time.
“One can no longer argue with a straight face that the biblical text was not written until the Persian period or the Hellenistic period as many higher critics have done, when here we do clearly have the ability to write the entire text at a much, much earlier date,” Stripling said.
This is a major development for our understanding of how the ancient Israelites kept their records. It was previously thought that all biblical accounts were handed down through a vast oral tradition, and later transcribed for preservation. This discovery opens up the possibility that the Israelites kept documents of their own as early as the Late Bronze Age.