Dr. Scott Stripling and the Associates for Biblical Research (ABR) held a press conference at the Lanier Library in Houston on Thursday, March 24, announcing the discovery of a tiny bent piece of lead, inscribed with letters earlier than an alphabet formal Hebrew. Barely the size of a postage stamp, the piece was unearthed near Mount Ebal in Israel in 2019. According to The Times of Israel, the tablet could be one of the greatest archaeological finds of all time. Stripling is the director of the Institute of Archaeological Studies at Katy Bible Seminary and leads the ABR excavation project in ancient Shiloh.
If further study confirms the authenticity, the tablet would be the first written use of God’s name in Israel. This “would turn back the clock of proven Israelite literacy by centuries, showing that the Israelites were literate when they entered the Holy Land,” according to the Times article. If all goes according to plan in the upcoming peer review, it could mean the Israelites wrote the Bible as they went instead of relying on memory.
The main object, called in Latin defixio, is a small tablet engraved with characters in the oldest form of Hebrew writing. Stripling and his team were working in an area about 30 miles north of Jerusalem, specifically “Joshua’s Altar” on Mount Ebal, where they found the defixio using a secondary processing technique called “wet sifting.” Preliminary assessments lead scholars to believe that the defixio dates to the Late Bronze Age II period, circa 1400-1200 BC, and is “centuries older than any known Hebrew inscription from ancient Israel,” according to the ABR. A team of four scientists in Prague worked to recover the text. Next, Gershon Galil from Israel and Pieter van der Veen from Germany collaborated with Stripling to interpret the ancient proto-alphabetic text, which is a process known as epigraphy. According to these experts, the tablet speaks of curses and being cursed by God. A more formal paper, complete with peer review, is promised later this year.
For the layman, what’s the takeaway? This discovery could provide evidence that the people of Israel were, in fact, literate when they entered the land of Canaan, as the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament says in the book of Deuteronomy. Moreover, it confirms the words written in Deuteronomy 11:29: “When the LORD your God brings you into the land and helps you to possess it, you must pronounce the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal. And from Joshua 8:30-31: “Then Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal. He followed the commandments that Moses, the servant of the Lord, had written.
To explore the details of the discovery in more depth, see This article from one of Israel’s oldest newspapers.
Beyond the excitement of the defixio, March was a busy month for Stripling, for ABR and for The Bible Seminary in Katy. Earlier this month, the seminary opened a new exhibit called “Joshua, the Judges, and Jesus.” Stripling and his archaeological dig team have been unable to travel to Israel for the past two years due to the pandemic. Instead, Stripling says, “Bible seminary brought Israel to Texas.
The exhibition focuses on the ancient fortification of Ai, long an important crossroads of Hebrew culture. More than 170 artifacts collected from the excavation site, Khirbet el-Maqatir, which the ABR team and Stripling believe to be the city of Ai, are on display. According to their research, this is the ancient walled city mentioned in the Old Testament book of Joshua, chapters 7 and 8, as well as in the book of Judges. Ai was burned during its conquest around 1400 BC. AD, and the team found evidence of burnt materials at the excavation site. The later civilization was rebuilt on top of the earlier site, and it was then called Ephraim in the New Testament book of John 11:54.
But why “Joshua, Judges and Jesus?” By continuing the excavations on the site, the ABR teams found in the same place objects dating from these very different periods. According to Jordan McClinton, co-director with Stripling of the exhibit, as the dig deepens, you go further back in time. “The science of archeology bears witness to the Word of God; it brings glory to God,” he said. For McClinton, the exhibit isn’t just a collection of fascinating artifacts — it’s the flagship project of his current graduate program.
Objects on display include lamps from different eras, a fragment of Greek parchment, pieces of alabaster, a baby burial pot, offering vessels, socket stones at the fortress gate (which date from 1500 to 1400 BC), a stone-engraved map depicting the city of Ephraim, which is the first such map ever excavated. Among an assortment of coins is one issued by Pontius Pilate in AD 29. Additionally, there is a small scarab that dates to the 18th Dynasty of Egypt during the reign of Amenhotep II, the likely pharaoh of the Exodus. Christianity Today recognized this scarab as Israel’s main archaeological find in 2013, as it proved the occupation of Khirbet el-Maqatir in 1406 BC. Destry Jackson Seminary graduate excavated the beetle on one of the ABR team’s excavation projects.
The exhibition is open to the public until the end of 2022. For more information, please see www.TheBibleSeminary.edu/3j
For Stripling, who also serves on the board of directors of the Near East Archaeological Society, the discovery of the defixio and the new exhibit could be seen as an affirmation of the body of work he has done over 30 years, working in partnership closely with the Israel Department of Antiquities. Through ABR, he has led teams over the years that have worked at a number of dig sites in Israel. He has authored several books, including The Truwel and the Truth, The Power of Covenant in Times of Crisis, and co-authored The Exodus: Historicity, Chronology and Theological Implications, as well as numerous scholarly articles.