Skip to comments.High-tech review confirms pedigree of early Bible source
Posted on 09/28/2004 11:22:59 PM PDT by PetroniusMaximus
High-tech review confirms pedigree of early Bible source.
The words are among the most familiar and ecumenical in the liturgies of Judaism and Christianity.
At the close of a worship service, the rabbi, priest or pastor delivers, with only slight variations, the comforting and fortifying benediction: "May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord cause his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and grant you peace."
An archaeological discovery in 1979 revealed that the Priestly Benediction, as the verse from Numbers 6:24-26 is called, appeared to be the earliest biblical passage ever found in ancient artifacts. Two tiny strips of silver, each wound tightly like a miniature scroll and bearing the inscribed words, were uncovered in a tomb outside Jerusalem and initially dated from the late seventh or early sixth century B.C. - some 400 years before the famous Dead Sea Scrolls.
But doubts persisted. The silver was cracked and corroded, and many words and not a few whole lines in the faintly scratched inscriptions were unreadable. Some critics contended that the artifacts were from the third or second century B.C., and thus of less importance in establishing the antiquity of religious concepts and language that became part of the Hebrew Bible.
So researchers at the University of Southern California have now re-examined the inscriptions using space-age photographic and computer imaging techniques. The words still do not exactly leap off the silver. But the researchers said they could finally be "read fully and analyzed with far greater precision," and that they were indeed the earliest.
In a scholarly report published this month, the research team concluded that the improved reading of the inscriptions confirmed their greater antiquity. The script, the team wrote, is indeed from the period just before the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. by Nebuchadnezzar and the subsequent exile of Israelites in Babylonia.
The researchers further reaffirmed that the scrolls "preserve the earliest known citations of texts also found in the Hebrew Bible and that they provide us with the earliest examples of confessional statements concerning Yahweh."
Scrolls were amulets
Some of the previously unreadable lines seemed to remove any doubt about the purpose of the silver scrolls: They were amulets.
Unrolled, one amulet is nearly 4 inches long and an inch wide and the other an inch and a half long and about half an inch wide. The inscribed words, the researchers said, were "intended to provide a blessing that will be used to protect the wearer from some manner of evil forces."
The report is in The Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research.
A companion article for next month's issue of the magazine Near Eastern Archaeology describes the new technology used in the research.
Scholars also noted that early Hebrew inscriptions were a rarity, and called the work on the amulets a significant contribution to an understanding of the history of religion in ancient Israel, particularly the time of the Judean Monarchy 2,600 years ago.
"These photographs are far superior to what you can see looking at the inscriptions with the naked eye," said Dr. Wayne Pitard, professor of the Hebrew Bible and ancient Near Eastern religions at the University of Illinois.
Pitard said the evidence for the antiquity of the benediction is now compelling, although this does not necessarily mean that the Book of Numbers already existed at that time. Possibly it did, he added, but if not, at least some elements of the book were current before the Babylonian exile.
Challenges to Torah
A part of the sacred Torah of Judaism (the first five books of the Bible), Numbers includes a narrative of the Israelite wanderings from Mount Sinai to the east side of the Jordan River.
Some scholars think the Torah was compiled in the time of the exile. A number of other scholars, the so-called minimalists, who are influential mainly in Europe, argue that the Bible was a relatively recent invention by those who took control of Judea in the late fourth century B.C. In this view, the early books of the Bible were largely fictional to give the new rulers a place in the country's history and thus a claim to the land.
"The new research on the inscriptions suggests that that's not true," Pitard said. In fact, the research team noted in its journal report that the improved images showed the seventh-century lines of the benediction to be "actually closer to the biblical parallels than previously recognized."
Helping end controversy
Dr. P. Kyle McCarter of Johns Hopkins University, a specialist in ancient Semitic scripts, said the research should "settle any controversy over these inscriptions."
A close study, McCarter said, showed that the handwriting is an early style of Hebrew script and the letters are from an old Hebrew alphabet, which had all but ceased to be used after the destruction of Jerusalem.
The benediction, he said, was written in words spelled entirely with consonants, the authentic archaic way.
Another victory for those who believe in the trustworthiness of the Bible!
Another defeat for those who don't.
After the defeat and then victory at Ai, Joshua felt it was necessary to remind the people of both the blessings and curses. It says that he "read all the words of the law" (Jos 8:34) and "There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before the assembly of Israel..." (Jos 8:35). Moses must have given Joshua something to read.
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on, off, or alter the "Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list --
Archaeology/Anthropology/Ancient Cultures/Artifacts/Antiquities, etc.
The GGG Digest -- Gods, Graves, Glyphs (alpha order)
Spin those prayer wheels. Put them up in the wind so they spin constantly. If that is too much work become Falun Gong.
Thank you for yet another amazing archaeological article. This ping list is always fascinating.
here's a thought question for you.
Which is crazier:
1.)talking to yourself
2.)praying to God
Don't know which is crazier, but if God answers it might be in earthquakes and hurricanes and volcanos and crashing asteroids. If I answer myself it won't be so spectacular.
Hadn't heard this.
This morning I heard on TV that the Dead Sea Scrolls are at the museum here now.
Has anyone here seen them?
It's on my list of things to do in October. For real.
I'm planning to go also.
Had you seen this?
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