Balaam—History or Myth?
ACCORDING to the Bible book of Numbers, Balaam the son of Beor was a prophet for hire. (Numbers, chapters 22–24) In fact, his name appears in eight different Bible books, including letters by the Christian writers Peter and Jude. Balaam lived in the 15th century B.C.E. in the upper Euphrates Valley. He hired himself out to Balak, king of Moab, who wanted him to pronounce curses on the nation of Israel. Now, was Balaam a historical figure or just a Jewish invention?
As reported in the Biblical Archaeology Review (September/October 1985), archaeologists working in the middle Jordan Valley have come up with some remarkable confirmation that Balaam really existed. They were excavating at Tell Deir Alla, just north of the river known in the Bible as the Jabbok, when they discovered some fragments of plaster with ancient Semitic writing on them. Over the last few years, these fragments have been carefully dated, compiled, and deciphered.
French researcher André Lemaire explains that the fragments were submitted to radiocarbon dating tests and states: “According to these tests, the inscriptions were to be dated c. 800 B.C., plus or minus 70 years.” And what do they say? According to Lemaire’s restoration, the text reads in part (the letters in brackets are supplied for missing fragments):
“1. Inscription of [Ba]laam [son of Beo]r, the man who was a seer of the gods. Lo, the gods came to him at night and [spoke to] him 2. According to these wor[d]s, and they said to [Balaa]m, son of Beor . . . and he wept 4. Intensely and his people came to him and s[aid] to Balaam, son of Beor: ‘Why do you fast and why do you weep?’”
Evidently the text was available for reading by the public some 2,800 years ago, since it was part of a fairly lengthy wall inscription. Although there are gaps in the text, Balaam is clearly named. Even though the inscription was made some seven hundred years after the events, Balaam was obviously accepted as a historical figure and a prophet.
These wall inscriptions are several hundred years nearer to the events described in the Bible than the oldest manuscripts available at present. They are one more piece of evidence added to the proof that the Bible presents a reliable record of ancient history.—2 Timothy 3:16, 17.