“The Earliest Known Citations of Biblical Texts”
TWENTY-FIVE years ago, Israeli archaeologists made a spectacular discovery. In a burial cave on the slopes of the Hinnom Valley in Jerusalem, they found two small silver scrolls with Biblical texts recorded on them. The scrolls dated back to the time before the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. The texts quoted part of the blessings recorded at Numbers 6:24-26. God’s personal name, Jehovah, appeared several times on both scrolls. The inscriptions have been described as “the earliest known artifacts from the ancient world that document passages from the Hebrew Bible.”
Some scholars, however, contested the dating and argued that the scrolls were written in the second century B.C.E. One reason for this disagreement was that the quality of the original photographs of these very small scrolls did not allow for a close enough examination of the details. To solve the dating problem, a team of scholars undertook a new study. They used the latest photographic and computer-imaging technology to produce high-resolution digital images of the scrolls. The results of the new analyses were recently published. What conclusions did the team of scholars reach?
First of all, the scholars emphasize that the archaeological data support a date before the Babylonian exile. The paleographic observations—the dating of scripts from the shape, form, stance, stroke order, and direction—point to the same time period, that is, to the end of the seventh century B.C.E. And finally, when considering the orthography, the science of spelling, this team concludes: “The orthographic data in the plaques [scrolls] is consistent with the archaeological and palaeographical evidence in terms of the dating of the inscriptions.”
The journal Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research sums up the study of the silver scrolls, also known as the Ketef Hinnom inscriptions, as follows: “We can thus reassert the conclusion reached by most scholars that the inscriptions found on these plaques preserve the earliest known citations of biblical texts.”
[Picture Credit Lines on page 32]
Cave: Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.; inscriptions: Photograph © Israel Museum, Jerusalem; courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority