Wednesday, October 04, 2023

  • Wednesday, October 04, 2023
  • Elder of Ziyon

Haaretz writes:

Thousands of Israelis visited an archaeological site on Monday that to the untrained eye looks like nothing more than a mound of stones. It’s hard to put a finger on any one thing that distinguishes it from the many other sites spreading across the West Bank that feature rocks of various sizes and lack any identifying sign or explanation.

But anyone taking the trouble to listen to one of the guides there will learn that it is nothing less than “Joshua’s altar on Mount Ebal.”

That claim is subject to dispute: Many archaeologists do not believe it is an altar of any kind, certainly not Joshua’s. But that hasn’t stopped the settlers from claiming that Palestinians are doing everything to destroy an important piece of Jewish heritage.
This belittlement of the site reflects the anti-Judaism bias of the author, Hagar Shezaf, far more than reality.

It is true that some scholars dispute whether the structures on the site are altars (a larger rectangular one enclosing a smaller, earlier one built a couple of decades earlier) , and there is no way to prove that the earlier one is the actual altar described in Hebrew scripture. But even the experts most hostile to finding Biblical ties to archaeological findings agree that this was an early Hebrew religious site.

Nearly all of the charred animal bones found at the site are of kosher animals, which strongly indicates some sort of sacrificial altar. Mount Ebal was clearly an important Jewish site.

The inner altar was dated to about 1250 BCE. According to standard Jewish chronology, Joshua crossed the Jordan in 1273 BCE.  That is remarkably close. 

And then there is the discovery publicized last year of the "Mount Ebal curse tablet," found at the site, which researchers claim has an inscribed curse written in a palindromic way, "You are cursed by the god yhw, cursed. You will die, cursed – cursed, you will surely die. Cursed you are by yhw – cursed." It is apparently the earliest known use of the Hebrew word for God. 

The writing is done in a haphazard way - right to left, left to right, and "as the ox plows." The interpretation of the text is contested by some. 

But as this article by Christopher Eames at the Armstrong Institute of Biblical Archaeology summarizes:

Any significance of this discovery is not just contingent upon the nature of the text within. Interpretation of the text to one side, what we have here is clearly a defixio—an example of a typical sealed/folded thin lead tablet well known in association with curses. It was found, not coincidentally, on the biblical “mount of cursing” associated with Joshua and the early Israelites—Mount Ebal. Further, it was found at the very site identified as Joshua’s altar (among a significant quantity of animal bones—96% of which were from kosher animals, and the remaining being from “snake, tortoise, etc”).

Yes, the tablet was not found in situ, in a sealed layer during excavation—it was sifted by Stripling’s team out of the excavation dumps from the structure, left behind by the late Prof. Adam Zertal (who, together with his associate Zvi Koenigsberg, were the first to identify the altar structure, in 1983). Nevertheless, as highlighted in the article, given that 99.75% of the diagnostic pottery sherds from the dumps dated to the Late Bronze ii–Iron i periods (circa 1400–1000 b.c.e.)—and given that the Lavrion mine, from which the tablet’s lead was sourced, was also in operation during the Late Bronze Age—it follows that the tablet most logically dates to within this early, pre-monarchical period: the very time frame associated with Joshua, the conquest of the Promised Land, and the “curse” ritual upon Mount Ebal. (There’s also an additional fascinating link to Job 19:28, a passage which describes the practice of writing “with an iron pen and lead”; note that chronologically, Job is among the earliest books in the Bible.)

Particulars regarding the inscription aside (and it is, at the very least, objectively clear that there is something written on/in it), it is surely not an overstatement to say that the above facts stand alone as remarkable parallels, and from such an early period—one comparatively less highlighted in biblical archaeological research and reporting.
Any way you look at it, Jews at the time of Joshua considered Mount Ebal an important religious site and connected with curses.

The Jews who visit Mount Ebal are trying to ensure that the Palestinian Authority doesn't destroy such an important biblical site, which is in Area B and therefore officially under PA control. Given that the archaeological connection of that site to the biblical description of Mount Ebal is far more compelling than those of other pilgrimage sites (like Joseph's Tomb in Shechem) there is very good reason to work to protect and publicize Mount Ebal.

Despite what Haaretz thinks.

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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

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