By Jonathan Parsons
“That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.” (Psalm 83:18 – KJV)
Recent test results on a small lead amulet found in a sifting project linked to Joshua’s Altar on Mount Ebal, in northern Samaria, has confirmed that it contains the oldest known proto-Hebraic inscription of the divine name “Yahweh” (in Hebrewיְהוָה ). This pre-dates by some 600 years the “priestly blessing” silver amulets from the time of King Hezekiah found on Bible Hill in Jerusalem. Along with an ancient engraving of the name “Yahweh” in Egyptian hieroglyphics found decades ago in northern Sudan (then-Upper Egypt), the lead pendant provides further evidence that Israelite worship of this Creator God has been around for a long time, just as the Bible says.
The small, folded amulet was found in 2019 among spoil material taken from a dig many years earlier at Joshua’s Altar on Mount Ebal, but its two leaves were too brittle to open and read. So, the find was transferred to the Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics in Czech Republic, where extensive X-ray imaging was used to decipher the etched words inside and outside of the locket. The results indicated proto-Hebraic lettering, which is considered by some scholars to be the world’s earliest alphabet.
The amulet contained 40 proto-alphabetic letters reading: “You are cursed by the god yhw—cursed. You will die, cursed, you will surely die.”
This correlates with the events recorded in Deuteronomy 27:11-13, when the twelve tribes of Israel were commanded to divide in half and stand on two opposite hillsides – Mount Gerizim (the Mountain of Blessing) and Mount Ebal (the Mountain of Cursing) – and recite aloud divine blessings and curses to each other.
The late Israeli archaeologist Adam Zertal excavated a large stone platform on Mount Ebal in 1980 and identified it as Joshua’s Altar. Zertal’s discoveries have often stirred controversy in academic circles, because he preferred to publish his findings in books rather than in peer-reviewed journals where scholars could critique his work. However, the recent test results on the “curse” amulet have only added to the evidence that the location is indeed the authentic site of Joshua’s Altar.
The site on Mount Ebal also contained pottery shards and scarab seals of Pharoh Ramesses II, dating back to circa 1200 BC – around the time of Israel’s entry into the Land of Canaan under Joshua. The un-hewn stones that make up the altar and the ramp leading up to it, instead of steps, all fit the biblical instructions for building the altar of the Lord in Exodus 20:25-26 and Joshua 8:31. The original dig also turned up charred bones of only kosher animals, as was required in Israelite sacrifices to Yahweh.
The now-deciphered “curse” amulet with the name “Yahweh” predates by six centuries the two silver leaves found in a burial cave in the Hinnom valley in Jerusalem in 1979 by noted archaeologist Prof. Gabi Barkay. These finds recited the Priestly Blessing of Numbers 6:24-26, including the name “Yahweh”.
Interestingly, the name “Yahweh” also is inscribed in Egyptian hieroglyphics on a pillar of the temple of Soleb, located today in northern Sudan. This temple and inscription date to the late 14th century BC, when Pharaoh Amenhotep III recorded in stone a list of his foreign enemies, among them “the land of the nomads of Yahweh.”
The divine name “Yahweh” is used thousands of times in the Hebrew Bible, and its usually translated as LORD, Adonai or Jehovah but the text indicates it was first revealed to Moses in the burning bush experience, specifically in Exodus 3:15. Since then, God’s ineffable name has been written and inscribed on many pages, walls and amulets. The recent deciphering of the “curse” amulet from Mount Ebal provides further evidence that the Jewish people have worshipped Yahweh for some four thousand years, while also affirming the accuracy of the Bible and Jewish claims to the Land of Israel.
Joshua’s Altar on Mount Ebal (Shomrim Al Hanetzach)
Curse amulet from Mt Ebal (Jaroslav Valach)