February 26, 2024

Last year, a team of American, European, and Israeli archaeologists and Jewish history and biblical studies academics claimed to have discovered a tiny lead object with an early Hebrew curse inscription, supposedly the earliest ever found, at the early Iron Age site of Mt. Ebal. In their press releases and journal publication, they claimed that this object was inscribed both on its inside and outside with curses, repeatedly using the Hebrew term arur (cursed). This fits in well with the identification of this site as the Altar of Joshua, mentioned in the biblical text, at which a similar curse formula was used.

The original authors claimed they were able to show the inner inscription of this object using X-ray tomography since the object could not be opened. However, Prof. Aren Maeir, head of the Institute of Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University (BIU) in Ramat Gan, and Christopher Rollston (George Washington University) are critically considering the context and dating of the object, along with questions on the character of the site. Most importantly, the very reading that Stripling et al. suggest for the inner inscription (the outer one was not published) is seriously questioned, and it is shown to be problematic at best, and perhaps even non-existent.

Prof. Maeir and Rollston argue that the tomographic images fail to demonstrate any discernible letters and have concerns about the authors’ dating of the archaeological material from this site. They suggest that this artifact could be most reasonably understood as an uninscribed lead fishing-net weight, rather than a curse inscription. They also raise questions about the context of the find and suggest that it could have been disturbed, as there was substantial disturbance and destruction at the site during this time. Despite the alleged context of the find from a specific dump supposedly derived from a specific part of the site, these deposits were collected and sifted some 30 years after the original excavations. This raises the possibility that the artifact was brought there after the original excavations.