My preliminary views on the new Ebal inscription (in Hebrew)

Yesterday, I was interviewed in the Safi lab by the great באים אל הפרופסורים team, which, led by Alex Tseitlin, has put up scores upon scores of videos on various historical issues (mainly ancient history, archaeology, Bible, but other topics as well), and have now started an English version of this channel (the History Channel of Israel, with the first video by Eric Cline).

They interviewed me about Philistine-related stuff (it was planned in English and Hebrew, but so far only the English was recorded), which should be posted soon. Following the interview, Alex asked me if I would be willing to say something, in Hebrew, about the new Ebal inscription, which can be seen in this short video.

Since it’s in Hebrew, here’s a brief summary of what I said in English:

Without having any unpublished knowledge on the inscription, my “gut feeling” is that it is in fact an important, bona fide, inscription. I think it is important as it nicely corroborates that the Ebal site is a cultic site (as most scholars believe), that Yahu was the main god of the Israelites in the early Iron Age (as most scholars believe), and that this may very likely be the earliest mention of this god in an inscription from the Land of Israel (even if there are other, earlier ones), and that there was some knowledge of writing and scribal practice in the early Iron Age in the highlands.

That said, based on the limited information that I know from the various press announcements, various things going around the web, and discussions with my friend, Gershon Galil, I don’t think:

  • This will prove that the site can be clearly identified as Joshua’s altar as depicted in Deut 11 (and that the text in Deut 11 accurately depicts this site);
  • That this shows that the appearance of the Israelites can be dated to before the very late 13th century BCE;
  • At this stage, one can’t be sure that the inscription is in fact in Hebrew, and not in some similar, but not necessarily identical, NW Semitic language (such as Canaanite);
  • That the literary abilities seen in this inscription demonstrate that the biblical text was already being written down at this stage of the Iron Age;
  • Also, I find it hard to believe that one find can overturn all that we know in biblical, archaeological and historical research about the early history of Israel. I could very well be that the the fact that a curse ארור appears several times in this text, as in Deut 11 indicates that there was a memory of a cultic site on Mt. Ebal (but the biblical memory placed it on the wrong side of the mountain), and that rituals related to curses were connected to it.
  • Finally, I hardly think the inscription, and/or Deut 11, reflect accurate and fully historically reliable corroboration between the two; rather, Deut 11 most likely reflects vague memories of this site, written down, and embellished, at a later time.

That said, once the find is fully published, I’d be more than happy to change my views – if the data supports this.