Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Further Notes on One of the Earliest Hebrew Texts, the Silver Amulets of Ketef Hinnom

Last year I discussed an intriguing archaeological find near Jerusalem: two inscriptions on silver amulets which appear to be the oldest Hebrew inscriptions found so far. See "The Oldest Hebrew Inscription and the Psalms in the Book of Mormon," Mormanity, June 3, 2018. This discovery impacts several arguments that have been levied to argue against the ancient origins of the Book of Mormon. Now I have an update from some recent publications.

The silver amulets from Ketef Hinnom by Jerusalem are mentioned in an important work of scholarship, a book review by Kevin Christensen, "Light and Perspective: Essays from the Mormon Theology Seminar on 1 Nephi 1 and Jacob 7," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 31 (2019): 25-70. I recommend reading this essay for much that it reveals about thoughtful LDS scholarship regarding the Book of Mormon. In one section, while discussing the work of Margaret Barker and her quest to understand the nature of Jewish religion in the First Temple period, especially before Josiah's violent reforms that may have opposed some of the more visionary ways pursued by "old fashioned" prophets like Lehi, Christensen makes a noteworthy point regarding the silver amulets and their relationship to the Book of Mormon:
Barker explores tensions within the Bible on basic questions such as whether it was possible to see God. [Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel's Second God (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992), 30, and Margaret Barker, Temple Mysticism: An Introduction (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2011), 54-55]

Deuteronomy denies emphatically that the Lord was seen by Moses at Sinai: "You heard the sound of words but you saw no form" (Deut.4:12). The earlier account in Exodus 24 says that Moses and the elders did see the God of Israel. We assume that the Deuteronomists would also have denied Isaiah's claim that he had seen the Lord in the temple, and disagreed with Jesus when he said that the pure in heart would see God. [Margaret Barker, "The Temple Hidden in 1 Kings" (paper, Temple Studies Group, July 2, 2011), 2]

One of the secrets of the priesthood must have been experiencing theophany, something described in the ancient priestly blessing: "May the LORD make his face/presence shine on you" (Numbers 6:25-26). At the end of the second temple period, this was one of the forbidden texts, which could be read in public, but not explained. (m. Megillah 4:10) [Barker, "The Secret Tradition" in The Great High Priest: Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy (London: T&T Clark, 2003), 16]

It should be of interest that this priestly blessing in Numbers turns up in "Excavations in the late 1970s" of "First Temple period tombs at Ketef Hinnom, near Jerusalem. Among the artifacts discovered in this dig were two small silver plates dating to the seventh century BC, containing the priestly benedictions found in Numbers 6:24-26 and representing the 'earliest fragments of the biblical text known up to the present.'" [See William Hamblin, "Sacred Writing on Metal Plates in the Ancient Mediterranean," FARMS Review 19, no. 1 (2007).] That is, the oldest Biblical text known not only turns out to be writing on metal dating to Lehi's day and quoting from a Book of Moses (making it relevant to the story of the Brass Plates), but it also contains a passage central to a key controversy from that time, faithfully reflected in 1 Nephi 1:8, and relevant to a climactic moment of the Book of Mormon as a whole in 3 Nephi 19:25, 30 when Jesus as Lord is present and shining at the temple.
I find that fascinating news for students of the Book of Mormon.

At nearly the same time as Christensen's article, Robert Boylan in his Jan. 18, 2019 post at Scriptural Mormonism noted the significance of these amulets in light of the commentary from two other scholars published by Yale University Press in 2018:
Commenting on the silver amulets discovered at Ketef Hinnom, Ronald Hendel and Jan Joosten wrote:
The archaeological and paleographical evidence agree in dating these inscriptions to the late seventh or early sixth century BCE. These tiny amulets contain prayers that are closely related to the Priestly and Deueronomic texts.

The first amulet begins:
יהו [. . . ] גד [. . . ] הברית ו[. . . ] חסד לאהב [. . .] ושמרי [. . .]ד העלמ
Yahwe[h . . .] grea[t . . . ] the covenant and [. . . ] steadfast love for those who love [. . . ] and keep [ . . .f]orever
This sequence is close to the language of Deut 7:9:
יְהוָה . . . שֹׁמֵר הַבְּרִית וְהַחֶסֶד לְאֹהֲבָיו וּלְשֹׁמְרֵי מִצְוֹתָיו לְאֶלֶף דּוֹר
Yahweh . . . who keeps the covenant, and steadfast love for those who love him and who keep his commandments, to the thousandth generation.
The Deuteronomy passage is, in turn, related to--and perhaps an allusion to--the Deuteronomic language in the First Commandment (Exod 20:6 = Deut 5:10). Close echoes of the language of Deuteronomy and the Decalogue are here found in a preexilic inscription. This does not mean that the amulet itself is necessarily quoting or alluding to the book of Deuteronomy, but it does show that Deuteronomic formulations were current in the late preexilic period. This amulet echoes the C[lassical]B[iblical]H[ebrew] language of Deuteronomy and is consilient with the preexilic context of the core of Deuteronomy. If one holds that Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic movement were products of the Persian period or later, then this parallel language is a problem.

This condition also holds for the near-verbatim quotation of the Priestly Benediction in both amulets. We infer that this prayer, found in Num 6:24-26, must have been current in late seventh-century or early sixth-century Jerusalem. An historical model that places the composition of D and P in the Persian or Hellenistic period lacks consilience with these data and inferences. For this reason, some scholars who date the composition of the Hebrew Bible to these later periods also hold that the Ketef Hinnom inscriptions date to the Hellenistic period. But the late dating of these inscriptions does not withstand scrutiny. By extension the same criticism holds for the late-dating model as a whole. (Ronald Hendel and Jan Joosten, How Old is the Hebrew Bible? A Linguistic, Textual, and Historical Study [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018], 123-24)
In other words, these amulets are indeed pre-exilic in origin, and, among many other things, a witness that at least some portions of the P source pre-dates the exile, something consistent with the Book of Mormon.
As I noted previously, Israeli archaeologist Gabriel Barkay in "The Riches of Ketef Hinnom," Biblical Archaeology Review, 35:4 (July/August September/October 2009) observed:

[Each of the] texts of the two inscriptions ... contains slight variations of parts of the three blessings that appear in the famous priestly blessing from Numbers 6:24–26:
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
These are the words with which observant Jews still bless their children before the Sabbath meal on Friday night and that are also used in prayers in synagogues....

The amulets can be securely dated on a combination of three grounds. Paleographically they can be dated by the shape and form of the letters to the late seventh century B.C.E., before the Babylonian conquest. Stratigraphically the first amulet was found only about 7 centimeters (less than 3 in.) above the repository floor, which testifies to its relative antiquity within the repository assemblages, which rose to about 2 feet total. The second plaque was found in the innermost part of the repository, far from the entrance, among the earliest deposits. Finally, the date suggested paleographically corresponds to the chronological horizon of the late Iron Age pottery found in the repository. The silver plaques thus come from the late seventh century B.C.E., or the time of the prophet Jeremiah and King Josiah.

The implications of this dating are startling. First of all, it means that these texts on our silver plaques are the oldest composition of words similar to Biblical verses in existence. The earliest Biblical texts among the Dead Sea Scrolls date to about 250 B.C.E. at the earliest. That means that our texts are older than the next oldest Biblical texts by nearly 400 years.

Moreover, these inscriptions are the only texts of the First Temple period with clear similarities to Biblical verses.

This has important implications for the Biblical text. The Pentateuch, or Five Books of Moses, is usually divided by text-critical scholars into four source strands, labeled J (for Yahwist, or Jahwist in German), E (for Elohist), D (for Deuteronomist) and P (for the Priestly Code). The priestly blessing from Numbers, which is quoted in our silver plaques, is generally considered part of P, the Priestly Code. (So, too, the passage from Deuteronomy 7:9, which has echoes in the larger silver amulet.)

There is a major scholarly disagreement as to the date of the Priestly Code. Some scholars contend it predates the Babylonian conquest. Others say it is later. Our two texts seem to support those who contend that the Priestly Code was already in existence, at least in rudimentary form, in the First Temple period.

The priestly blessing seems to have been widely used during the First Temple period. Its influence can be traced both in the Bible itself (see Psalm 67:1, for example) and in early Hebrew epigraphy. In addition to our references, an inscription painted on a large pithos at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud in the Sinai Peninsula contains the Hebrew words YBRK wYŠ MRK wYHY ‘M ’DNY, which can be translated as “[may God] bless you and keep you and be with my Lord.” This, too, dates to the First Temple period.

The Ketef Hinnom excavations have made an enormous contribution, not only to our understanding of life in Jerusalem more than 2,500 years ago, but also to our understanding of the development of the text of the Hebrew Bible.
Psalm 67:1, as noted above, is strongly related to the inscriptions. The KJV is: "God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah." Allusions to this Psalm, and perhaps to the concepts on those silver amulets, are built into the Book of Mormon scene where Christ visits the Nephits are literally shines upon them in 3 Nephi 19:25, after Jesus had prayed with his chosen disciples:
And it came to pass that Jesus blessed them as they did pray unto him; and his countenance did smile upon them, and the light of his countenance did shine upon them, and behold they were as white as the countenance and also the garments of Jesus...

These tiny silver documents show that in Lehi's day, writing on metal was known, and specifically the writing of a religious text on metal.  It shows that some passages of the Bible said to have origins long after the Exile may have had roots before the Exile, consistent with the Book of Mormon. They also help us shows that the very early, First Temple period view that one could see God and have His face shine upon the faithful was literally and appropriately realized in the Book of Mormon, a book that not only helped restore the Gospel of Jesus Christ but continues in some ways to help restore our knowledge of the much more ancient religion among some faithful Jews, contributing significantly to the field that Margaret Barker has been so thoroughly exploring.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Josiah's violent temple reforms.....just like LDS leaders yotod, changing the temple ceremonies and other things to satisfy the Communist Left.... because the LDS leaders are Communist themselves.

Anonymous said...

"And it came to pass that Jesus blessed them as they did pray unto him; and his countenance did smile upon them, and the light of his countenance did shine upon them, and behold they were as white as the countenance and also the garments of Jesus..."

Sounds a lot more like Joseph's description of the angel Moroni:

“He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen"

“Not only was his robe exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light"