Was King Saul a Victim or a Sinner?

Was King Saul a Victim or a Sinner?

King Saul: Victim or Sinner?
Part of the modern debate concerning King Saul is whether he was a victim or a sinner.

The story of King Saul in the books of 1&2 Samuel is certainly tragic. When Saul dies on the battlefield against the Philistines (1 Sam. 31), it is hard not to feel that a life of great potential has been wasted. As a reader of Saul’s story, I do not celebrate his demise but feel a sense of sadness and grief. Interestingly, David is portrayed as having the same feelings in spite of Saul’s tireless pursuit to destroy him (2 Sam. 1). Some modern commentators have an even stronger reaction to Saul’s story, suggesting that the cards were stacked against him from the beginning. Saul becomes a victim of Yahweh, or Samuel, or the pro-Davidic author. Thus, a modern debate has emerged as to whether King Saul was a victim or a sinner? In other words, were the choices that Saul made responsible for his downfall, or was there a more sinister plan at work? Was there a divine plan that spelled doom for Saul from the very beginning no matter he did? Was he merely a pawn in the Divine game plan of kingship?

Saul Was a Victim: Gunn and Brueggemann

Gunn’s View

Saul as victimAlthough one can find ancient Rabbis who extolled Saul as one of Israel’s heroes, the modern debate was fueled by two scholars in particular. The first of these, David M. Gunn, published a work entitled: The fate of King Saul: An Interpretation of a Biblical Story in 1989, arguing for the victimization of Saul by Israel’s God. In examining the sin of Saul described in 1 Samuel 13 and 15, Gunn concludes: “. . . there is essentially no failure on Saul’s part to be accounted for, no failure, that is to say, for which he can be held seriously culpable” (p. 56). Furthermore, he states, “From the moment of his anointing the future is loaded against him (in the form of the fatally ambiguous instruction of 10:8) and from his establishment as king in chapter 11 it is as though fate has become his active antagonist, thwarting and twisting his every move” (p. 115). For Gunn, this stacking of the deck against Saul, must ultimately be blamed on Israel’s God, Yahweh. Gunn takes a very low view of God, or at least, as he sees how the story presents God. He writes, “Expressed in terms of a story of character and action, however, Saul falls victim to Yahweh’s resentment at an imagined insult (the “sin”) and becomes the pawn (or scapegoat) in a process (the “expiation”) whereby Yahweh vindicates his shift of attitude towards the monarchy and buttresses his shaken self-esteem” (p. 128). That’s about the nicest thing that Gunn has to say about Yahweh’s portrayal in the books of Samuel. He goes further when he writes, “Yahweh manipulates Saul mercilessly, and he does so for what, on most people’s terms, must count as less than honourable motives. He is insulted, feels jealous, is anxious to justify himself. It is tempting to say that this is the human face of God—but to say that would be perhaps to denigrate humankind, which is not something this Old Testament story does; rather we might say that here we see the dark side of God” (p. 129). Gunn’s Star Wars terminology (theology?) is found again in the final lines of his book where he notes that while the David story does show a “light side” to God, when it comes to Saul, the story shows that “God does have a dark side” (author’s emphasis, p. 131).

Brueggemann’s View

Saul was a victimA year following the appearance of Gunn’s work, Walter Brueggemann produced a commentary in the Interpretation series on First and Second Samuel (Brueggemann, W. (1990). First and Second Samuel. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press). Brueggemann also argued that Saul’s fate was predetermined. Although the responsibility for this ultimately must be laid at God’s feet, Brueggemann spends a lot of time villainizing the prophet Samuel. Regarding Samuel’s rebuke of Saul in 1 Samuel 13 he writes, “On all these grounds it appears that Samuel plays a daring, brutal game with Saul’s faith, Saul’s career, and eventually Saul’s sanity. We do not know if Samuel had the oracle in hand and withheld it from Saul or if there never was in fact such a promise. Is the statement only a fabrication designed to torture Saul? We do not know” (p. 101). Brueggemann suggests that Samuel’s antagonistic nature toward Saul might be partially responsible for Saul’s later instability. Brueggemann also casts blame on both the inspired author and God when he states, “If so, Saul’s argument and justification were irrelevant and he never had a chance—because the narrative has stacked the cards in the favor of David; because Samuel is so partisan; because the literature is deeply committed to David, even before David explicitly appears in the literature; because Yahweh had committed to David before the literature was ever cast” (p. 101). Once again Saul is cast as a victim, which leads Brueggemann to conclude: “The outcome is that Saul is defeated by the combination of Yahweh-Samuel-David before he ever joins the struggle” (pp. 101-102).

Saul Was Not a Victim, He was a Sinner

Saul was not a victimMost evangelical commentators take the more traditional interpretation that Saul was rejected because of his own disobedient choices. Robert Vannoy notes the controversy over whether Saul was victim or sinner and states, “While it is clear that Saul faced great difficulties in assuming the responsibilities of his office, it is not so clear that his behavior is properly understood as that of a pawn moved about on the chessboard of life by a malevolent deity” (Vannoy, J. R. (2009). Cornerstone Biblical Commentarya: 1-2 Samuel (Vol. 4, p. 94). Tyndale House Publishers). In a recent commentary, V. Philips Long summarizes Saul’s problem this way: “The heart of his failure is his neglect of the word of Yahweh. Saul obeys up to a point, but that is the problem. He obeys only up to the point at which other concerns begin to carry more weight” (Long, V. P. (2020). 1 and 2 Samuel: An Introduction and Commentary (D. G. Firth, Ed.; Vol. 8, p. 168). IVP Academic: An Imprint of InterVarsity Press.).

Conclusion: Victim or Sinner?

Saul was not a victimThe words “victim” and “sinner” are laden with emotion in today’s society. One is a popular term used to derive pity (and at times to manipulate!), while the other is an unpopular, seemingly judgmental term rarely used. Vannoy notes the power of the term “victim” when he writes, “This approach {i.e., Gunn’s and Brueggemann’s] agrees not only with the opinion that Saul had of himself but also with the contemporary tendency to account for many human failures by appealing to victimization” (p. 94). In spite of the popular “victim mentality,” so prevalent in western society, there are a number of good reasons why 1&2 Samuel picture Saul as a sinner, not a victim.

  1. One of the primary messages of 1&2 Samuel is first enunciated in 1 Samuel 2:30 when God states, “Those who honor me, I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.” This statement explains the basis on which God raises up some and brings down others (see my article on the theology of Samuel). V. Philips Long  notes this as well (p. 168).
  2. In the Hebrew canon, the books of Samuel fall among the division known as The Prophets. Specifically, 1&2 Samuel are among the Former Prophets (Joshua-2 Kings). Each of these books highlight the importance of the prophetic word. As such, Saul’s continual violation of God’s word demonstrates a disobedient nature. As king, Saul is God’s representative. Therefore, when Saul continues to misrepresent God through his disobedience, his kingship is terminated. The importance of this truth is emphasized in Samuel’s speech in 1 Samuel 12:14-15, 24-25), which immediately precedes the accounts of Saul’s disobedience.
  3. The narrative goes to great lengths to demonstrate that God does everything in his power to set Saul on the right path toward godly kingship. A) God gives Saul 3 confirming signs through Samuel that he has been chosen as king (1 Sam. 10:1-7); B) God changes Saul’s heart (1 Sam. 10:9); C) God fills Saul with his Spirit, Saul prophesies, and people who know Saul are amazed at the change in him (1 Sam. 10:10-13); D) God touches the hearts of valiant men to join Saul and support his kingdom (1 Sam. 10:26); E) God gives prophetic guidance to Saul through Samuel; F) God gives Saul multiple opportunities to demonstrate his obedience.

When all of the above factors are taken into consideration, it becomes apparent that 1&2 Samuel are demonstrating that Saul’s rejection is his own fault. In spite of God’s (and Samuel’s) best efforts, Saul willfully disobeys. Thus, Saul is not a victim; he is a sinner.

I do not mean to minimize the circumstances of those who truly are victims today. There are some, through no fault of their own, who are victimized by evil people. We can even find this in Scripture (e.g., the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19). Saul, however, is not a victim. His story stands as an example for those who choose the path of disobedience and experience its consequences. As unpopular as the term today might be, Saul is a sinner and sin and sinner are words we would do well to add back into our modern vocabulary. Today many are considered victims and few are considered sinners. In reality, however, it is most likely the other way around.

The Manifold Beauty of Genesis One

The Manifold Beauty of Genesis One

Manifold Beauty
The Manifold Beauty of Genesis One is available at Kregel, and Amazon UK / USA


The Manifold Beauty of Genesis One (hereafter referred to as Manifold Beauty) is a recent book by Gregg Davidson, professor of geology, and Kenneth J. Turner, professor of biblical languages and Old Testament. The authors desire is to explore the richness of the text of  Genesis 1. Many in our time, especially in America only turn to Genesis 1 when it comes to the debate about Creation and Science. The authors, rightly in my opinion, want to draw readers back to the theology of Genesis 1. Their contention is not only that the theology of Genesis 1 is rich, but that it has many different layers to it. Hence the subtitle of the book, “A Multi-Layered Approach.”

Contents of Manifold Beauty

Manifold Beauty does not break new ground in the understanding of Genesis 1, but rather seeks to demonstrate that by viewing the text from various angles one can not only discover the richness of the text, but can gain new insights from Genesis 1. Thus the authors draw upon the scholarship of the church, both ancient, but mostly recent, to explore different truths expressed in Genesis 1. The authors begin assuring the reader that they subscribe to the view of inerrancy as expressed in the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy. In fact, they spend about a page discussing what that means. I got the distinct impression they were concerned their approach might be rejected by many in the evangelical community, or at least by those who expect a discussion of Genesis 1 to include the merits of the young earth argument. It only makes sense to me that we should seek the theological truth that Genesis1, or any other portion of the Bible, seeks to communicate, and so I found myself eager to read about the various approaches.

The authors emphasize that the seven approaches they are looking at are not in competition with each other. Even if one does not find a particular approach convincing, it does not nullify the other approaches. Furthermore, they contend that even if a certain point in a particular approach is not convincing, it doesn’t necessarily make that approach invalid. Their contention, which I believe is valid, is that the Scripture has many layers to it. Thus the approaches discussed are not in competition with one another, but are ways of viewing Genesis 1 from different vantage points.

So what are these seven approaches? I will answer this question by noting the topic of each chapter and giving a brief synopsis of its contents.

  1. Song–It has been noted by various scholars that Genesis one is neither pure narrative, nor pure Hebrew poetry, but lies somewhere in-between. Thus it is a unique piece of literature in the Hebrew Bible. Each day is similar to a stanza in a song, with various features that repeat throughout the six days of Creation. One of the main takeaways of this approach is noticing the parallel nature between days 1-3 and days 4-6 (with day 7 being unique, just as the Sabbath itself is different from other days). This is a common topic of modern Genesis commentaries, but for those unfamiliar with it, it can be quite eye-opening.
  2. Analogy–The command to keep the Sabbath in Exodus 20:8-11 is related to God’s creative activity in Genesis 1. The authors argue that God is pictured as a farmer. Each day ends with the phrase “and there was evening and there was morning,” suggesting the night period is a time of reflection and rest after a day’s work. The work is pronounced as good seven times in Genesis 1. Therefore, work is good and rest and reflection are good, as well as a special day of rest which should include thankfulness to God for His bountiful world.
  3. Polemic–Due to various archaeological discoveries over the past 150 years, various Creation stories from the Ancient Near East have been found. While there are some general similarities between these and the Genesis account, Genesis 1 also contains a number of features which seem to be addressing false beliefs propounded in these other accounts. For example, the belief in one God who created everything versus many, or that God did not have to fight against any forces of evil to create His good world, or that humans were created to be the pinnacle of God’s creation and to represent Him by bearing His image, as opposed to being created by the gods to do all of the work for them.
  4. Covenant–Although the word covenant is not found in Genesis 1, the authors, along with other scholars, argue that covenant is clearly implied. The gifting of land to humans and the result of exile (banishment from the Garden) when the covenant is broken, resemble the suzerain-vassal relationships in ancient treaties.
  5. Temple–A majority of scholars today see a prevalence of Temple language in Genesis 1-2. The authors concur. The seven day pattern of Creation and God taking up His rest on the seventh day reflect ancient language of Temple building. Going beyond Genesis 1 and looking at Genesis 2, the Garden is pictured as God’s sanctuary and Adam and Eve are pictured as priests who are to care for and protect Eden.
  6. Calendar–This is a newer approach highlighted by the research and writings of Michael LeFebvre. The following is a quote from the authors summarizing this approach: “The days of creation serve as a microcosm of each agricultural year–preparing the soil, planting, harvesting and celebrating God’s provisions with feasts and holy days. The heavenly bodies of day 4 were provided to gauge the passing of days and seasons and, looking forward, to mark the times of worship and celebration. Harvest festivals and Israel’s commemorative dates align with the agricultural calendar as reminders of God’s sovereignty and care, emphasized each week by Sabbath rest and worship” (p. 170).
  7. Land–The story of Creation and Eden parallels the gift of the promised land to Israel. Furthermore, “Adam’s story is Israel’s story” (p. 170). The story consists of the gift of land followed by sin and exile.

Evaluation of Manifold Beauty

The Manifold Beauty of Genesis One is an important book. Not because it breaks new ground, but because it gathers together various approaches to Genesis 1 in one place and offers a synopsis of these approaches and how they contribute to a rich understanding of the text. The focus on the teaching and theology of Genesis 1 is a breath of fresh air in the midst of the ongoing debate over Creation/Evolution, Young Earth/Old Earth. It demonstrates that a study of Genesis 1 has much more to offer, and encourages the reader to seek what might have been God’s (and the original inspired author’s) reason(s) for writing Genesis 1.

Because of my familiarity with a number of these approaches from various commentaries and monographs I’ve read, I found chapters 2 and 6 the most intriguing, as these were ideas I had not come across before. Further reading and reflection on the calendar approach to Genesis 1 (Chapter 6) is needed before I can make a fair decision on its validity. One area of possible disagreement, which again will involve more study and reflection on my part, is the authors’ contention that the introduction of sin in the world did not change the functioning of nature (p. 90). Rather, it was human exposure to some of the dangerous elements of Creation that changed. The authors argue, “Prior to sin, Adam and Eve were providentially shielded from negative interactions with the normal functions of nature. After sin, these protections were at least partially lifted” (p. 92).

The audience of this book would not only include pastors, and seminary students, but will be helpful for the interested lay person. Each chapter provides answers to potential objections, which makes the book suitable for a Bible study group. Although I found this feature helpful, the book as a whole struck me as taking a very defensive posture. At every turn of the page from the Introduction, to the questions at the end of the chapters, to the Conclusion, the authors seem very concerned that their thesis is going to be attacked or rejected and so they are constantly defending their approach. Answering objections is all well and good. I just thought the authors did more than was necessary. Whether one accepts all of the viewpoints and theological stances taken in this book, it is definitely worth reading. Areas of disagreement provide further opportunity for study and consideration which leads to further growth and knowledge in the understanding of God’s Word. Even the authors confess that some approaches are stronger than others. Overall, people unfamiliar with the various lenses through which Genesis 1 can be viewed, will profit greatly from this book.

For any who are interested in hearing an interview where the authors discuss Manifold Beauty, click on the YouTube link here. I want to thank Kregel Publishing for furnishing me with a free copy for review purposes. I was not required to give a favorable review.

The Manifold Beauty of Genesis One is available at Amazon UK / USA and at Kregel Publishers

Descendants of the Nephilim in Genesis 14

Descendants of the Nephilim in Genesis 14

Abram’s rescue of Lot

Genesis is best known for Abram’s encounter with the mysterious priest-king Melchizedek. It is also an unusual chapter because, “The style and subject matter of this story set it apart from the rest of the patriarchal material. Only here in Genesis do we have the account of a military campaign with various kings named” (Wenham, G. J. Genesis 1–15, WBC (Vol. 1, p. 304). The mention of place names (updated by the author of Genesis–e.g., “the king of Bela [that is, Zoar], v. 3) and people groups (e.g., the Zuzim and the Emim, v. 5) give the account an ancient and strange flavor. The average reader may tend to gloss over these difficult and enigmatic names and places quickly to get to the main point of the story–Abram’s rescue of Lot. However, overlooking some of these strange names, including the people groups mentioned above, will cause the reader to miss an important theme that begins in Genesis 6 and continues through 2 Samuel. This theme concerns the descendants of the Nephilim.

Who Are the Descendants of the Nephilim in Genesis 14?

Descendants of the Nephilim
The descendants of the Nephilim were said to be a tall people. A number of these descendants are mentioned in Genesis 14:5.

All Bible commentators recognize that the Rephaim, Zuzim, and Emim mentioned in Genesis 14:5 are descendants of the Nephilim. This is because Deuteronomy 2:10-11 links the Emim  with the Anakim and the Rephaim. The Anakim are specifically said to be descendants of the Nephilim (Num. 13:33). Based on ancient sources (the Genesis Apocryphon and Symmachus, according to Wenham, p. 311) the Zuzim are equated with the Zamzummim of Deuteronomy 2:20 (who are connected to the Rephaim in this verse).

It is also possible that the Horites mentioned in Genesis 14:6, and the Amorites mentioned in Genesis 14:7 are descendants of the Nephilim, or at least include descendants of the Nephilim. In the context of Deuteronomy 2:10-22, the Horites are also associated with these other people groups, as they are in Genesis 14:5-6. This may be due to being in the same geographical vicinity, however, Deuteronomy 2:20-22 mentions them in the same breath as the Zazummim and the Anakim. At least one OT passage, Amos 2:9-10, speaks of the tallness of the Amorites, and therefore may be associating them with the descendants of the Nephilim (see, Michael Heiser, The Unseen Realm,  p. 197 for further discussion). Therefore, when the four kings from Mesopotamia, first subjugate this area (Gen. 14:1-4), and then conquer it again when resistance occurs (Gen. 14:5-12), they not only defeat the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, they also defeat and destroy some of the descendants of the Nephilim.

What Point is Genesis 14 Making?

As noted above, this story occurs in the context of the Abram story. God has promised to bless Abram, make his name great, curse those who curse him, and use him to bless all peoples (Gen. 12:1-3). Genesis 14 demonstrates how God proves himself faithful to Abram. Abram’s defeat of these powerful kings, demonstrates that God is indeed making his name great. Furthermore, because of Lot’s connection to Abram, the kidnapping of Lot is equivalent to cursing those who belong to Abram. Thus, the Lord strikes a blow against these kings and uses Abram as a blessing to others by restoring the people and possessions to their land. The defeat of these kings, who subjugated and defeated the fierce descendants of the Nephilim, serves to enhance Abram’s reputation even more. Hamilton states, “The invading kings repress such attempted revolts in grandiose and unmitigated style. Nobody can stand before them, even though the defeated Rephaim, Zuzim, and Emim are themselves imposing threats, people of giant stature (Deut. 2:10–12, 20–23). This makes Abram’s ability to rout these potentates all the more impressive” (Hamilton, V. P., The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, NICOTp. 402).

Destroying the Descendants of the Nephilim

The kings attacked the descendants of the Nephilim
This map shows that the approach of the  Mesopotamian kings followed the old route known as the king’s highway (the area to the east of the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea). This territory was occupied by the descendants of the Nephilim. The kings then turned north going through the land of Canaan as far as Dan (Gen. 14:14).

A look at the map above shows that the descendants of the Nephilim surrounded on the east, the land promised to Abram and his descendants. Furthermore, the Bible makes clear that the descendants of the Nephilim also occupied the land of promise (e.g., Num. 13:33; Josh.  11:21-22). As Heiser points out in regards to the Conquest, “This wouldn’t be just a battle for land. It was a battle between Yahweh and the other gods—gods who had raised up competing human bloodlines that were opposed to Yahweh’s plan and people” (Heiser, M. The Unseen Realm,  p. 197. Also see my article here).

Og was a descendant of the Nephilim
Moses and Israel would eventually defeat King Og of Bashan, one of the remnant of the Rephaim.

Although it’s understandable that these kings would have wanted to control this land for trade reasons, since the ancient highway known as the King’s Highway goes through this area, God may have had other purposes. Knowing God’s desire to destroy the offspring of the Nephilim, could it be that God sent these kings against this territory in order to begin their destruction? According to Deuteronomy 2:10-22, God destroyed the descendants of the Nephilim in this area by giving the land to the Ammonites, the Moabites, and the Edomites. He also used Moses and Israel to destroy Sihon and Og Amorite kings (Og is described as the remnant of the Rephaim–Deut. 3:1-13). He would also destroy the remnant of the Nephilim when Israel conquered the land of promise. Just as God would later use nations from Mesopotamia (Assyria and Babylon) to punish his own people (e.g., Isaiah 10:5), so he may have used the four Mesopotamian kings in Genesis 14 to destroy the inhabitants of Abram’s day. When the kings, however, jeopardized the family of Abram in their conquest, God punished these kings. Similarly, although God used Assyria and Babylon to afflict his people Israel, he later judged these nations for their brutality (e.g., Isaiah 30:31; Nahum).

Significance

The fact that Genesis 14 contains an account of the destruction of some of the descendants of the Nephilim is worthy of recognition, because of its immediate impact on the story of Abram, and also for the future implications of Israel receiving the land promised to Abram.

Mount Ebal Curse Tablet Deciphered

Mount Ebal Curse Tablet Deciphered

Mount Ebal Curse Tablet
The Mount Ebal curse tablet discovered in 2019.

Could Israel’s presence in the land of Canaan be dated earlier than many scholars have thought? Could the account of the building of an altar on Mount Ebal by Joshua mentioned in Joshua 8:30 be substantiated? Could it be possible that Moses did possess an alphabet enabling him to do the writing the Torah claims he did? All of these questions are raised by the decipherment of the Mount Ebal curse tablet. In a startling announcement this past Thursday ( March 24th, 2022), Scott Stripling, an archaeologist with Associates for Biblical Research (ABR), and provost of the Bible Seminary in Katy, Texas, revealed the contents of a curse tablet discovered on Mount Ebal in 2019. If the date of this tablet, currently placed in the Late Bronze Age (1400-1200 B.C.), and it’s translation are confirmed, it will be considered the greatest archaeological discovery in Israel of the 21st century.

The Significance of Mount Ebal

Mount Ebal and Mount Gerazim
Mount Ebal and Mount Gerazim

According to Deuteronomy 27:1-8, Moses commanded the Israelites upon entering the land to go to Mount Ebal. There they were to build an altar. Six of the tribes were to stand on Mount Ebal and pronounce the curses of the Law, while the other six tribes were to stand opposite on Mount Gerazim and pronounce the blessings of the Law. Joshua 8:30-35 records the obedience of Joshua and the Israelites who do as Moses commanded. (For more on the significance of this area, particularly ancient Shechem, see my article here).

Mount Ebal, Adam Zertal, and Joshua’s Altar

Altar location on Mount Ebal
This map from biblewalks.com (see full article here) shows the location of Joshua’s altar on Mount Ebal.

The backstory to the current discovery involves a survey of the area in 1980, by Israeli archaeologist Adam Zertal who also excavated at Mount Ebal from 1982-1989 (see Bible History Daily). Zertal believed that he had uncovered Joshua’s altar. This altar was dated to Iron Age I by Zertal (1200-1000 B.C.). However, there is an earlier altar that is covered by the larger altar. It is this earlier altar that Stripling and his team believes to be Joshua’s altar. This altar dates to the Late Bronze Age, the same age as the Mount Ebal curse tablet.

Joshua's altar
The site of Joshua’s altar as excavated by Adam Zertal. Stripling believes that Joshua’s actual altar is beneath the structure visible in this picture.

Discovery of the Mount Ebal Curse Tablet

In December 2019-January 2020, Stripling and his team received permission and funds to wet sift the archaeological dumps from Zertal’s excavation. Stripling had learned from working at the Temple Mount sifting project (see my article here), as well as at Shiloh, the current site he is excavating with the ABR team, how valuable wet sifting can be in recovering small objects that are accidentally overlooked. It was this process of wet sifting that led to the discovery of the Mount Ebal curse tablet. When it came to light, Stripling and the team knew immediately that the small 2cm led tablet was a curse tablet (also known as a defixio). It was only a question of its age, and whether the inside of the tablet could be read, since the tablet was so brittle. Thanks to modern technological advances, a lab in Prague was able, through special lighting, to obtain images of the letters inside the tablet. With the help of two expert epigraphers (readers of ancient scripts), Pieter Gert van der Veen of Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz and Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa, Stripling was able to translate the script. The script predates the ancient Hebrew script which was in common use during the monarchical period. This script is known from other sources (see my article here) and is called by various names such as Proto-Sinaiatic or Proto-Canaanite script. Stripling prefers to use the neutral term Proto-alphabetic. The inside portion of the Mount Ebal curse tablet reads as follows:

Translation of Mount Ebal Curse Tablet
Translation of the Mount Ebal curse tablet from ABR.

There are a number of interesting features about this translation. Perhaps most significantly are the words curse (which occurs 10 times), and the name of Israel’s God YHW (Yahweh). The pronouncement of a curse on Mount Ebal confirms the biblical affirmation that this mount was viewed in this way. The use of YHW confirms that this is an early Hebrew inscription. In fact, this inscription is at least 200 years, or more, earlier than any previously known Hebrew inscription found in Israel. As the slide above states, the statement occurs in chiastic parallelism, a form very familiar to those who study biblical literature (see, e.g., my article here).

YHW on Mount Ebal curse tablet
Reading from left to right, the letters yod (Y), he (H), and waw (W) form the name of Israel’s God, Yahweh in the ancient Proto-alphabetic script.

Important Implications of the Mount Ebal Curse Tablet

There are a number of important implications regarding the discovery of this tablet as noted in the introduction above. First, this would demonstrate that Israel was in the land earlier than many scholars believe. The curse tablet would put the weight of evidence for the Exodus on a 15th century B.C. date, rather than a 13th century B.C. date. Second, and perhaps most importantly, it demonstrates that writing and reading did exist in Israel at this early date, and thus portions of Scripture could have been written at this time as the Bible affirms. Third, it demonstrates that texts like Deuteronomy 27 and Joshua 8 have an historical basis.


More to Come on the Mount Ebal Curse Tablet

Stripling and his team are currently in the process of publishing an academic report to the scholarly community. As a result, there are aspects about the tablet yet to be revealed. One of these involves the fact that the tablet has writing on the outside. Stripling states that a translation of this part of the tablet will appear in the full report.

For More Information on the Mount Ebal Curse Tablet

To view the full press announcement (one hour long), see ABR researchers Discover the Oldest Known Proto-Hebrew Inscription Ever Found.

For a shorter interview with Scott Stripling see: Podcast: Does a tiny ‘curse tablet; from Mt. Ebal date to the Israelite settlement?

You can also read the following article from the Jerusalem Post: Researchers decipher oldest known Hebrew inscription on ‘cursed’ tablet.

Jerubbaal Inscription Discovered!

Jerubbaal Inscription Discovered!

Jerubaal shard
The Jerubbaal inscription, written in ink on a pottery vessel.
(photo credit: DAFNA GAZIT/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

An inscription that dates to the time of the judges of Israel (1100 B.C.), has been discovered. The 3100 year old inscription was written in ink on a pottery vessel. Epigrapher Christopher Rollston of George Washington University has deciphered the letters as the name “Jerubbaal.” The piece of pottery was uncovered at Khirbet el-Ra’i, an archaeological site not far from the ancient cities of Gath and Lachish in the southern Judean foothills. The alphabet used was the ancient script that was current in Canaan at the time (see my articles, “Alphabet’s Missing Link Discovered“, and “Oldest Hebrew Writing Discovered From Egypt?“).

Who Was Jerubbaal?

Gideon or Jerubaal
Gideon. also known as Jerubbaal, leads his men against the Midianites.

Jerubbaal is better known by his other name, Gideon. Gideon was the biblical judge who was famous for attacking a large army of Midianites that had invaded the land with only three hundred men carrying torches and pitchers (Judges 7). The name Jerubbaal comes from an incident where God commanded him to tear down the altar of Baal (Judges 6:25-32). Not only was this a risky venture that could have cost Gideon his life, but his father, Joash, was also a priest of Baal! The Bible notes, however, that Joash protected his son and told the towns people who wanted to punish Gideon that if Baal was a god he could contend for himself. Thus Gideon is given the name Jerubbaal, “let Baal contend.”

It should be pointed out that it is not possible to prove that the inscription found refers to the Jerubbaal of Scripture. There may well have been others with that name. However, the archaeologists that discovered the inscription (Yosef Garfinkel and Sa’al Ganor) are not ruling out the possibility that it could refer to the biblical Jerubbaal. It does come from the correct time period and Gideon was a powerful and well-known figure of that time according to the Book of Judges.

The Significance of the Inscription

Ganor and Garfinkel
Sa’al Ganor and Yosef Garfinkel (Credit: Yoli Schwartz Israel Antiquities Authority)

Whether this inscription refers to the actual Jerubbaal of Scripture, or not, the inscription is still very significant. Garfinkel and Ganor state, “As we know, there is considerable debate as to whether biblical tradition reflects reality and whether it is faithful to historical memories from the days of the Judges and the days of David.” The fact that the name Jerubbaal is only found in Scripture during the period of the Judges and that this inscription dates to that period offers some corroborating evidence that the Bible has preserved reliable information. Garfinkel was also the archaeologist responsible for discovering the name Ishbaal on a pot in his excavation of Khirbet Qeiyafa (see my post The Ishbaal Inscription at Khirbet Qeiyafa). The name Ishbaal only occurs in Scripture during the reign of King David (2 Sam. 2-4). The remains at Khirbet Qeiyafa also date to the time of David. This leads these archaeologists to conclude: “The fact that identical names are mentioned in the Bible and also found in inscriptions recovered from archaeological excavations shows that memories were preserved and passed down through the generations.”

For more information see the following articles:

Jerusalem Post: 3,000 year old inscription bearing name of biblical judge found in Israel

Haaretz.com: Israeli archaeologists find biblical name ‘Jerubbaal’ inked on pot from Judges era

Times of Israel: Five-letter inscription inked 3,100 years ago may be name of biblical judge