Archaeological find: the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:24-26

The LORD spoke to Moses to instruct to Aaron and his priestly sons to bless the people of Israel with this blessing:

The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make his face to shine on you and be gracious to you;
The LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.

Num. 6:24-26

After my family’s nightly bedtime prayer, this is the blessing I give my daughter each time, as I lay my hands on, or over, her head.  And of course, this is the very familiar blessing we receive at the end of our worship services.  I am blown away that these are very similar words spoken by the priests from the 7th century BCE.

Unknown to many people, is an archaeological discovery made in 1979 at Ketef Hinnom, just southwest of the old city wall of Jerusalem.  A team, led by Gabriel Barkay, found two miniature silver scrolls (or amulets) rolled up  inside a burial complex that had been used by the Turkish army to store rifles during the Ottoman Empire.   Etched in ancient Hebrew upon two silver scrolls was the inscription of the Aaronic blessing/priestly benediction from Numbers 6:24-26. These scrolls had remained rolled up for three  years before they attempted to unroll them.  They were cracked and corroded.

It is the oldest extra-biblical reference to YHWH.  These silver scrolls date  back to 7th century BCE; furthermore, the Hebrew writing style is distinct to 7th c. BCE.  This dating means that these scrolls are 500 years older than the Dead Sea scrolls, and the oldest extra-biblical verses from the First Temple period (or when Solomon’s temple still stood on the Jerusalem mountain). Scholars say that this archaeological discovery was extremely significant because it proved that the Penteteuch, or at least some parts of it, were written before the Babylonian exile–not after, as some had previously claimed. Previously, some had claimed that the early parts of the bible was merely a fictional invention by some new rulers who took control of Judea in late 4th c. BCE and wanted to give them a place in history, and therefore, a claim to the land of Palestine. This theory has now been debunked, and its coffin has been nailed shut forever. (See details in Biblical Archaeology Review)

Scroll 1: contains a variation of Deuteronomy 7:9, and traces of the first two blessings of this tripartite Biblical text:
[…]YHW…the grea[t…who keeps] the covenant and [G]raciousness toward those who love [Him] and those who keep [His commandments…]. The Eternal? […]. [the?] blessing more than any [sna]re and more than Evil. For redemption is in Him. For YHWH  is our restorer [and] rock. May YHWH bles[s] you and keep you. [May] YHWH make [His face] shine…”

Scroll 2: has traces of an abridged version of all three blessings:
[First line is illegible.] May h[e]/sh[e] be blessed by Yahweh, the warrior [or “helper”] and the rebuker of [E]vil: May Yahweh bless you, keep you. May Yahweh make His face shine upon you and grant you p[ea]ce”

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Author: Kevin S.

A follower of Jesus, a husband and a father. Hobbies include biking, keeping fish if they don't die on me, blogging when I can, theologizing and ministry, and pondering about world affairs.

3 thoughts on “Archaeological find: the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:24-26”

  1. Well Jim, it seems that not many people have an interest or the time to look into biblical scholarship but finds like these provide great encouragement to many Christians in our great traditions of the Judeo-Christian faiths.

    Like

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