The curse which turns out a blessing!

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Kendall K. Down

Jul 21, 2022, 3:39:44 PMJul 21
One of the more interesting discoveries in Egypt were the so-called
"Execration Texts". Dating from a period when Egypt's physical power was
declining and its armies no longer ventured across the Sinai desert into
Palestine, the Egyptian priests came up with an ingenious way of helping
pharaoh let off steam. If some client king wasn't coming up to scratch
or an ally was proving less reliable than was thought desirable, his
name was written on a pottery jar along with a whole string of curses,
and then, with due ceremony, the jar was smashed while the priests
recited the curses.

The earliest execration texts, dating from the 6th Dynasty, were written
on stylised models of Canaanite kings. It wasn't until the Middle
Kingdom that pots were used - possibly because they were more satisfying
to smash. One may wonder just how effective a curse would be if the
solid baked clay figurine only suffered minor damage when pharaoh hurled
it to the ground!

Whether or not the curses were effective, we value the texts because
they give us an interesting insight into Egyptian power politics of the
time, mapping out the waxing and wavning of Egyptian influence among the
petty rulers of Palestine and Canaan. In particular, the texts provide
evidence for the existence of places for which there is no
archaeological evidence! For example, execration texts from Middle
Bronze IIA mention Jerusalem, Shechem, Hazor and Beth Shean, but
archaeologists have found no MBIIA remains in those places!

I don't know whether the Egyptians were the first to create written
curses, but they were by no means the last. The custom of writing curses
on strips of lead was popular in Roman times; for example 120 such
"curse tablets" were found in and around the Roman baths at Bath, in
England. Others have been found in London and around Hadrian's Wall. A
surprising number had to do with property disputes or losses - if
something was stolen from you by persons unknown, in the absence of
Sherlock Holmes you had to be satisfied with writing out a fearsome
curse on the perpetrator and nailing the strip of lead in a nearby
temple or throwing it into a spring.

The first curse tablets ever found came from the Greek colony of
Selinunte in Sicily, but hundreds have been found in various locations
in Greece itself - so many that prissy classical scholars prefer the
term "judicial prayers".

Of course, it wasn't only goods and chattels that could be stolen and a
surprising number of these tablets concern rivals in love. One, found at
Bath, states, "May he who carried off Vilbia from me become liquid as
the water. May she who so obscenely devoured her become dumb." Others
seem to take the form of love charms, seeking to attract the named
person - male or female - to the creator of the tablet. Christopher A.
Faraone has analysed these tablets and concluded that they fall into two
categories: those which seek to excite passion and those which ask for
affection from their subject. It will hardly be surprising to learn that
it is men who seek passion and women who want to stimulate affection.

Back in 2019 a group called Associates for Biblical Research was
ecavating on Mt Ebal, near Nablus. The area had already been pretty
thoroughly dug by Israeli archaeologist Adam Zertal twenty years
earlier, but on the basis that new techniques can reveal things from
that which was regarded as rubbish even only two decades earlier, the
Associates, under Dr Scott Stripling, excavated the spoil heaps from
Zertal's excavations.

Of course, in such an excavation there is no chance of any meaningful
stratigraphy and anything found has to be assessed on its own merits,
rather than in the context of where it was found. Nevertheless, in one
particular excavation, the dates were fairly well known, for Zertal had
dated his original excavation to the time of Joshua (which by
conventional chronology is Iron I), but others prefer several centuries
later in Iron II. In either case - either 1400 BC or 1200 BC - it is the
earliest Hebrew writing known.

Chemical analysis of the lead shows that it came from a mine in Greece
which was active during both those periods. The form of the letters also
support these early dates, for they can be identified as proto-Hebraic
or as Sinaitic, the script used at the turquoise mines of Serabit
el-Khadem. Before this, the earliest Hebrew text was a tablet found at
Khirbet Qeiyafa, overlooking the site of David's victory over Goliath.

The curse tablet took the form of a strip of lead that had been folded
to make a lump about 2cm x 2cm. Unfortunately the lead was far too
fragile for the archaeologists to even attempt to open it up and they
had to take it to a specialist lab in the Czech Republic, which scanned
it in a process similar to an MRI scan of a human body, thus enabling
the letters scratched into the lead to be read. Unfortunately it is not
all that clear whether the letters were written from right to left or
left to right - or even up and down - and the archaeologists have
devoted considerable time trying to make sense of the inscription. This
is their best guess:

Arur Arur Arur
Arur la’El Ye’ho
Tamut – Arur
Arur – Mot Tamut
Arur l’Ye’ho
Arur Arur Arur

"Arur", apparently, means "curse" or "cursed" and the tablet would be
highly significant as testimony to literacy at that early period in
Israel's history. Some sceptics have claimed that "of course" very few
people or even no one at all could read and write in early Israel and
therefore the books attributed to Moses and Samuel *must* have been
written at a much later date. We can now show, both from Khirbet Qeiyafa
and this new discovery, that people could read and write and that the
skill wasn't restricted to a few professional scribes - for the writing
on the new tablet is so rough that it cannot be attributed to a scribe!

However the real killer comes in the second line of the inscription,
where you have both Yahweh (in the form Ye'ho) and Elohim (abbreviated
to El) appearing together. Roughly translated, the line reads "cursed by
Yahweh Elohim" (or "cursed by the God Yahweh").

Back in the 1800s some German crank called Wellhausen came up with the
theory that the book of Genesis had multiple authors. One of them always
referred to God as "Yahweh", another always referred to God as "Elohim",
and it was a much later editor who combined the two names as "Yahweh
Elohim". Like all conspiracy theorists, his ideas were based on
ignorance - though I suppose we can't be too hard on him for not taking
into account a discovery made a century and a half after his death!

Here we have a document dating to well before Wellhausen's putative
authors and editors, casually using "Elohim" and "Yahweh" in the same
breath. In other words, the new discovery supports the idea that Moses
could have written his books, because literacy in the new proto-Hebraic
system was widespread, and it also shows that Moses didn't need
additional authors and editors to account for his use of the names of God.

God bless,
Kendall K. Down


Jul 21, 2022, 5:19:42 PMJul 21
In article <tbca0t$2ih7c$>,
Kendall K. Down <> wrote:
> Some sceptics have claimed that "of course" very few
> people or even no one at all could read and write in early Israel and
> therefore the books attributed to Moses and Samuel *must* have been
> written at a much later date.

But we know that Moses was educated in Egypt, in the Pharaoh's court, and
would have been taught to write there.

Stuart Winsor

Tools With A Mission
sending tools across the world

Kendall K. Down

Jul 22, 2022, 2:49:46 PMJul 22
On 21/07/2022 22:13, Stuart wrote:

> But we know that Moses was educated in Egypt, in the Pharaoh's court, and
> would have been taught to write there.

Indeed - but he would have been taught hieroglyphics, not an alphabetic
system. My understanding is that the typical Hebrew "waw-consecutive"
style would be difficult in hieroglyphs and there are other stylistic
mannerisms which point away from hieroglyphs as the form in which the
original documents were written down.

Mike Davis

Jul 23, 2022, 7:39:43 AMJul 23
Interesting! Do you know how the Hebrew alphabet developed?

Mike Davis

Kendall K. Down

Jul 23, 2022, 4:19:42 PMJul 23
On 23/07/2022 12:32, Mike Davis wrote:

> Interesting! Do you know how the Hebrew alphabet developed?

You can find a reasonable summary here:

However the article doesn't reference the Serabit el-Khadim
inscriptions, which I believe are a) the origin of the old Hebrew and
Canaanite alphabets, and b) are where Moses learned it

We know that Moses was wandering around near Mt Horeb when God appeared
to him, but what was he doing so far from Midian? The Sinai desert is
not the immediate destination one thinks of when the word "grazing" is
involved! However if he was taking sheep to the Egyptian miners at
Serabit, it would explain why he was in the area and would also provide
an opportunity for him to discover the new idea of an alphabet and seize
upon it for his idea of a poem about a man who suffered.

Mike Davis

Jul 24, 2022, 11:59:42 AMJul 24
Thanks, Kendall! It will take me some time to get into it!!

Mike Davis

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