Backgrounders on the Bible through Biblical Archaeology

Posts tagged “Mt. Ebal

1802 Clyde Billington – BC Metallurgy: Lead and Copper

Mt. Ebal Curse Tablet

Mt. Ebal Curse Tablet

Possibly the most dramatic discovery in biblical archaeology so far in the 21st century, this very small lead tablet, folded in half, inscribed in what appears to be paleo Hebrew, found near the Mt. Ebal altar that was discovered in 1980s by Israeli archaeologist Adam Zertal.  On this week’s program, my co-editor Clyde Billington and I discuss the cover story of the spring issue of our biblical archaeology newsmagazine ARTIFAX, and the connection that this discovery has to the mountain of curses, that’s mentioned in Deuteronomy 27 & Joshua 8. 

There’s also a connection between the curse tablet and another story in our spring issue news digest: lead ingots found in the harbor at Caesarea. These ingots have been dated to 1500 BC: lead isotopes give their source as Sardinia, markings were Minoan (from 1500 BC Cyprus). They had traveled a long distance in those early days.

We also discuss new information about copper mining in Timna, in far southern Israel. We recently reported on new research from Timna indicating that people lived in tents instead of buildings more widely than believed, which is shaking up archaeology a bit. Now there’s further information on their mining and smelting techniques. Tel Aviv University researcher David Luria says the technology was developed by locals using trial and error, not imported from Egypt. Production was heavy during the time of the biblical kingdoms of Israel and Judah, 1200 BC to 850 BC.


1796-1797 Scott Stripling – Mt. Ebal Curse Tablet


Mt. Ebal Curse Tablet

We first mentioned this discovery last year in our Wet Sifting documentary. Further details were announced just weeks ago and now we have the background on what may turn out to be the most important biblical archaeology discovery of the decade.

This amazing item is a small one inch square lead document, a curse tablet which is known as a defixio. This discovery, made in 2019 and recently announced, has been making headlines around the world.

Scott Stripling, the director of the Archaeological Studies Institute of the Bible Seminary in Katy, Texas, and director of excavations for Associates for Biblical Research, is the leader of the salvage excavation on the dump piles of Adam Zertal’s 1980s excavation of an altar on Mt. Ebal. In this 2-part interview he explains why he believes this is such an important development in biblical studies.

1751-1752 Adam Zertal – Joshua Altar on Mt. Ebal

The Altar on Mt. Ebal

The Altar on Mt. Ebal

Workmen in the West Bank area of Israel recently damaged an archaeological site. The story is told in the news digest of the spring issue of ARTIFAX, our biblical archaeology news magazine. Road construction dislodged some stones that surrounded an ancient altar atop Mt. Ebal.

This is a famous site in the Bible. The book of Joshua in chapter eight describes how Joshua built an altar on Mt. Ebal, shortly after the Israelites entered the Promised Land. Then, in the early 1980s, Israel archaeologist Adam Zertal was surveying that area and discovered this construction, not realizing at first that it was an altar.

For some historical perspective on this recent controversy, I dug deep in our archives and found a 1986 interview with Adam Zertal, by my former co-host, professor Keith Schoville.

1499-1500 Adam Zertal – The Altar on Mt. Ebal


Adam Zertal

On a chilly winter evening in 1993 I made my way to kibbutz En Shemer in Israel to interview Adam Zertal, a University of Haifa archaeologist, about his discovery on Mt. Ebal. Amidst museum displays highlighting the agricultural history of the kibbutz there was a small room highlighting the archaeological work done by one of its most famous residents, this archaeologist who decided to take up the search for biblical evidence during his recovery of wounds suffered during the Yom Kippur War.

As recently as 2009 we highlighted Zertal’s discovery of an underground quarry near Jericho. And his archaeological surveys may be his most important legacy.

But it was the 1980 discovery of a cultic structure on Mt. Ebal that Zertal may be most known for. Not every archaeologist believes that this is an actual altar, but Zertal believes the evidence is clear, and he is clearly intrigued by the possible connection to the account in Joshua 8:30 which says that the Israelites built an altar on Mt. Ebal. It is one of the amazing mysteries of biblical archaeology.

We learned last week that Adam Zertal died on October 18, 2015. He was 79. In honor of his dedication to archaeology in the land of Israel, we are once again highlighting that 1993 interview.

The second half of the interview, program 1500, focuses on Zertal’s survey archaeology in the hills of Samaria, and it’s Exodus connection.

Photo credit: “Adam Zartal” by Hanay – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –