The Shema‘ Yisrael

Monotheistic Jewish Amulet Discovered Near Carnuntum

According to a recent article in Biblical Archaeology Review, the Shema‘ Yisrael on this Jewish amulet discovered near Carnuntum is one of the earliest monotheistic readings of Deuteronomy.

The Shema‘ Yisrael from Deuteronomy 6:4 (“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one”) is Judaism’s holiest confession. Today, we understand the passage as a monotheistic declaration. However, in the Second Temple period, the Shema‘ Yisrael text in Deuteronomy would have been read “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” The Shema‘ Yisrael was originally a monolatric statement; it stated that Israel had an exclusive relationship with its God, but it did not deny the existence of other national deities for other peoples.

When did Deuteronomy’s Shema‘ Yisrael become a monotheistic statement? When did Jews begin to recognize their deity as the only deity existing in the universe? In the May/June 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Armin Lange and Esther Eshel discuss the discovery of a Jewish amulet near the city of Carnuntum that “marks an early pinnacle of this monotheistic interpretation of the Shema‘ Yisrael in Deuteronomy 6:4.”

The Jewish amulet was discovered in a third-century C.E. child’s grave near the Roman frontier city Carnuntum (close to modern Halbturn, Austria). The amulet is formed out of a silver capsule and small gold leaf, inscribed with a Hebrew Shema‘ Yisrael written in Greek letters. Lange and Eshel state that “the Jewish amulet reads the last clause of the Shema‘ Yisrael as ΑΔΩΝ Α ‘the Lord is 1.’ That is, it replaces the Hebrew word אחד, which meant originally ‘alone,’ with ‘one’ (a Greek A). The letter in ancient Greek represents the numeral 1.”
 


 
In the groundbreaking book The Birth of Monotheism: The Rise and Disappearance of Yahwism, André Lemaire, a world-renowned expert on the ancient world, explores the development of perhaps the most important idea in the history of mankind: the concept of a single, universal God.
 

 
What is an early monotheistic Shema‘ Yisrael doing near Carnuntum? Lange and Eshel illustrate that Carnuntum had a well-integrated Jewish population that stated their religion openly. The Jewish population would have known how to recite the Shema‘ Yisrael, but most likely did not know how to write in Hebrew.

Lange and Eshel conclude that

To our knowledge the Halbturn amulet is the first text that renders the Hebrew word ehad (אחד) with the number “1.” This numerical representation of the final word of the Shema‘leaves no doubt about how the Jewish craftsman who made the Halbturn amulet understood the Shema‘ Yisrael —as a monotheistic statement! Only the Lord is God; there is no other God. Though the Jews of Carnuntum were open to the multi-religious culture of their city, this openness clearly had defined limits. For them, no other god existed but the Lord.

Armin Lange and Esther Eshel’s full article “The Lord Is One”: How Its Meaning Changed explores the Jewish amulet and its Shema‘ Yisrael inscription in light of ancient Jewish magic, the evolution of monotheism and the local Jewish population.
 


 
BAS Library Members: Read the full article “The Lord Is One”: How Its Meaning Changed as it appears in the May/June 2013 issue of BAR.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Sign up today.
 


 

Related Content in the BAS Library

Fredricksen, Paula. Gods and the One God. Bible Review, Feb 2003.

The BAS Library now includes the full book Aspects of Monotheism: How God Is One, edited by Hershel Shanks and Jack Meinhardt, featuring chapters written by Donald B. Redford, William G. Dever, P. Kyle McCarter Jr. and John J. Collins.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Sign up today.

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  1. Ronnie says

    Fascinating article. Changes the perspective of Christian insistence on trinity.

  2. Albert says

    When Jesus was asked, what is the most important Commandment, the Gospel of Mark has Jesus begining His answer with, “Hear O Israel, Adoni (Written yod, he, vav, he) Adoni our God, Adoni exad.” A teacher of the Law said,”You are right in saying that God is One and that there is no other but Him.
    This was in the 2nd Temple period and clearly is a monotheistic statement.

  3. Tony says

    The actual word for “one” in the Shema is a plural “one” as in a unified one. So Ronnie you are incorrect in your understanding. It actually reinforces the Trinitairian theology.

  4. Marty says

    Im confused by Tonys response to Ronnies comment? There is no analogue, that I can find, from any language that was used in that period that has the meaning ‘ plural “one”‘ .
    From a non partisan perspective, it seems absurd and illogical that there would be any word that translates as such.
    It seems to me that perhaps Tony may be defending the archaic theological invention that was created to ease a Pagans understanding of their conversion to a monotheist religion.
    Tony could you please give us your sources for your interpretation please? I would be very interested to find out about that view.
    thanks

  5. Paul says

    About the Trinity:
    “We have records that demonstrate that the Holy Spirit was percieved by the first Christians to be not only female, but also Jesus’ Mother. In the non-canonical Gospel of the Hebrews, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit his Mother. The Gospel of Thomas records the same thing.”
    April DeCornick, “How the Mother God Got Spayed”; BAR Sept./Oct. 2012, p.26
    About the Tetragrammaton, YHVH (Yahweh):
    “The ancient Biblical Tetragrammaton, Yahweh (YHVH), is regarded in the Kabbala as an abreviated symbol of four divine elements which form part of the deity The four elements are Hokmah (Wisdom), Bina (Understanding), Tiferet (Beauty), and Malkut (Kingship). Moreover, Wisdom is identified with the Father, Understanding with the Mother, Beauty with the Son, and Kingship with the Daughter. These four divine concepts form the Kabbalistic Tetrad.”
    Raphael Patai, “The Hebrew Goddeess”, p.116

  6. Chavoux says

    @Marty: I am not sure if this is really a defence of “the archaic theological invention that was created to ease a Pagans understanding of their conversion to a monotheist religion.”, but I would point out that “echad” is used as a “plural one” at least two times in Scripture: When God says in Gen.2 that a man will leave has father and mother and cling to his wife and the two will become one, the word “echad” is used. Also the prophet Ezekiel (37) used the word “echad” to describe the future unity of Judah and Israel. In Hebrew there is another word that could have been used instead of “echad”; namely “yachid” which would not allow for this “plural” unity.

    @Paul: Neither the “Gospel of the Hebrews” nor the “Gospel of Thomas” can be used to demonstrate what the first Christians believed. No scholar truly believes that either of these writings were in any way connected to the first apostles of Jesus (whereas the early Christian “church fathers” testify that our current canonical writings were actually all written either by an apostle of under the influence of one of Jesus’ apostles/shelachim).

  7. Paul says

    Thank you Chavoux, for elaborating on the word “echad.” As for the above quote I should add the footnote from Decornick’s article where she quotes the 3rd century “Church Father” Origen: “‘Even so did my mother, the Holy Spirit, take me by one of my hairs and carry me away to the great mountain Tabor.’ (Origen, Commentary on John 2.12.87, on John 1:3).”

  8. James says

    Maimonides suggested changing echad to yachid because of the trinitarian confusion. To the best of my knowledge, in the Tenach it is always used as a compound unity: one bunch of grapes, one group of people, etc.

  9. James says

    Paul, Origen was infamous for superimposing Greek religion and philosophy on scripture. There is nothing of biblical Christianity about that quotation, nor the ones from the gnostic sources of your earlier comment. Obviously there is no connection between kabbalistic tradition and the early Church. And I doubt that you can support your Holy Spirit = mother of Christ or anyone else from the Bible.

  10. Paul says

    Again, James, I must quote DeConick’s article in answer to your correct statement about the dearth of references to the Mother Spirit in the early church: “So what happened to the Mother Spirit in Christianity? She was nuetered (or spayed, if you prefer) as the language shifted from Aramaic into Greek, where “spirit” lost her female coding. In Hebrew and Aramaic, “spirit” is a feminine word. In Greek, it is a neuter word. In Latin, it is a masculine word.”
    Another quote comes from “Lost Christianities” by Bart Ehrman, p.4: “But virtually all forms of modern Christianity, whether they acknowledge it or not, go back to ONE form of Christianity that emerged as victorious from the conflicts of the second and third centuries. This one form of Christianity decided what was the ‘correct’ Christian perspective; it decided who can excercise authority over Christian belief and practice; and it determined what forms of Christianity would be marginalized, set aside, destroyed. It also decided which books to canonize into Scripture and which books to set aside as ‘heretical,’ teaching false ideas.”
    Personally, I see a similarity to the setting for the Tower of Babel narrative; “Everyone on earth had the same language and the same words” (Genesis 11:1). This was probably a reference to a line in the Sumerian poem, “Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta,” line 140: “The whole universe, the people in unison, to Enlil in one tongue [gave praise].

  11. Paul says

    “From the beginning of its developement, the Kabbalah embraced an esotericism closely akin to the spirit of Gnosticism; one which was not restricted to instruction in the mystical path but also included ideas on cosmology, angelology, and magic. Only later, and as a result of the contact with midieval Jewish philosophy, the Kabbalah became a Jewish ‘mystical theology,’ more or less systematically elaborated.” Gershom Scholem, “Kabbalah” p.5
    “The earliest Jewish mysticism is throne-mysticism. Its essence is not absorbed contemplation of God’s true nature, but perception of His appearance on the throne; as described by Ezekiel, and cognition of the mysteries of the celestial throne-world. The throne-world is to the Jewish mystic what the pleroma, the “fullness”, the bright sphere of divinity with its potencies, aeons, archons and dominions is to the Hellenistic and early Christian mystics of the period who appear in the history of religion under the names of Gnostics and Hermetics.” Gershom Scholem, “Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism” p.44

  12. Paul says

    “Rabbi Rahumai said: What is the meaning of the verse (Deuteronomy 22:7), ‘You shall surely send away the mother, and the children you shall take for yourself’? Why does it not say, ‘You shall surely send away the father’? But the scripture says, ‘you shall surely send away the mother’ in honor of the one who is called the Mother of the World. It is thus written (Proverbs 2:3), ‘For you shall call Understanding Mother.’” Areyah Kaplan, “The Bahir”, p,39
    “There is a commandment in the Torah that states that when one finds a nest with eggs or chicks, one must send away the mother bird before taking anything from the nest …Binah-Understanding is the future, the end point of time continuum, and hense, it represents the completion of the concept of time … Binah-Understanding is therefore the Mother Womb from which all creation emerged.” The Bahir, p.162

  13. Lorenzo says

    There is to many proof that the Holy Spirit is a masculine figure. There is so many proof of the actual existence of the Trinity.

  14. Paul says

    “…and the spirit/wind of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:2).
    “In the beginning, Eurynome, the Goddess of All Things, rose naked from Chaos, but found nothing substantial for her feet to rest upon, and therefore divided the sea from the sky, dancing lonely upon its waves … she assumed the form of a dove, brooding upon its waves…”
    “In this archaic religious system there were, as yet, neither gods nor priests, but only a universal goddess and her priestesses, women being the dominant sex and man her frightened victim … Eurynome (wide wandering) was the goddess’s title as the visible moon; her Sumerian name was Iahu (exalted dove), a title which later passed to Jehovah as the Creator.” Robert Graves, “The Greek Myths I”, p.27,28

  15. David says

    I don’t know what Hebrew phrase they think was “original” in that “the Lord alone.” Is was it “hashem l’vad” instead of “hashem ekhad?” As an Orthodox Jew, I think this is rubbish, but even so, why would hashem l’vad mean we worship hashem but there’s other gods around? In our liturgy we constantly say l’vado hu (he is alone). If there’s only one god, it’s lonely at the top. Really not getting this.

    As an aside the use of the alpha is really interesting. It shows that maybe the Jews didn’t use our modern system of using Hebrew letters for numbers (alef in this case, which also happens to be the first letter of ekhad). Also unclear why this text shows Jews could speak but not read Hebrew. Shouldn’t the whole thing be in Greek transliteration then? Why just the alpha? I imagine instead that they could read Hebrew but that to save space this would be the modern equivalent of an Israeli writing “hashem 1″ instead of “hashem ekhad.”

  16. David says

    Although I want to stay out of all this quoting kabala out of context, in response to Lorenzo, obviously we don’t believe in the Trinity, but there is no way you can say that G-d is solely male when the tora uses both male and female terms to refer to Him. He has aspects of both (and we use He and not She because that is more common). “hashem ekhad”

  17. Luis says

    I believe the word intended in the first paragraph (monaltric) is monolatric.

  18. Luis says

    So much to comment on. First, I don’t understand why some write G_d as if that were God’s name to keep from taking in vain. If Yah, who evidently was comfortable with such a thing as a nickname in the form of a shortening of His full name (or Their full name, as the case may be), then the point is not the use of His name (didn’t the First Testament use YHWH and Yah quite often?), but rather of the *mis*use of His name, calling upon Him as a witness to what was actually false to give it verisimilitude.

    On the idea of the Trinity. Hmm. What can I say that hasn’t been said in the past 2k, give or take? Maybe I should just ask rather than state. Why is Elohim used instead of El in the creation story? Why is a singular verb used with the plural word for God in the creation story? Why does the Elohim then speak in terms of “Our image” rather than “My image”? Is there more to God than some might care to admit in this singularity of plurality?

  19. Luis says

    Oh, on the number of times Yahweh (or whatever your preferred transliteration/pronunciation), it was used 6,519 times! And Yah, though translated as Yah only 2 times, is translated as LORD 47 times (equivalent to YHWH) in the NKJV. Only later did those who transcribed and added the reading LORD (Adonai) make it an issue. Clearly, invoking His name in an unholy way (for falsehood) is what the commandment forbids. Interesting that our God goes to the trouble of telling us His NAME and then we bury it under obscurity because of a lack of understanding of the plain meaning of the text.

  20. Paul says

    “Though the revolutionary concept of an eternal, absolute, omnipotent and only God was first proposed by Pharaoh Akhenaton, and either adopted by the Hebrews, whom he seems to have protected, or re-invented by them, yet the name ‘ELOHIM’ (usually translated as ‘God’), found in Genesis 1, is the Hebrew variant of an ancient Semitic name for one god of many – ILU among the Assyrians and Babylonians; EL among the Hittites and in the Ugaritic texts; IL, or ILUM, among the South Arabians.” Hebrew Myths; The Book of Genesis”, by Robert Graves and Raphael Patai, p.27

  21. Servant says

    @ Luis, The name of the God of Abraham,Issac and Jacob is YHVH (there is not w in hebrew) This is his name forever or I AM that I AM The blood relatives of the original Hebrews of Moses and Jesus used the name YHVH.

    The people we refer to as jews today are not of the bloodline of Moses, they are largely Europeans who were taught not to use God’s name. The teaching of avoid God’s name is a horrible thing that came from…let’s keep it simple and say..man.

    We are commanded to call on his name YHVH. We have generations of Christians who have no idea that God has a name. If you are a follower of I AM you better call on his name and avoid the teachings of man and tradition

  22. Paul says

    When men began to increase upon the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of Elohim saw how beautiful the daughters of men were and took wives from among those that pleased them. Genesis 6:1,
    Immediately upon their descent they engaged in corruption with the daughters of man who were beautiful, and were unable to control their inclination. Shemhazai saw a girl, Istahar by name, desired her, and said to her; “Give in to me!” She said to him “I shall not, unless you teach me the Ineffable Name by pronouncing which you fly up to the firmament.” He taught her that Name, she uttered it, and flew up to the firmament, thus escaping defilement. The Holy One, blessed be He, said: “Since she removed herself from sin, go and set her among these seven stars so that she be remembered by them forever.” And she was set in the Pleides. Raphael Patai, “Gates to the Old City”, p.399

  23. alex says

    Como sou ignorante!!! Nunca vou conseguir entender que “um” é um plural!!! É muita confusão para minha limitada mente.

  24. Brian says

    Russ Kicks book 100 Things You’re Not Suposed To Know, there is an error page 244, God has revealed his name to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The book says to look up Exodus 34:13 – actually it is the next verse, Exodus 34:14 “For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” For some reason they don’t teach this in Sunday school. May be they don’t want kids saying the pledge of allegiance “One nation, under Jealous..”

  25. Kurt says

    The Trinity’s Early Origins
    The Bible tells of many gods and goddesses that people worshiped, including Ashtoreth, Milcom, Chemosh, and Molech. (1 Kings 11:1, 2, 5, 7) Even many people in the ancient nation of Israel once believed that Baal was the true God. So Jehovah’s prophet Elijah presented the challenge: “If Jehovah is the true God, go following him; but if Baal is, go following him.”—1 Kings 18:21.
    The worship of pagan gods grouped in threes, or triads, was also common before Jesus was born. “From Egypt came the ideas of a divine trinity,” observed historian Will Durant. In the Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics, James Hastings wrote: “In Indian religion, e.g., we meet with the trinitarian group of Brahmā, Siva, and Viṣṇu; and in Egyptian religion with the trinitarian group of Osiris, Isis, and Horus.”

    The Lie That Made God a Mystery

    WHAT MANY BELIEVE The Christian religion “in its three classic forms of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism acknowledges one God in three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. According to Christian theology, this acknowledgment is not a recognition of three gods but that these three persons are essentially one.”—The New Encyclopædia Britannica.
    THE TRUTH FROM THE BIBLE Jesus, the Son of God, never claimed to be equal to or of the same substance as his Father. Rather, he said: “I am going my way to the Father, because the Father is greater than I am.” (John 14:28) He also told one of his followers: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father and to my God and your God.”—John 20:17.
    The holy spirit is not a person. Early Christians “became filled with holy spirit,” and Jehovah said: “I shall pour out some of my spirit upon every sort of flesh.” (Acts 2:1-4, 17) The holy spirit is not part of a Trinity. It is God’s active force.
    WHY IT MATTERS The Trinity, explain Catholic scholars Karl Rahner and Herbert Vorgrimler, “could not be known without revelation, and even after revelation cannot become wholly intelligible.” Can you really love someone who is impossible to know or understand? The doctrine of the Trinity, therefore, is a barrier to knowing and loving God.
    Marco, quoted in an earlier article, saw the Trinity as a barrier. “I thought God was hiding his identity from me,” he says, “and that just made him even more distant, mysterious, and unapproachable.” However, “God is not a God of confusion.” (1 Corinthians 14:33, American Standard Version) He has not hidden his identity from us. He wants us to know him. Jesus said: “We worship what we know.”—John 4:22.
    “When I learned that God is not part of a Trinity,” says Marco, “I was finally able to establish a personal relationship with him.” If we view Jehovah as a distinct Person rather than a mysterious stranger, it is far easier to love him. “He that does not love has not come to know God,” says the Bible, “because God is love.”—1 John 4:8.
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200275936

  26. Colin says

    This article is nonsense, echad is neither ancient nor modern Hebrew for “alone”, it always meant “one”.

  27. David says

    Even in large communities Greek letters and names mixed freely with Hebrew letters and Jewish names. More people were literate in Greek than in Hebrew letters. A family traveling with the Roman Legions into Austria was blessed indeed to have available a person who could write a Hebrew amulet. Perhaps the first part was copied from writing and the second part was written phonetically in Greek based on the sound. That seems most plausible. On an amulet magical symbolism is a possibility, here with insistence on using a clearly Jewish text. Magic achieved double effect mixing Hebrew and Greek. In short, touching and poignant, but too small a sample to draw conclusions.

  28. ana says

    i think the comments on this article is much more interesting to read.

  29. tapani says

    To Ronnie :Trinity and oneness are very common theme, In Athaneus’ s confession the persons are “as” but also “not as”, because they describe the riches of “the one and same” God.

  30. Joseph says

    Regarding Bart Ehrman’s comment that, after the battles of the second and third centuries, one form of Christianity emerged victorious. That must have come as quite a shock to the Arians. Since Ulfilas, an Arian bishop converted many of the Germanic invaders to his form of Christianity and since these tribes took over much of The Western Roman Empire, Arians were pretty darn prominent in Western Europe and North Africa well after the third century.

  31. SvenTheBold says

    To Kurt:
    In all Trinitarian formulations I’ve yet seen, each “person” of the Trinity is fully God, meaning that they are distinguishable parts, but are not separate parts.

    A good analogy I’ve found (at the URL below) is in music. The tonic chord in the key of C is composed of the notes of C, E, and G. The note C of the chord is a single sound. The note E of the chord is also a single sound. The note G of the chord is a third single sound, and the chord as a whole is also itself only a single sound. The chord sound cannot be called a separate note of the whole, no more than God can be called a separate person of the Trinity, but neither can the notes be separated without reducing the chord into something that it is not.

    Let me say that a different way: when keys are struck on a piano, the playing of a single C would fill the entire heard space and would qualify as a single complete sound. The playing of an E together with the C would take up no extra heard space, the waveform of the resulting two-tone sound could still be modeled on a single line: you would still only really be hearing one sound; but you would also be able to distinguish the two notes heard in your head, both a C and an E, both coexisting perfectly as a single sound in a single shared heard space. Likewise, the addition of a G above the E and the C would not take up any more additional heard space, and so the chord would again be heard as a single sound, capable of being modeled as a single vibrating line; and yet in your mind you would nevertheless be perfectly capable of distinguishing between the notes of C, E, and G; the notes are irreducibly distinct, and yet perfectly model-able as a single waveform sound.

    So do the Trinitarians describe God. In the person of the Father, we see God inasmuch as he has created a world and spoken directly in word and deed unto his chosen people Israel. In the person of the Son, we see God inasmuch as He has come into a specific place and time in human form, Himself made flesh, to found the church for all the world. In the person of the Holy Spirit, we see God inasmuch as He has continued to come into our own lives and that of the church, to inspire us on toward a more holy relationship with Himslef.

    And while each of these persons of the Trinity is irreducibly distinct, each also appears in and with the other, such that while the Father is greater than Jesus, anyone who has seen Jesus has still seen the Father.

    http://www.bethinking.org/god/understanding-the-trinity

Continuing the Discussion

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    [...] haben das älteste Zeug­nis jüdi­schen Lebens Öster­reichs entdecktWiki­pe­dia: Schma JiraelBible History Daily: The Shema‘ YisraelShare this:ShareEmailPrintStum­bleU­ponFace­bookTwit­terGoogle [...]

  2. Qumran Phylacteries Reveal Nine New Dead Sea Scrolls - Creation RevolutionCreation Revolution linked to this post on March 22, 2014

    […] and similarly delicate techniques have been used to unroll other ancient rolled texts, including a gold leaf containing the ‘Shema Yisrael and the silver scrolls from Ketef […]

  3. Qumran Phylacteries Reveal Nine New Dead Sea Scrolls | newsantiques.com linked to this post on March 24, 2014

    […] and likewise ethereal techniques have been used to unroll other ancient rolled texts, including a bullion root containing a ‘Shema Yisrael and a china scrolls from Ketef […]


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