BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Hook, Line, and Sinker: Mt. Ebal Curse Tablet Debunked?

Archaeologist offers new interpretation of controversial artifact

Folded tablet from Mt. Ebal

The Mt. Ebal curse tablet. Photo by the Associates for Biblical Research.

Initially hailed by its discoverers as “the most ancient Hebrew inscription ever found,” the controversial Mt. Ebal curse tablet may be no more than a common fishing weight. At least that is the suggestion of archaeologist Amihai Mazar, who published his interpretation of the artifact in the Israel Exploration Journal, alongside two other articles skeptical of the discoverers’ claims.

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Fishing for a Find

First announced in 2022, the Mt. Ebal curse tablet, as it has become known, quickly became one of the most controversial archaeological finds of recent years. The “tablet” is a piece of folded lead, measuring less than 1 inch square. Found during sifting of previously excavated soil taken from the West Bank site of Mt. Ebal near Nablus, the tiny piece of lead was said to include a 48-letter inscription with multiple references to the god Yahweh. The object instantly made headlines, although the scholarly publication of the claimed inscription did not appear until more than a year later. Since then, scholars have heavily scrutinized the team’s conclusions, and now one archaeologist has stepped forward to offer a new interpretation.

According to Amihai Mazar, Professor Emeritus of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the lead tablet is likely nothing more than a common fishing net weight. Such objects were widely used in the ancient Mediterranean and were frequently made from lead during the Late Bronze Age II (c. 1400–1200 BCE), the period to which the Mt. Ebal tablet supposedly dates.

Lead fishing weights in the Archaeological Museum of Chania, Crete. Courtesy Gad Barnea.

Often made of a small rectangular strip of lead, these weights were folded around the ropes of fishing nets to hold them underwater. Excavations have revealed hundreds of such Bronze Age fishing weights, with many even featuring schematic carvings of nets or other patterns on the soft lead surface, similar to the letter-shaped markings from the Mt. Ebal example. As such, Mazar accepts the arguments of many scholars that the alleged inscription is likely nothing more than a series of striations in the lead, and at most was a mundane schematic carving.

While varieties of fishing weights existed, one common type was crafted from a lead strip measuring roughly 1 by 2 inches and less than 1 inch thick. When folded, these weights were nearly identical in size, weight, and appearance to the piece of lead found at Mt. Ebal. Such lead weights have been excavated in Crete and Greece, and similar examples have been found at sites in the southern Levant, including Haifa and Ashkelon.

As archaeologists and epigraphers continue to raise questions about the validity of the original discoverers’ claims and interpretations, Mazar’s proposition provides an additional layer to the debate. Although it remains uncertain how a fishing implement would have ended up in the rugged central hill country of the southern Levant, many such weights have been uncovered in funerary contexts, suggesting they could have a ritual and symbolic as well as practical function.


Read more in Bible History Daily:

An Early Israelite Curse Inscription from Mt. Ebal?

A Biblical Altar on Mt. Ebal and Other Israelite Footprints in the Jordan Valley?

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

Two Early Israelite Cult Sites Now Questioned

Has Joshua’s Altar Been Found on Mt. Ebal?

Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.

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3 Responses

  1. Bethsheba Ashe - Author of "Behold! The Art and Practice of Gematria" and "Chariot: An essay on Bereshit and the Merkabah". says:

    It may be that both researchers are correct, and that a strip of lead, which was usually used for a net weight, was repurposed to hold the curse, then carefully closed and then hidden. In ancient Egypt such tent pegs were made of wood, and were likely the origin for the early alphabetic letter Vav, and so the artifact may have been intrinsically possessed of symbolism and chosen for that reason. As I understand the matter, the inscription on the outside is more or less identical to the inner inscription too?

    I subjected the inscription to an analysis with the formal system of ancient math that is frequently employed in the bible – (which I deciphered after many years of diligent research) – and if the writing is nothing more than “striations” then its rather remarkable that they managed to align coincidently in such a way that the following calculations are present:

    1st seven words:
    אתה ארור לאל יהו ארור תמת ארור
    Calculation:
    ישראל + (לאל יהו\2) + (נ\2) = 310
    310= אל × 10 (‘God’).

    2nd seven words:
    ארור מת תמת ארור אתה ליהו ארור
    Calculation:
    248 = נ\2) + נ + (ישראל\2) + ליהו)
    248 = אל × 8 (‘God’).

    Coincidences DO happen, but I think in this case its unlikely. Such “number magic” was used in the bible for many purposes, including blessings, curses, healings, dream decipherment, and the classification of the natural world.

  2. Dan Lawrence says:

    I would think a lot would depend on whether there is actually a 48 letter inscription on the Mt. Ebal find, and if such lengthy(?) inscriptions have been found on credible fishing weights from the same period. It seems that the most basic data to support or refute either claim is missing.

  3. Robert Smith says:

    Nathan Steinmeyer,
    Your title correctly includes a question mark!
    Putting aside the contentious issue of the “text,” Amihai Mazar has properly drawn attention to the general structural similarity between fishing weights and the alleged “Mt. Ebal Curse Text.” The examples shown from a museum in Crete are significantly larger and display evidence of being wrapped around a line at the fold. The edges on the three sides did not need to be crimped. The Mt. Ebal artifact would not allow for the passage of a modern, light, 5-pound nylon monofilament at the fold and the edges bear evidence of careful closure. The Mt Ebal artifact was found in debris from an altar on a hilltop far from the sea. Would you suggest that a greedy hook and weight gobbling fish was sacrificed? Were there fish bones in the osteological finds?

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


3 Responses

  1. Bethsheba Ashe - Author of "Behold! The Art and Practice of Gematria" and "Chariot: An essay on Bereshit and the Merkabah". says:

    It may be that both researchers are correct, and that a strip of lead, which was usually used for a net weight, was repurposed to hold the curse, then carefully closed and then hidden. In ancient Egypt such tent pegs were made of wood, and were likely the origin for the early alphabetic letter Vav, and so the artifact may have been intrinsically possessed of symbolism and chosen for that reason. As I understand the matter, the inscription on the outside is more or less identical to the inner inscription too?

    I subjected the inscription to an analysis with the formal system of ancient math that is frequently employed in the bible – (which I deciphered after many years of diligent research) – and if the writing is nothing more than “striations” then its rather remarkable that they managed to align coincidently in such a way that the following calculations are present:

    1st seven words:
    אתה ארור לאל יהו ארור תמת ארור
    Calculation:
    ישראל + (לאל יהו\2) + (נ\2) = 310
    310= אל × 10 (‘God’).

    2nd seven words:
    ארור מת תמת ארור אתה ליהו ארור
    Calculation:
    248 = נ\2) + נ + (ישראל\2) + ליהו)
    248 = אל × 8 (‘God’).

    Coincidences DO happen, but I think in this case its unlikely. Such “number magic” was used in the bible for many purposes, including blessings, curses, healings, dream decipherment, and the classification of the natural world.

  2. Dan Lawrence says:

    I would think a lot would depend on whether there is actually a 48 letter inscription on the Mt. Ebal find, and if such lengthy(?) inscriptions have been found on credible fishing weights from the same period. It seems that the most basic data to support or refute either claim is missing.

  3. Robert Smith says:

    Nathan Steinmeyer,
    Your title correctly includes a question mark!
    Putting aside the contentious issue of the “text,” Amihai Mazar has properly drawn attention to the general structural similarity between fishing weights and the alleged “Mt. Ebal Curse Text.” The examples shown from a museum in Crete are significantly larger and display evidence of being wrapped around a line at the fold. The edges on the three sides did not need to be crimped. The Mt. Ebal artifact would not allow for the passage of a modern, light, 5-pound nylon monofilament at the fold and the edges bear evidence of careful closure. The Mt Ebal artifact was found in debris from an altar on a hilltop far from the sea. Would you suggest that a greedy hook and weight gobbling fish was sacrificed? Were there fish bones in the osteological finds?

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