Archaeologists have discovered thousands of curse tablets dating back as far as 2,700 years. A researcher now believes this tradition of curses served as the model for the Christian Book of Revelation.
A research project headed by Dr. Michael Hölscher of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) is investigating curse tablets and the role they play in the Book of Revelation, the final book of the New Testament. The project, titled “Disenchanted Rituals. Traces of the Curse Tablets and Their Function in the Revelation of John” is being sponsored by the German Research Foundation (DFG) over the period 2022 to 2025.
“There are aspects of curse tablet-related inscriptions and practices in Revelation,” Dr. Hölscher wrote. “This may well have been an indirect expression of the need for segregation and the attempt at self-preservation of an often threatened early Christian community.”
Approximately 1,700 ancient curse tablets dating from roughly 500 BCE to 500 CE have been cataloged by researchers. The curses targeted opposing litigants in court cases, sporting adversaries, or rivals in love affairs. They were often deposited in specific places, such as graves or in the vicinity of sacred locations. Curse tablets were considered black magic and proscribed under Roman law.
Most recently, a folded lead amulet was discovered by the Associates for Biblical Research (ABR) and Dr. Scott Stripling on Mt. Ebal. Using advanced technology, they deciphered the 40 letters on the tablet:
“Cursed, cursed, cursed – cursed by the God YHW. You will die cursed. Cursed you will surely die. Cursed by YHW – cursed, cursed, cursed.”
In his analysis, Dr. Stripling explained that such amulets were “well known in the Hellenistic and Roman periods” and examples have been found at sites from Egypt to Britain.
“The curse ritual as a whole was not simply restricted to the wording of the spell as such, but would have also involved the act of writing it down, the piercing of the tablets, or their burial in deliberately selected places,” said Hölscher.
Hölscher suggested that there was a connection between the curse tablets and the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament written in the 1st century CE.
“In Revelation, we find wording and phrases that are very similar to those that appeared on curse tablets, although no actual verbatim quotations from the latter appear,” Hölscher wrote.
As an example, he cited Revelation 18:21:
“Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.”
According to Hölscher, this can be read as a kind of curse ritual that was based on the curse tablets.
“The Book of Revelation contributes to the process of self-discovery, the seeking of a distinctive identity by a Christian minority in a world dominated by a pagan Roman majority that rendered routine homage not only to the emperor but also to the main Roman gods”, explained Hölscher.
“It is possible that those who read or listened to the words of the Apocalypse of John could readily have seen whole passages, single phrases, or concepts in the light of curse spells,” said Hölscher.
In addition to directing the ABR excavations at ancient Shiloh, Dr. Stripling is a provost and professor of biblical archaeology and church history at The Bible Seminary in Katy (Houston), Texas. He responded to reports describing Dr. Hölscher’s research.
“I think it is a far stretch to connect Revelation, other than tangentially, with curse tablets,” Dr. Stripling told Israel365 News. “Other than the obvious image of hidden messages.”