“And when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, concerning which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster. And there you shall build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. You shall wield no iron tool on them; you shall build an altar to the Lord your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God, and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and shall eat there, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God. And you shall write on the stones all the words of this law very plainly.” Deuteronomy 27:4-8 (ESV)
As an Israeli Jew growing up in Jerusalem, I always cherished the stories in the Bible.
It was clear to me that the Scriptures described real historical events. Not just events that constituted my Jewish identity, heritage and history, but also that of hundreds of millions of Christians around the world.
Since the 1960’s, many historians and Bible scholars (the “Minimalists”) suggested that the Bible is not a history book and that the events described in the Old Testament, never really happened or are at best, inaccurate. They claimed the Exodus and the Conquest never occurred, Moses and Joshua never really existed. Why did they come to that conclusion? Because of “lack of archaeological proof”, they claim.
In 1982, a young secular Israeli archaeologist by the name of Adam Zertal started excavating an ancient archaeological site on Mt. Ebal, near the Biblical city of Shechem in the region of Samaria, Israel. He dated the structure to the Early Iron Age (1250 BC).
Like the Minimalist scholars, Zertal did not believe that the book of Deuteronomy and the book of Joshua describe real historical events, but he was intrigued by this mysterious heap of stones and the surrounding enclosure wall.
Little by little, a structure of uncut stones emerged with no door, a central ramp going up to it, along with secondary ramps – on two sides, and around the whole structure are circular installations with evidence of offerings being made there.
But most importantly, the structure was completely filled with layers of charcoaled bones, ashes, pieces of plaster and special vessels buried in the bottom layer. The bones were analyzed at the Hebrew university and the results came in: All the bones belonged to a very specific list of sacrificial animals that happen to appear in ….the Bible! They are male and young….just like the Bible commands.
Zertal tried to find the origin of this mysterious structure and was not able to find any architectural parallels in the Canaanite and surrounding cultures. One day an Orthodox Jew showed him a sketch of the Second Temple Altar…the similarity was striking.
Zertal understood that he’d found an Israelite altar on Mt. Ebal. In his book “A Nation Born” he describes how he looked at the Orthodox Jew and said, “This has to be the altar that Joshua built according to the commandment of Moses. There is no other possibility. If this is Joshua’s Altar, then Joshua existed, and Moses existed and the Exodus really happened…” From that point on, Zertal believed in the historicity of the Biblical account.
“..Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, “an altar of uncut stones..” Joshua 8:30-31a (ESV)
In 2019, I was involved in a special expedition of archaeologists that came to Israel to reanalyze the archaeological dump from Zertal’s 1980’s excavations.
We extracted the material and by using a wet sifting technique, we were able to locate findings that Zertal missed. The most important artifact we found was a small folded lead tablet. It was sent to a university in Prague for further analysis. The results were outstanding!
Archaeologist Dr. Scott Stripling announced that the tablet contained what is probably the most ancient Hebrew inscription ever found in the Land of Israel.
The inscription was a curse, written in Hebrew, with the name of the Lord engraved in it:
You are Cursed by the God YHW, Cursed.
You will die Cursed – Cursed you will surely die.
Cursed you are by YHW – Cursed.
This is probably the most important inscription ever found in the land of Israel. Is this inscription connected to the story of the ceremony of Blessings and Curses in the Bible?
Moses commanded the Israelites to conduct a national ceremony and proclaim the Curses on Mt. Ebal and the Blessings on Mt. Gerizim.
“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, you shall set the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal.” Deuteronomy 11:29 (ESV)
Is it possible we found a curse inscription on the mountain of Curses, related to the ceremony mentioned in the Bible?
For the past ten years, I’ve spoken in numerous churches, Synagogues and Christrian TV/Radio ministries about how THERE IS archaeological proof for the historicity of the Scriptures. We need to inform and educate a new generation of believers that have faith, to have this knowledge. Today, thousands of Jews and Christians visit Joshua’s Altar along with the mysterious Israelite Foot Structures that Professor Zertal discovered and identified as the Biblical Gilgals.
Make sure your next visit to Israel includes these important Biblical sites. Touch the Land of the Heroes of the Bible and connect to the Divine Presence of God.
Aaron Lipkin is a Lecturer on Biblical Archaeology, Film Maker, Drone Photographer, and Travel Agent.
Photo credit: Araron Lipkin/Lipkin Tours – Israel The Right Way.