The Priestly Blessing
Photo: Tamar Hayardeni
The Annoying Kid and the Hammer
Due to a small and insignificant budget, Barkai had 12 and 13-year-old volunteers helping out, as part of a field project. Barkai recalls: "Among the thirteen-year-old diggers, there was one annoying kid named Nathan, who was always tugging at my shirt." He sent him off to clean one of the tombs from the rubble. "I thought this was an ideal place to put him – he would be out of my sight. I told Nathan the repository had to be as clean as his mother’s kitchen. It had to be clean for photography".
By chance, Nathan also happened to have a hammer with him. Perhaps a bit of an oversight that occurs when one has such a small budget and not enough help to manage a bunch of overexcited "dig-for-a-day" scouts. After cleaning, he got bored and started randomly banging on the floor of one of the nooks in the repository. To his surprise, the stone floor broke and Nathan returned to Barkai with an almost completely intact piece of pottery that he found in the newly fashioned hole beneath the tomb floor. Upon further examination, Barkai discovered a whole room full of treasure! This excavation now warranted a professional team who worked under strict confidentiality.
The chamber contained 60 centimeters (two feet) of accumulation filled with over a thousand artifacts and skeletal remains. They included 125 items made of silver, 40 iron arrowheads, gold, ivory, glass, ceramics, oil lamps, bone, and 150 semi-precious stones.
Judy Hadley from Toledo Ohio, a member of the team who went on to became a professor in Bible Studies at Villanova University in Philadelphia, showed Barkai a purplish-colored object that resembled a cigarette butt. After further analysis, they realized it was a tiny rolled-up silver scroll.
Normally, the archaeological rubble in an excavation is sifted and examined onsite. Following this discovery, all the dirt was removed from the tombs and transferred offsite for further examination in a laboratory. The delicate sifting process revealed yet another tiny treasure: a second, smaller silver scroll, 4 cm in length.
The scrolls were sent to some of the most experienced restorers of ancient artifacts as well as metal experts at the University of Leeds in Britain. However, the experts felt that that the brittle nature of the scrolls made the chance of damaging the scrolls too great and refused to examine them.
The scrolls were then sent to Germany but were similarly refused, finally making their way home - untouched. The contents of the scrolls remained a secret. In an act befitting the Israeli spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship technicians at the Israel Museum decided to attempt the procedure themselves. After numerous failures and much difficulty, they finally succeeded in creating a special process allowing the scrolls to be unrolled without being destroyed. It took three intensive and challenging years for the scrolls to slowly reveal their contents - ancient script. And most rare of all, the tetragrammaton Name of God was also engraved on the scrolls.
Once unrolled, the scroll measured 10cm long and 2.5cm wide, and was made of pure silver. Ancient Hebrew characters were etched into the silver.
It is highly probable that these scrolls were worn as amulets. Both scrolls have the Priestly Blessing from Numbers 6:24-26 engraved on the silver in proto-Hebrew script.
The Lord will bless you and protect you.
The Lord will make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord will turn His face towards you and give you peace.
The pottery and the script are dated to the 7th century BCE (while the First Temple was still standing), to the time of the prophet Jeremiah. The tomb has evidently been in use for several generations from about 650 BCE, towards the end of the First Temple period, and it continued to be used after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587/6 BCE.
The scrolls are the oldest known examples of Biblical text on an archaeological artifact and precede the Dead Sea Scrolls by approximately 400 years.
A few years later, a major reexamination of the scrolls was undertaken by the University of Southern California's West Semitic Research Project, using advanced photographic and computer enhancement techniques which enabled the script to be read more easily and the paleography to be dated with better accuracy. The results confirmed a date immediately prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586/7 BCE.
The Priestly Blessing amulet is one of the most exciting finds in modern day archaeology. Not only does it validate the Bible, but it gives us an intricate look into the life and times of Ancient Jerusalem.
The two amulets are on display in the Archaeology Wing of the Israel Museum.
A 2,800-year-old scroll revealed startling content that silenced Biblical critics.
What do you get when you combine an archaeologist, a burial site, a tiny budget (as usual), an over-excited and annoying kid, and a hammer?
One of the oldest and smallest silver scrolls in archaeological history, containing 2,800-year-old proof validating biblical scripture.
In 1979, Professor Gabriel Barkai decided to explore the extramural activity of Ancient Jerusalem. As the city was small, many activities, like farming, took place outside the city walls. Following extensive research, Barkai located the place with the highest probability in the Hinnom valley outside the Old City. Today, this area is located behind the Menachem Begin Center and near St. Andrew’s Scottish Church.
He named the area Ketef Hinnom (which means "shoulder of Hinnom"). There he uncovered the remains of a Byzantine church with a mosaic floor and some tombs hewn into the rock whose roofs had collapsed. The site appeared to be archaeologically sterile and it was clear that the tombs had been looted. Its last use was for storing rifles during the Ottoman period.