Mt. Ebal Inscription - Connecting The Dots

Mt. Ebal Inscription - Connecting The Dots


Between 1982 and 1989, Professor Adam Zertal from the Haifa University conducted an archaeological excavation on the northeastern slopes of Mount Ebal. The excavation revealed two altars dated to the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age. A large rectangular altar covered and venerated a smaller round altar. Professor Zertal identified this site with the temenos described in the Bible as being commanded by Moses (Deuteronomy 27) and then built by Joshua Ben Nun (Joshua 8). 

During the months of October and November of 2019, I organized a special operation in coordination with the Israeli Defense Forces and Samaria Governor, Mr. Yossi Dagan, to extract some of the archaeological dump from Zertal’s 1980’s excavation, so that this material could be re-analyzed by Dr. Scott Stripling from the Associates for Biblical Research (ABR). 

In December of 2019, during a wet sifting operation of the dump piles, Dr. Stripling’s team discovered a folded lead tablet with indentations on its exterior side.

Specialists from the ABR team analyzed the tablet in a laboratory to determine if it could be opened. Unfortunately, the lead was too brittle, and a tiny corner broke off the tablet. Professor Naama Yahalom-Mack from Hebrew University tested this fragment and determined that the folded lead derived from a mine in Lavrion, Greece. This mine was known to be in use in the Late Bronze Age. The tablet was then sent to the Academy of Sciences in Prague where a series of tomographic scans were performed in its exterior and interior. At this point, Stripling invited the Prague scientists and two experienced epigraphers to join a collaborative team to study the artifact.

After analysis of the scans revealed an inscription in a very ancient Hebrew Script, Stripling and the epigraphers, Peter Gert van der Veen and Gershon Galil, held a press conference on March 25th, 2022, announcing the discovery.

In May 2023, the team published an academic, peer-reviewed article about the text inside the folded tablet. The text includes 48 letters with the following curse inscription:

You are Cursed by the God YHW, Cursed.

You will die Cursed - Cursed you will surely die.

Cursed you are by YHW - Cursed.




Writing appears on the tablet’s inside and outside. The article primarily deals with the 48-letter interior text in a proto-alphabetic script which was the predecessor of Paleo-Hebrew. The outside contains similar writing. Scholars often refer to this script as proto-Canaanite or proto-Sinaitic. The presence of the divine name of Israel’s God on this inscription (twice) leaves no doubt that it is Hebrew and that the Hebrew predates any previous Hebrew inscription.


In addition to the Lead Tablet, Stripling recovered several metal objects that could have served as styluses for the inscription itself.

This discovery is probably the most important one ever made in the land of Israel, for the following explosive reasons:  

  1. An Israelite text from the Late Bronze Age  
  2. The presence of the name of the Hebrew God  
  3. The location of the find from a structure on Mt. Ebal which many archaeologists associate with Joshua’s Altar

The repercussions of this finding are nothing less than an archaeological marvel, with the potential to change much of the academic world’s knowledge of the ancient history, culture and religion of the Israelites. There will likely be a push back from portions of the academic world, and heated discussions will take place between Minimalist and Maximalist archaeologists.

Assuming the inscription analysis is correct, the question I want to discuss in this article is whether the Mt. Ebal curse tablet is connected to the ceremony of blessings and curses that is commanded in Deuteronomy 27 and implemented by Joshua Ben Nun and the entire Israelite nation in Joshua chapter 8. If I am correct and the tablet connects to the ceremony, the repercussions of finding such an object will be even more outstanding.

Before we analyze the commonalities between the tablet and that ceremony, we first need to present the Biblical verses associated with the ceremony and the altar.

The Biblical Account

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses prepares the Israelites for the long-awaited conquest and inheritance of Cannan. Moses puts special emphasis on the adherence to the covenant of Sinai with the laws and decrees that were handed down to him by God.


A recurring message is the principle of sin and punishment, righteousness, and its reward. Here is one example of many, from Deuteronomy 11:13-17 (NIV):

“So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul— then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.

Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut up the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you.” 

Moses goes further, with a physical demonstration of the “reward and punishment covenant”, by commanding the Israelites to perform a symbolic ceremony that will involve the proclamation of the blessing on Mt. Gerizim and the curse on Mt. Ebal. This is the first mention of the ceremony in the Bible:

"See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known. 

When the Lord your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses.”  (Deuteronomy 11:26-29, NIV)

The nature of the “Proclamation” is not specified here but we can understand that the mountains will be used as geographical symbols representing the blessing and the curse.

As we continue reading the book of Deuteronomy, we reach a much more detailed description of the ceremony the Israelites will need to perform. I will divide the ceremony into several substages:

Stage 1 - Sanctification of the Stones

“Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people: “Keep all these commands that I give you today. When you have crossed the Jordan into the land the Lord your God is giving you, set up some large stones and coat them with plaster. Write on them all the words of this law when you have crossed over to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 27:1-3, NIV)

Stage 2 - Erecting a memorial on Mt. Ebal

“… And when you have crossed the Jordan, set up these stones on Mount Ebal, as I command you today, and coat them with plaster.” (Deuteronomy 27:4, NIV)

Stage 3 - Building an Altar

“Build there an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. Do not use any iron tool on them. Build the altar of the Lord your God with fieldstones and offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God. Sacrifice fellowship offerings there, eating them and rejoicing in the presence of the Lord your God. And you shall write very clearly all the words of this law on these stones you have set up.” (Deuteronomy 27:5-8, NIV)

Stage 4 - Twelve Blessing & Curses Ceremony

“When you have crossed the Jordan, these tribes shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin. And these tribes shall stand on Mount Ebal to pronounce curses: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali. 

The Levites shall recite to all the people of Israel in a loud voice:

“Cursed is anyone who makes an idol—a thing detestable to the Lord, the work of skilled hands—and sets it up in secret.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

“Cursed is anyone who dishonors their father or mother.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

“Cursed is anyone who moves their neighbor’s boundary stone.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

“Cursed is anyone who leads the blind astray on the road.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his father’s wife, for he dishonors his father’s bed.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

“Cursed is anyone who has sexual relations with any animal.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

“Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his sister, the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

“Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his mother-in-law.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

“Cursed is anyone who kills their neighbor secretly.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

“Cursed is anyone who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

“Cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!” (Deuteronomy 27:12-26, NIV)

After conquering Jericho and Ai, Joshua fulfills the above commandment:

“Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the Israelites. He built it according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses—an altar of uncut stones, on which no iron tool had been used. On it they offered to the Lord burnt offerings and sacrificed fellowship offerings. There, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua wrote on stones a copy of the law of Moses. All the Israelites, with their elders, officials and judges, were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the Lord, facing the Levitical priests who carried it. Both the foreigners living among them and the native-born were there. Half of the people stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had formerly commanded when he gave instructions to bless the people of Israel.

Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law—the blessings and the curses—just as it is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the foreigners who lived among them.” (Joshua 8:30-34, NIV)

Summary of the Biblical Verses

The Israelites were commanded to perform a national ceremony that constituted erecting a memorial, building an altar, and performing a covenant ceremony. 

  • Writing the words of the law on the stones (plaster) was an integral component of the performance of the ceremony.
  • The building of the altar and the ceremony itself are somehow connected, but it is unclear if they were done at the same time and place, or if they are two separate events, possibly at different places.
  • The ceremony of blessings and curses is a covenantal event rather than a cultic one, as no sacrifices are made. 
  • The whole nation is committing to each curse by saying “Amen” in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant.
  • All twelve tribes were present at the ceremony. It is not clear exactly how the tribes were positioned. But we can say that six are associated with one mountain and six with the other. The word יעמדו (Ya’Amdu) means “they will stand” so it is possible that six tribes stood on one mountain and six on the other. Joshua 8:33 strengthens that assumption and adds another factor: the use of the Hebrew terms מזה ומזה “on this side and on this side”, and חציו אל מול הר גריזים והחציו אל מול הר עיבל “half of them were over in front of Mt.Gerizim, and half of them over in front of Mt.Ebal”, which points to the tribes standing at two separate locations and seeing each other.
  • There are twelve curses. Each curse starts with the word ARWR or “cursed” in the singular masculine form. 
  • Joshua 8 details the different subgroups attending the ceremony: elders, officials and judges, Levitical priests, foreigners and native-born - a total of six subgroups.


Connecting the Scriptures to the Tablet

When addressing the possibility of the tablet being part of the ceremony mentioned in the Bible, there are several criteria that need to be met:

  1. The location is Mt. Ebal
  2. An altar cultic site 
  3. A connection to Israelite culture and theology.
  4. A date from the time of Joshua (c. 1400-1250 BC)
  5. The inscription is corporate, not a private one
  6. There are clear parallels between the inscription’s text and the descriptions in the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua

The Location - Mt. Ebal

The identification of Mt. Ebal among Bible scholars is clear and is backed by 2,500 years of constant Samaritan tradition. According to the Bible, Mt. Ebal is the central location for the altar but also the mountain associated with the curse.


An Identified Cultic Site

As mentioned, during the 1980s, Professor Adam Zertal uncovered a Late Bronze Age I/Iron Age I site on the eastern slopes of Mt. Ebal, the mountain of curse, according to the Scriptures. This was not an archaeological Tel with layers from different periods in history but a one-layer site, with two strata. According to the reports of the excavations, the site was in use by the same civilization (no destruction layer) for approximately 100 years, after which it was abandoned and never used again. The site was clearly a cultic site because of its special characteristics: installations, bamah, temenos, unique cultic artifacts, jars, and lack of oil lamps. 

At the highest point of the enclosure stood a big structure that Zertal identified as an Israelite altar, possibly the altar of Joshua mentioned in the Scriptures. The bamah or altar was excavated. The structure contained several layers of bones, ashes and dirt. At the exact geometric center of the structure, on the bedrock, a round installation was discovered containing several cultic objects, including a Pumice Chalice. Zertal identified this installation as the “Founding Altar.” This installation belongs to the earliest stage of the structure.

During Zertal’s excavations, the contents of the altar were removed, dry sifted and thrown onto a dump pile, east of the structure. The lead tablet was found in material extracted from the eastern dump and should therefore be treated as part of the cultic artifacts found inside the altar.

If I am correct with my assessment, and the tablet did originate from the material found in the innermost part of the  altar, this further strengthens the understanding that the tablet was created during the earliest stage of the site’s establishment (LBII), and that it is not a curse amulet that was created in order to curse a certain individual, but an important document worth archiving in the innermost part of the altar itself, accessible only to the priesthood.

An important question now arises - surely the founding of a cultic site should not incorporate curses on the worshippers at the site, but rather blessings. Why would the ancients enact a “curse” at such an important cultic site unless this was part of the site’s identity?

Israelite Culture and Theology

According to the research of the Manasseh Hill Country Survey, the site was in use during the height of the Israelite settlement period of the central mountain ridge of Samaria. The architecture of the altar is like that of other Israelite altars described in the Scriptures, and altars built in the temple in Jerusalem according to Second Temple sources.

The bones discovered inside the altar coincide with the list of animals permitted to be sacrificed to the Hebrew God. The sacrificed animals were mostly young and male which also strengthens the connection to the Israelite sacrificial tradition of the Bible. The lack of unclean  animals (e.g. pig) is a clear indication of the site being Israelite. Some of the bones were white and some were scorched which shows that both Whole Offering sacrifices and Sin / Thanksgiving sacrifices were brought to the site.

The text on the tablet is in the earliest form of the Hebrew language, and it mentions a shortened form of the name of the Hebrew God YHW. This is the earliest mention of the name of the Hebrew God in the land of Israel and is unique to the Israelite culture. The Canaanites did not worship YHW.

This should end the dispute amongst scholars as to the identity of the civilization that built, sustained, and eventually decommissioned the site.

The Tablet’s Date

There is a potential problem - the tablet was not found in a normal excavation in a documented layer (insitu) but in an archaeological dump with no clear layers. However, thanks to the site being a one-layer site (with two strata), we only have two choices: Late Bronze II and Iron Age I. 

The shape of the letters used in the tablet dates the text to the initial period of the formation of the Hebrew alphabet and is similar in its form to the text found at Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai (dated to the beginning of the 16th century BC)

The analysis of the lead used to create the tablet indicates it was sourced from a mine in Greece which operated during the Late Bronze Age. 

Also, the dump pile itself is a mirror image of the original layers of debris found within the altar. This means that the material which was scraped from the outer side of the dump pile, came from the innermost part of the altar, possibly from the founding altar.

It would therefore be safe to assume that the tablet existed during the time of the Biblical Blessing and Curse ceremony, irrespective of when the Exodus occurred.

A Public Initiative

Finding a lead tablet inscribed with an ancient Hebrew curse, on the mountain of Curses, at a remote and uninhabited site, is an unlikely coincidence. One can argue that because the mountain was associated with curses, it became a place where individuals would deposit curse tablets directed at certain individuals they disliked. This is an interesting possibility which is negated by the proto-alphabetic script.

I would like to present a few points for consideration that strengthen the conclusion that this is indeed a national or tribal artifact, notably the expense of making this tablet. Lead is a raw material that is not found in Israel and therefore must be imported. The import cost from Greece was probably high, so it would be safe to assume that the metal was precious at that time in the southern Levant. 

Lead is a non-corrosive stainless-steel metal and therefore has a long life expectancy. As Dr. Scott Stripling observes, in the book of Job (19:24), inscribing on lead eternalizes the text as it stays forever. Also, lead is a metal associated with a curse in Zechariah 5:7-8.

The interior of the Mt. Ebal lead tablet contains 46 letters, and there are additional letters engraved on the exterior. It would have taken a well versed and experienced scribe to complete this task. This would also add cost to the tablet’s production. The scribe who wrote the text was able to engrave dozens of letters on both sides of the tablet. This is remarkable and calls for expertise. The text is written in a poetic form called Chiastic Parallelism. This object was no doubt very valuable and demanded funds to acquire the material and pay the scribe to make the self-imprecatory curse inscription. An individual would have struggled to afford such a tablet.

Assuming the early Israelite population was semi-nomadic and not affluent like some contemporary cultures, we can assume that the tablet was a result of tribal or national effort and not an amulet that an individual purchased in the Shechem market.

The Inscription and the Scriptures

Several parallels exist between the tablet and Scriptures:

Cursed - ARWR - ארור

At first, when the text on the tablet was published, and it was clear that the scribe wrote the text in the singular masculine, it opened the possibility of it being a curse amulet (defixio) that was part of a personal initiative to curse another person. The text is written in the singular form as if one person is cursing another. In English, the subject “you” can refer to singular or plural whereas in Hebrew, the subject “Ata - אתה” means “you” in the singular form but could also refer to a singular nation.

Each curse in Deuteronomy 27 starts with “Arur” in the singular masculine and not in the plural form (Arurim). In the Bible, after every Arur, comes a verb describing a sin. All the verbs are in the masculine singular third person form: יעשה, מקלה, משיג, משגה, etc. It is clear from the Biblical text that the curse falls on each individual Israelite that sins. It is therefore plausible that the text on the tablet is a self-imprecatory curse on each individual Israelite just like in Deuteronomy 27.

There is no mention of the name of an individual to which this curse is addressed, contrary to a common curse amulet that usually contained the name of the person being cursed. This strengthens the possibility that the lead tablet curse is not intended to a certain person but rather as a national curse.

The Number Six

On the Lead Tablet, the word “Arur - ארור” (cursed) appears six times on the tablet’s interior, and possibly another six times on its exterior - a total of twelve appearances.

In Deuteronomy 27, six of the tribes are associated with the mountain of blessings and are physically standing on Mt. Gerizim facing Mt. Ebal: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. And the other six are associated with the mountain of curse and standing on Mt. Ebal: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali

It is possible that the folded tablet is a symbolic representation of the two mountains and the valley of Shechem that was the site of the ceremony.

In addition, there are six Israelite subgroups that are detailed in Joshua 8.

The Number Twelve

As I previously mentioned, Deuteronomy lists twelve curses to which the Israelites responded with “Amen”. 

In the Lead Tablet, the word “Arur - Cursed” also may appear twelve times in total (six on the interior and potentially six on the exterior according to the analysis of professoer Gershon Galil). 

This is possibly the most important parallel. Why would the ancient scribe repeat the word ARWR exactly twelve times? I believe he intended to represent each of the curses mentioned in Deuteronomy 27.

If I am correct, the inscription is type of legal document summarizing the covenantal curses to which the Israelites committed.


While we will never know for sure if the inscription on the Mt. Ebal lead tablet connects to the ceremony of the Blessings and Curses described in the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua, there is enough evidence from the above arguments to claim that it is not just possible, but probable that the tablet and the ceremony are connected.

If I am right, this discovery is just as monumental as if we had found the tablets with the Ten Commandments on them, that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai - a document that connects us to the most important Israelite National Event that ever took place in the Land of Israel.

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