U.S. and Israeli researchers claim to have discovered proof that the Five Books of Moses were in existence during the First Temple period.
The findings are based on new laboratory techniques used to date two small silver amulets, inscribed in ancient Hebrew and discovered in a burial cave in Jerusalem in 1979. Published last week in a scientific journal in the United States, the results were reported extensively in The New York Times yesterday.
The amulets contain the text of the Priestly Benediction, which appear in Chapter 6 of Numbers, and are still recited today in synagogue prayer by descendants of the Jewish priestly clan.
The dating of the amulets, which were fully not deciphered until recently, has been the subject of scholarly debate. Tests carried out in NASA laboratories have now allowed the artifacts to be dated to the end of the First Temple period, circa 600 BCE.
Archaeologist Gabi Barkai of Bar Ilan University, who discovered the amulets during a salvage excavation on the slopes overlooking the Hinnom Valley in Jerusalem, said last night that additional fragments of texts on the amulets have been deciphered and one identified as a verse from the book of Deuteronomy.
Treasure found inside one of the burial caves, which held the remains of 90 members of one of Jerusalem’s wealthy clans, included thousands of valuable objects, such as arrowheads, jewelry, stoneware, marble, ivory, and various metals.
The two central findings were a seal with the name “paltah” in ancient Hebrew script, and two amulets made of fine sheets of pure rolled silver.
After the amulets were unrolled at the Israel Museum, and following their initial publication, it was unclear whether the artifacts should be dated to the First or Second Temple period. “The dating of the scrolls has critical importance for theology and for biblical studies,” says Prof. Menachem Haran of the Hebrew University.
According to Orthodox Jewish belief, the Five Books of Moses were delivered to Moses at Mount Sinai, but biblical scholarship attributes the Pentateuch to four distinct sources that were compiled together.
The most important source, “the Priestly Code,” comprising more than 50 percent of the Pentateuch, includes the verses inscribed in the amulet. Since the end of the 19th century, mainstream biblical scholarship has dated the Priestly Code to the Second Temple period, while a minority of scholars, including Prof. Haran, claim that it had already been compiled by scribes during the First Temple period.
“Judaism became an established national religion only after the destruction of the First Temple,” says Haran, “whether we are dealing with a product of Second Temple Judaism or of Ancient Israelite religion, is a fundamental question.” Haran adds that the recent laboratory results are important scientific confirmation of his opinion, “confirmation that we have all been waiting for.”