“May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you.”
As CBS News Correspondent David Hawkins reports, it’s one of the most familiar prayers from the Bible common to both Christians and Jews. It’s known as the “Priestly Benediction” from the Book of Numbers.
“When we came back from synagogue on Friday night, these were the words which my late father used to bless me. I was five years old,” says Israeli archaeologist Gabriel Barkay.
In 1979, Barkay found two small silver scrolls in an ancient Israelite tomb on a Jerusalem hillside. On them were written the words of the prayer.
“We have here the name of the Almighty as it appears in the Bible as it appeared to the Israelites,” Barkay said.
Barkay dated the scrolls to the 7th century B.C., which would make them the oldest existing evidence of biblical verse. They were corroded and cracked; the writing was difficult to read, raising doubts about the age of the scrolls.
Now, a team of scientists and scholars from the United States has proven Barkay’s theory was correct: that the scrolls are about 2,600 years old. That’s 400 years older than the Dead Sea Scrolls. It took modern technology to prove their antiquity.
“We had one foot planted in the ancient past and one foot planted in the future,” says Bruce Zuckerman with the University of Southern California.
Sophisticated computer photo-imaging revealed more of the text, allowing experts to confirm the early dating. The scrolls are believed to have been worn as amulets, containing the blessing to protect their wearers from evil.
It took centuries for the scrolls to be found and more than two decades to be sure of their age. But over time, the blessing so thinly etched on the surface of the silver — “The Lord lift up his countenance on you and give you peace” — became deeply embedded in Jewish and Christian tradition.