Most Christians are familiar with the Mount of Olives, Mount Moriah or even the name Mount of Transfiguration. However, less believers know the name or history of the twin mountain peaks of Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim in the central mountains of Israel (known as Samaria). We have read the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and sometimes don’t connect the rich history of this area to the earlier portions of biblical history. We know about Jesus’s discussion with the woman at the well, but do we remember where this took place (John 4:1-42)?
An ancient city was situated in the valley between Mt. Ebal to the north and Mt. Gerizim to the south. This city was called Shechem (modern day Nablus). It first appears as a city of the pagan Canaanites which Abram visited after God called him to leave his homeland (Genesis 12:6). Not only did Abram built an altar to God at Shechem, but so did Jacob (Gen 33:20). This also is the place where Jacob dug a well which was visited later by Jesus and included His discussion with the Samaritan woman. The location of this city along with the two mountains rising up around is ground zero for many of God’s interactions with the patriarchs of Israel and their return to the land under Joshua.
As the people of Israel were preparing to cross the Jordan river and enter the Promised Land, God instructed them to perform a ceremony on the two mountains to declare their loyalty to Yahweh. Deuteronomy 11:29 reads, “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.” We see more instructions on this by Moses later in the book (Deut 27:11-13) and fulfilled by Joshua after the conquest was completed in which he also built an altar (Josh 8:30-35).
Professor Adam Zertal did investigations at Mt. Ebal in the 1980s and was convinced that he discovered the remains of Joshua’s altar. These excavations led to the discovery of a rectangular altar which was dated to the 13th century BC (late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age). However, underneath this rectangular altar was a round altar thought to be from the earlier period of Joshua (ca. 1400 BC).
As they were unearthing the area back in the 80s, they took the fill dirt and piled it in mounds which they hoped come back at a subsequent time to do more analysis. Recent political considerations initiated the archaeological team to relocate the dirt mounds to a separate place for investigation. This later analysis began in December 2019 under the direction of Dr. Scott Stripling until December 2020. They call it the Mt. Ebal Dump Salvage project and is a well-known archaeological procedure in which they go back and pour the dirt through screens (dry-sifting) in order to capture any heretofore undiscovered artifacts. If you want to be even more thorough you will do this with water. They call this wet-sifting and it often produces great results. It is time consuming and messy, but is definitely worth it if you have the time and volunteers. As they were wet-sifting the rubble, they found an lead tablet.
The following material is taken from a report in the Jerusalem Post entitled, “40-year-old odyssey uncovers original ‘Home of God’ at Mount Ebal” and was posted on January 26, 2022.
“This tiny amulet was made of lead, only 2×2 centimeters (approximately one-inch square). Nothing was visible on the surface to the naked eye, but the amulet was sealed like an oyster shell, suggesting that it contained something inside. The leading expert at the Antiquities Authority tried to open it but gave up after it began to crumble at the edges.
Stripling was eager to explore more possibilities for unlocking the amulet’s secrets. He indicated that some lead amulets from later periods were known as “curse amulets,” and this lead amulet was found on the biblical “mountain of the curse” – Mount Ebal. Food for thought… And since this amulet is made of lead, most current methods for seeing inside it would not be effective.
Stripling had to go back to Texas, and entrusted me with the task of researching where this work could get done. Thus began a year-long saga of researching something that might not even exist, and doing so in a world where people were frequently not available for months on end because of corona. But I finally found a lab in Prague, headed by Dr. Daniel Vavrik of the Czech National Academy of Sciences, who had developed a technology for seeing inside unopened objects including those made of lead.
After many exchanges between Prague and Texas and Jerusalem, I ended up in Vavrik’s lab in Prague with the amulet. And he finally sent us his results at the end of December. They consist of a sophisticated 3-D model enabling the best possible viewing of the inside and the outside of the amulet. We could discern many indentations that would be expected in a soft metal buried underground for thousands of years. But it is extremely challenging to distinguish between signs of damage and deliberate man-made markings. One of the indentations looks like a bull’s head, which is an “aleph,” the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Another marking looks similar to a lotus flower – an important image in ancient Egypt.
Unfortunately, neither the “bull’s head” nor the “flower” was adequate to make a definitive identification of deliberate markings. But research into the amulet is not over. The process of inspecting the 3-D model is ongoing. Furthermore, we have located another technology that may bear more definitive results.
An extremely exciting sub-project of the final report is a careful examination of the plaster slabs discovered inside the altar. Plaster, during this time period, was used only in cultic sites. It would be fascinating to examine the slabs with technologies that were not yet available to us at the time of the excavations, such as sophisticated infra-red devices, which might reveal the writing. That is particularly interesting because writing on plaster in Mt. Ebal is mentioned in Deuteronomy 27.” (end of Jpost article)
After I interviewed Aaron Lipkin in late February, he was able to reveal that there has been a second letter discovered through the advanced technological analysis. The potential for what this writing means will be groundbreaking once it comes out publicly. Exciting times to enjoy archaeological discovery! Stay tuned!