Photo courtesy of Aaron Lipkin – Lipkin Tours, Ltd, Ofra, Israel. Aaron is a tireless promoter of Professor Zertal’s work. His site has many useful resources on a variety of subjects related to the historicity of the Bible.

The Background to the Discovery

On 26 January 2022, an article in the Jerusalem Post announced the discovery of an ancient Hebrew amulet at a site identified by Adam Zertal, the late professor of Archaeology at the University of Haifa.[1] Zvi Koenigsberg, an associate who assisted Zertal in his seasons of excavation from 1982 to 1989, described what led to the discovery of the amulet.[2] “After the excavation, we left many piles of dirt we dug, and given that the piles may contain valuable finds, a group of Professor Zertal’s friends moved them to a safe place where they could be inspected. After many years, the appropriate means of examining the dirt were developed … We found a lab in Prague that performs sophisticated photographs that allow for the construction of a three-dimensional model for objects of this size. So, I went there with the amulet and came back with the results.”[3] It would be two months before the results from Prague were announced.

On Thursday, 24 March 2022, Dr. Scott Stripling hosted a news conference from the Lanier Theological Library in Houston, Texas, to announce the discovery of a “formulaic curse recovered on a small, folded lead tablet.”[4] The media coverage soon followed with articles in major outlets around the world.

The lead tablet, known as a defixio, was discovered in 2019 by Dr. Stripling’s team in December 2019 when they wet sifted dirt previously excavated by Professor Adam Zertal at a site he identified as Joshua’s alter on the Biblical Mount Ebal. Tablets such as the one discovered by Stripling are not uncommon, though generally from Hellenistic and Roman times. The archaeological setting of Zertal’s finds has been dated to Iron Age I and Late Bronze Age, and since the amulet was discovered within the same materials, the defixio was associated with these same early times. 

A team consisting of scientists from the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic employed “advanced tomographic scans” to detect the inscription written on the inside of the folded lead tablet, and epigraphers Pieter Gert van der Veen of Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz and Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa provided their preliminary reading. 

Stripling and his team reported that the inscription consists of forty characters, written in what they are calling a “proto-alphabetic” script. The proposed translation of the inscription reads as follows:

Cursed, cursed, cursed – cursed by the God YHW

You will die cursed

Cursed you will surely die

Cursed by YHW – cursed, cursed, cursed

One can’t miss the apparent significance of such a find suggested by this preliminary report. If Professor Zertal was correct in identifying Joshua’s altar and the Biblical Mount Ebal, and if the team is correct in their proposed reading of the lead amulet, we have a remarkable find on our hands. However, many in the field are awaiting the appearance of Dr. Stripling’s peer-reviewed study, due out later this year, before weighing in, and this is understandable since, to date, very little has been made public. 

It didn’t take long for Professor Christopher Rollston to weigh in on the sensational claims of Stripling and his team. He posted some methodological caveats on his blog on 26 March 2022. Rollston informed readers of his blog that “sensational claims” such as those presented by Stripling’s team “require sensational evidence, that is, evidence that is absolutely overwhelming and entirely compelling.” Since in Rollston’s estimation, this standard has not yet been achieved, he suggested that “some methodological doubt is probably a useful thing.” The renowned epigrapher also predicted that “once scholars in the field of epigraphy are allowed to see the images of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic,” almost all the readings, and consequently the translations will be contested. [5]

While the scholarly world waits for the publication by Stripling’s team and the expected debate that is sure to follow, we can entertain a few preliminary thoughts and questions.

Locating Ebal

Readers of the Bible know Mount Ebal from only three texts.[6] The name of the mount is recorded five times in these three chapters of the Hebrew Bible. In chapter eleven of Deuteronomy, we learn that “on the other side of the Jordan, by the way where the sun goes down, in the land of the Caananites, who dwell in the Aravah over against Gilgal, beside the terebinths of Moreh,” there are two mounts – Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. Upon these two mounts, the children of Israel are to put the blessing and the curses of the covenant. No further explanation is provided except that the blessings will be on Gerizim and the curses on Ebal. The text is then interrupted by fifteen chapters of legal material. [7]

The narrative picks back up in chapter 27, where we read what the children of Israel were to do upon crossing the Jordan. On Mount Ebal, they were to set up plastered covered stones upon which they were to write the entirety of Moses’ Torah, and they were also to erect an altar. They were also to conduct a ceremony involving the pronouncement of blessings and curses from Mounts Gerizim and Ebal respectively. Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin were to stand on Gerizim to bless the people, but oddly, no blessings are recorded! Then we read that Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulon, Dan, and Naphtali were to stand on Ebal to curse, and there follows a list of curses (15-26).

Joshua chapter 8 reports that Joshua built an altar on Mount Ebal, “as Moses, the servant of YHVH, commanded the children of Israel in the book of the Torah of Moses.” A description of the altar is provided, and then we read that a copy of Moses’ Torah was written upon stones. Joshua presents the ark and the Levites who bore it as situated in the middle, with half of the Israelites on one side “over against mount Gerizim” and half on the other “over against mount Ebal.”

The search for these locations is documented in Zertal’s book. He says, “The end of the 19th Century was a golden age of research in the Holy Land. Between 1865 and 1900. Scholars devoted considerable efforts to reach the altar on Mount Ebal, which had acquired a somewhat legendary reputation.”[8] He also reports that “by the Roman and Byzantine periods, even the locations of the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim were contestable, and a dispute arose surrounding their identification,” but the “biblical story of the altar on Mount Ebal attracted the attention of a number of scholars during the 19th and 20th Centuries. They hungered to find the precise location of the altar and the site where ‘the entire nation’ was gathered.”[9]

Zertal’s research proposes that Ebal and Joshua’s altar have been found, but the identification of both locations is not without challenges. Locating Gerizim and Ebal and any stones or altar relies on the scant clues found in Deuteronomy 11, 27, and Joshua 8. In Deuteronomy 11:30, one of the clues is Gilgal. Idan Dershowitz says of Gilgal, “Indeed, it appears that the Hebrew Bible speaks of only a single gilgal, as Israel Finkelstein writes, ‘Yet, though the name sounds generic, I suggest that there was only one Gilgal, best depicted in Hosea (4:15; 9:15; 12:12) and Amos (4:4; 5:5), who mention it in relation to Bethel. It is described as a site near Jericho (Joshua 4:19; 5:10; 15:7), close to the Jordan (e.g., Josh 4:19; Jud 3:19; 2 Sam 19:16). The reference to what seems to be a different Gilgal (Deut 11:30) is confused’ (Israel Finkelstein, “Jereboam II’s Temples,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 132, no. 2 [2020]: 250-65, at 254).”[10]

Dershowitz writes, “Remarkably, the tradition that Gerizim and Ebal are located in the Arabah, and not near Nablus, is attested in antiquity. In the fourth century CE, Eusebius of Caesarea wrote the following:

It is said that there are two mountains located near Jericho across from each other in close proximity, one being Gerizim and the other Ebal. But the Samaritans show others that are near Neapolis. They are mistaken because those that are shown stand too far apart from each other, to the extent that it is not possible to hear from one (mountain) the calling from the other (Onomasticon § 307).” He clarifies that Neapolis is synonymous with Nablus and Shechem in the notes.[11]

Dershowitz provides more evidence for Gilgal being located in the Jordan Valley instead of near Nablus, biblical Shechem. He says, “It does not seem likely that the Gerizim – Ebal episode in Joshua 8 occurs anywhere near the Jordan Valley’s gilgal, or else we would have expected the episode to appear earlier in the story, considering that the Israelites had previously camped at that very location (Josh 4:19). As it happens, this is precisely what we find in an intriguing Qumran manuscript of Joshua. Although this manuscript, 4QJosha, is fragmentary, it is nevertheless clear that the fulfillment of the Gerizim/Ebal commandment occurs several chapters earlier in this version than it does in the MT and LXX traditions. As Stefan Schorch writes, ‘4QJosha’ most likely originally presented the altar account between the verses 5:1 and 5:2 (according to the numbering of MT) and therefore localized the erection of the altar at Gilgal in the Jordan Valley.’”[12]

Shapira’s MSS and the Gerizim – Ebal Narrative

Idan Dershowitz shows that the text of Shapira’s leather manuscript strips, what he calls V for Valediction of Moses, resolves several issues present in the Hebrew Bible. He says, “The fulfillment of the Gerizim – Ebal commandment in Joshua 8 matches the narrative as told in V better than the canonical version. Whereas in Deuteronomy, the Levites are to stand on Gerizim – considering that they are a tribe like any other – in Joshua 8 we find the ‘Levitical priests’ (הכהנים הלוים) in the valley between the hills, with ‘all of Israel’ standing opposite them, on either side … This is presented explicitly as a fulfillment of Moses’ commandment, and it is indeed precisely the scene dictated by Moses in V. It is not, however, in keeping with what we find in the canonical version of Deuteronomy, where the Levites are to stand upon Mount Gerizim, shoulder-to-shoulder with their brethren.”[13]

As to the location of Gerizim and Ebal, Dershowitz states, “In V, this pair of hills is nowhere near Nablus … The differences between the Valediction and Deuteronomic versions are extremely subtle, but they make a world of difference. According to V, Gerizim and Ebal are located ‘across the [Jord]an westward, in the land of the Canaanites, in the A[rabah, oppo]site the stone circle, beside the oaks of Moré.’ In other words, near the familiar gilgal in the Jordan Valley.”[14]


Shapira’s MSS present Ebal, not near Nablus/Shechem, but in the Jordan Valley as Eusebius, and perhaps in agreement with 4QJosha. Its Gerizim – Ebal narrative is not interrupted by fifteen chapters of legal material. It says nothing about erecting plaster-covered stones and writing a copy of the Torah of Moses on them, though a text like Shapira’s would make more sense. The Levites are presented as being positioned between the two mounts, as in Joshua but not as Deuteronomy has them – on Mount Gerizim. Shapira’s MSS is built around its version of the Ten Words. Shapira’s text contains a list of blessings, whereas Deuteronomy 27 lacks them. One of the most interesting features of the text of Shapira’s manuscript strips is that it not only provides both blessings and curses, but these correspond to its version of the Ten Words. And finally, the Gerizim – Ebal narrative in Shapira has no mention of an altar. It presents an altar-less alternative to the ceremony of the blessings and curses!

The Ten Words with Blessings and Curses According to the Shapira MSS

NumberTen WordsBlessingsCurses
II am • Elohim • your Elohim • who • liberated you • from the land of • Egypt, • from a house of • servitude. • There shall not be • to you • other • Elohim. • You shall not make • for yourselves • a carved thing, • or any • formed thing • that is • in the heavens • above, • or that is • on the earth • below. • or that is • in the waters •under • the earth • You shall not bow down • to them, • and you shall not serve them. • I am • Elohim • your Elohim. • “Blessed is the man who loves Elohim his Elohim and worships Him alone and serves Him alone.” And all of the people, they will respond and they will say, “Amen.” •“Cursed is the man who makes a carved thing or 
a molten thing, the work of a sculptor’s hand.” And all of the people, they will respond and they will say, “Amen.” •
IISanctify • [the seventh day]. • Six • days • I made • the heavens • and the earth • and all • that is • in them, • and I ceased • on the seventh • day. • Therefore, • you shall cease • also, • you, • and your animal, • and all • that • is yours. • I am • Elohim • your Elohim. • “Blessed is the man who sanctifies the seventh day and ceases thereon.” And all of the people, they will respond and they will say, “Amen.” •“Cursed is the man who does work on the seventh day to profane it.” And all of the people, they will respond and they will say, “Amen.” •
IIIHonor • your father • and your mother. • I am • Elohim • your Elohim. • “Blessed is the man who honors his father and his mother.” And all of the people, they will respond and they will say, “Amen.” •“Cursed is the man who esteems his father and his mother lightly.” And all of the people, they will respond and they will say, “Amen.” •
IVYou shall not kill • the soul of • your brother. • I am • Elohim • your Elohim. •“Blessed is the man who does not take vengeance and does not hold a grudge against his brother’s soul.” And they will respond, “Amen.” •“Cursed is the one who strikes his neighbor in secret.” And all of the people, they will respond and they will say, “Amen.” •
VYou shall not commit adultery • with the woman • of your neighbor. • I am • Elohim • your Elohim. •“Blessed is the man who does not defile his neighbor’s woman.” And all of the people, they will respond and they will say, “Amen.” •“Cursed is the man who draws near to any close relative, or who commits adultery with his neighbor’s woman, or who lies with any animal.” And all of the people, they will respond and they will say, “Amen.” • 
VIYou shall not steal • the property of • your brother. • I am • Elohim • your Elohim. •“Blessed is the man who does not wrong his neighbor.” And all of the people will respond and say, “Amen.” •“Cursed is the one who moves his neighbor’s land boundary.” And all of the people will respond and say, “Amen.” • 
VIIYou shall not swear • by My name • to deceive, • because • I will • avenge • the iniquity of • fathers • upon • children • unto a third • and unto a fourth generation • for lifting • My name • to deceive. • I am • Elohim • your Elohim. • “Blessed is the man who does not swear in My name to deceive.” And all of the people, they will respond and they will say, “Amen.” •“Cursed is the man who swears by My name to deceive.” And all of the people, they will respond and they will say, “Amen.” •
VIIIYou shall not respond • against your brother • with a testimony of • deceit. • I am • Elohim • your Elohim. •“Blessed is the man who does not deal falsely and does not practice deceit with his neighbor.” And all of the people, they will respond and they will say, “Amen.” •“Cursed is the one who takes a bribe to testify deceitfully against his associate.” And all of the people, they will respond and they will say, “Amen.” •
IXYou shall not desire • [your neighbor’s] woman, • his servant, • his maidservant, • or anything • that is • his. • I am • Elohim • your Elohim. •“Blessed is the man who does not lift his eyes toward the property of his neighbor.” And all of the people, they will respond and they will say, “Amen.” •“Cursed is the man who lifts his eyes toward his neighbor’s woman, or toward his house, or toward his maidservant, or toward all that is his.” And all of the people, they will respond and they will say, “Amen.” • 
XYou shall not hate • your brother • in your heart. • I am • Elohim • your Elohim. •“Blessed is the man who loves his neighbor.” And all of the people, they will respond and they will say, “Amen.” •“Cursed is the man who hates his brother in his heart.” And all of the people, they will respond and they will say, “Amen.” • 
  “Blessed is the man who establishes all of the words of this Teaching to do them.” And all of the people, they will respond and they will say, “Amen.” • “Cursed is the man who does not establish all of the words of this Teaching to do them.” And all of the people, they will respond and they will say, “Amen.” •

A PDF of this article is available on my Academia page.

[1] Adam Zertal, A Nation Born: The Altar on Mount Ebal and the Birth of Israel, (Haifa: The Samaria & Jordan Rift Valley Association, 2018). The book is available from Lipkin Tours in paperback (, and the Kindle version is available on Amazon. See also, נחלתי A Memorial Volume for Adam Zertal, eds. Ralph K. Hawkins, Erasmus Gaß, and Dror Ben-Yosef (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2021).

[2] Zvi’s involvement in the excavations at Mount Ebal are worth noting. Zertal relates in his book that on the morning of 15 October 1983 he shared with his team that the structure they were excavating might be an altar such as described in the biblical texts (see Exodus 27 and 38). To explain his idea, he sketched the edifice on a piece of scrap paper. He then reports, “It was only a simple schematic sketch; nevertheless, when Zvi Kenigsberg saw it, he jumped … dashed out of the room, only to return a few minutes later holding a small brown book. This was one of the six orders of the Mishna.” There in the third chapter, the Order of Kodashim, was a description of the altar. The work also contained an illustration, and those present soon realized that the similarities were uncanny and led to the interpretation of the site as being an ancient altar. See Zertal, A Nation Born, 56-62 at 60. I thank Daniel Wright for calling this story to my attention. See also, Zvi Koenigsberg, The Lost Temple of Israel Revised (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2015), and Carmit Sapir-Weitz/Maariv, “A Lost Temple – New Findings Might Shatter Biblical Archaeology Paradigm,” The Jerusalem Post, 12 November 2019. 

[3] “Ancient Hebrew Amulet Discovered at Joshua’s Altar in Samaria,” The Jerusalem Post, 26 January 2022.

[4] Dr. Scott Stripling serves as the provost at The Bible Seminary in Katy (Houston), Texas and as the Director of Excavations for the Associates for Biblical Research at Khirbet el-Maqatir and Shiloh, Israel. (

[5] Christopher Rollston, “The Mount Ebal Lead ‘Curse’ Inscription in Late Bronze Age Hebrew: Some Methodological Caveats,” 26 March 2022 –

[6] Deuteronomy 11:26-30; Deuteronomy 27: 1-26; Joshua 8:30-35

[7] Idan Dershowitz refers to the “bifurcated Gerizim and Ebal Pericope” in the following way. “One of the more peculiar features of Deuteronomy is the bisection of the instructions concerning the blessings and curses of Gerizim and Ebal between chapters 11 and 27-28. The narrative begins in Deut 11:26 with the proclamation: ‘Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse’ (ראה אנכי נתן לפניכם היום ברכה וקללה). In the following four verses, the criterion for receiving the blessings is stated (keeping the laws), as are the place and time in which the blessings and curses are to be proclaimed (Gerizim and Ebal, once the people of Israel have entered the land). The story then ends abruptly, with no mention of the expected blessings and curses. Instead, the text continues with the Deuteronomic legal code, which comprises some fifteen chapters. It is only after the legal code has been given in its entirety – nearly 40 percent of the book – that the Gerizim and Ebal narrative thread is picked back up.” Idan Dershowitz, The Valediction of Moses: A Proto-Biblical Book (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2021), 45. 

[8] Zertal, A Nation Born, 13.

[9] Ibid, 14.

[10] Dershowitz, The Valediction of Moses, 91, note 24.

[11] Ibid, 92. 

[12] Ibid, 92. See also Stefan Schorch, “Where Is the Altar? Scribal Intervention in the Book of Joshua and Beyond,” in Yahwistic Diversity and the Hebrew Bible: Tracing Perspectives of Group Identity from Judah, Samaria, and the Diaspora in Biblical Traditions, ed. Benedict Hensel, Dany Nocquet, and Barstosz Adamczewski (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2020), 231-44, at 239. Dershowitz notes Schorch’s work and others in note 28, page 92.

[13] Dershowitz, The Valediction of Moses, 90-91.

[14] Ibid, 91.