The Silver Scrolls, the Oldest Biblical Text
Summary

When was the Old Testament written? Some scholars have suggested as late as the fifth century BC, and therefore not by Moses, Joshua and other names we are used to attach to these books. The discovery of the Silver Scrolls, containing passages from Numbers prove these books to be older than some might have assumed. 

The Silver Scrolls, the Oldest Biblical Text
Article Text

In June 1986 archaeologists of Tel Aviv University announced discovery of two small silver scolls or amulets. These two silver scrolls were found in 1979 deep inside a burial cave at a site known as Ketef Hinnom, west of the old city of Jerusalem. They were hidden at the back of the tomb embedded in pottery fashioned as early as the seventh century BC. Seven years later the fragile silver scrolls were opened and their texts deciphered. The silver scrolls contain an excerpt from Numbers 6:24-26, also known as the Priestly Benediction. In English the verses read: “The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.” On the scrolls we find the texts: [1]

Amulet 1: concluding benediction (lines 14–19):

“[…] May Yahweh bless you [and] keep you. May Yahweh cause his face to shine [on you] …].”

Amulet 2: benediction (lines 5–12):

“[…] May Yahweh bless you and keep you. May Yahweh cause his face to shine [on] you and give you peace […].”

The location of the find of the silver scrolls and analysis of the Hebrew on the scrolls confirm a date close to 600 BC, perhaps earlier – long before the capture of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile. 

The importance of this find can hardly be overstated. It proves this section of Numbers was written at least 2,600 years ago. This Old Testament passage is 400 years older than the oldest Dead Sea Scrolls manuscripts, and perhaps even older yet. This makes the silver scrolls the oldest Biblical text confirmed through archaeology. The age of the text may prove a nail in the coffin of the Documentary Hypothesis [2] theories that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses, or that it was not even known in Moses’ time. Those theories speculate that large segments of the first five books of the Bible originated in the period of Ezra: 400–500 BC. In this debate, some of the arguments revolve around the use of YHWH, the divine name of God (often rendered “Jehovah” or “Yahweh”), which is said not to have been in use before this time. The silver scrolls, dated before 586 BC, contain that name. In fact, this is the earliest the name had been found in any dig in Jerusalem.

For more about the Historical Reliability of the Bible

Other Archaeological Evidences, besides the Silver Scrolls, for the Old Testament


[1] Hallo, William W.; Younger, K. Lawson: Context of Scripture. (2000), page 221.

[2] See Exhibit #4: Authorship of the Pentateuch , chapter 10.

[3] Willmington, H. L.: Willmington's Bible Handbook. (1997), page 889.

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