The Ketef Hinnom amulettes (Numbers 6)

In 1979 archaeologists unearthed a burial site at Ketef Hinnom, just south of Jerusalem, on the Southwestern side of Gehenna, near the Biblical boundary between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (Joshua 18:16). Excavated from within a burial repository were two small, rolled plaques of thin, pliable silver, each about the size of a credit card. When unrolled, they revealed delicately etched inscriptions that included a shortened version of the priestly benediction recorded in Numbers 6:24.26. One section has been translated as follows:

The Lord bless and keep you;

The Lord make His face shine upon you and give you peace.

Archaeological and paleographic evidence dates these plaques to the late seventh century B.C., thereby making them the earliest written citations of Scripture. They may relate to rituals of worship, during which priests would have recited this priestly benediction (cf. Leviticus 9:22). Perhaps worn as amulets (charms inscribed with incantations or symbols to aid the wearer or to protect him or her against evil), the plaques do reveal that this benediction was used in popular religious practice, perhaps to secure blessing for the owner. Since later Jewish traditions also quoted Numbers 6:24-26 in the context of funeral rites, the discovery of the plaques in the burial repository suggests that they served to bless the deceased person’s journey to Sheol, the netherworld or abode of the dead.

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