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Archaeological Dig Uncovers Oldest Hebrew Reference to the Name of God

January 14, 1983
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A young Tel Aviv University archaeologist believes he has found the oldest Hebrew reference to the name of God in a treasure trove of coins, amulets and other ancient objects yielded by an archaeological dig on a hill facing Mt. Zion in Jerusalem.

Gabriel Barkay, who conducted the excavations three years ago, told a lecture audience at the Rockefeller Museum here that the nature of the discovery was unravelled only last month by a special technique applied in the laboratory of the Israel Museum. The objects under study were two pure silver Hebrew prayer scrolls dating from the seventh century BCE.

The texts were scratched with a sharp instrument and, according to Barkay, extremely difficult to read. One of them contained the Hebrew letters “yud” “heh” “vav” “heh” transliterated as Yaweh or Jehovah, the name of God which pious Jews are forbidden to write or utter. Barkay would not identify the other texts, save to say he was still trying to decipher them.

He said he kept his research on the objects more or less secret up to now to avoid agitating ultra-Orthodox Jews who might accuse him of desecrating ancient Jewish graves. The excavations, alongside St. Andrews Church above the Hinnom Valley, were described by archaeologists as the “most sensational” in 150 years of digs in and around Jerusalem.

They yielded the largest amount of jewelry ever found at a Jerusalem site and the oldest coin every found in the country — a 6th century BCE coin the in shape of a crab from the Aegaean island of Kos. Barkay said he found the two silver prayer scrolls in an underground tomb chamber filled with gifts placed alongside the bones of the deceased.

He explained that earlier Hebrew references to God’s name have not been found because they were on papyrus or other perishable material. God’s name would not appear on stone inscriptions because they were not traditionally religious texts, he said.

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