Friday, April 08, 2022

The Mount Ebal amulet and late defixiones

A QUESTION OF SCRIPT: Joseph I. Lauer has posted a long list of links about the Mount Ebal amulet on his e-mail list. (And if you aren't a subscriber, you should be!) He notes a post by Todd Bolen at the Bible Places Blog which includes some comments on the amulet. This is an interesting idea:
I will be curious to see how they argue that this was not a Hellenistic-era amulet written in old script; its discovery alongside Late Bronze and Iron Age pottery in a dump is not conclusive, especially at a site likely frequented by pilgrims.
Could the Mount Ebal amulet be a Hellenistic-era (or Roman-era or late antique) defixio amulet written in paleo-Hebrew script? Or, for that matter, could it be a Hebrew or Phoenician amulet from any time between the sixth century BCE and late antiquity?

We know there were amulets written in paleo-Hebrew script (rather than the modern square script). The Ketef Hinnom silver amulets from around the sixth century BCE quote passages also found in the Hebrew Bible. They are written in paleo-Hebrew script. And there are reports of Phoenician and Punic amulets from around the same time period. Phoenician and Punic also used the paleo-Hebrew script.

That said, none of the ones I know of are defixiones or curse tablets. The are protective amulets.

All of the later (late-antique) Hebrew and Aramaic amulets I know of are written in the square Hebrew script and are protective (from demons mostly) or coercive (mostly love charms), but do not involve curses.

That means we do not have any metal-inscribed curse amulets in paleo-Hebrew script which would be directly comparable to what we are told about the Mount Ebal amulet.

In addition, we are told that the Mount Ebal amulet is written in "Proto-Alphabetic" (early alphabetic or early Canaanite) script, which is earlier than paleo-Hebrew. The circulated drawing by Gershon Galil of the name of God in the amulet is in early alphabetic script. (That said, Christopher Rollston wrote that the drawing is "particularly schematic in nature," so I don't know how much weight to put on it.)

There are no other Hebrew or Phoenician/Punic metal amulets written in early alphabetic script. It was no longer used in the time of these amulets. If the description is accurate, the Mount Ebal amulet could not be a defixio amulet from the sixth century or later.

That said, the scans of the inscription remain unpublished. Until epigraphers who specilize in this area have been able to evaluate it, we don't know what we have.

In sum: if the current claims are accurate, the Mount Ebal amulet does not seem to be a defixio from the Persian Period or later written in paleo-Hebrew script. But, until the discoverers produce their evidence, I am ruling nothing out.

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