It is probably one of the greatest finds of all time and, by the bizarre rules of biblical archeology, it’s also one of the least reported. Basically, in 1967, in Deir Alla, Jordan, Dutch archeologists discovered some kind of pagan house of worship or seminary. On its walls, there was a 2,800-year-old inscription in black ink. Key phrases are highlighted in red ink and the whole writing is framed in red. First of all, this is the oldest Aramaic inscription every found. But if that’s not enough to make it a world-headline, the inscription is 600-800 years older than the Dead-Sea Scrolls. And if that’s not enough to merit international attention, the inscription mentions a prophet, or “seer”, named “Balaam son of Beor”. This is the exact name mentioned in the Torah/Bible (Numbers 22:2–24:25). This is the only instance where a specific individual mentioned in the story of the biblical Exodus can be pointed to in archeology. So who is Balaam, and where is this inscription now?
Balaam is the bad guy of the Torah. He is the Darth Vader of the biblical Exodus. According to the Talmud, Balaam had the potential to be Moses, but he turned to the dark side (Av. Zar. 4a–b; Sanh. 105b; Avot 5:19). In a famous incident, as the Israelites are about to enter the promised land, Balak King of Moab asks Balaam to curse the children of Israel. Balaam is unable to do so. The Talmud explains that he looked at the Israelite tents and saw an amazing thing. The tents were rotated so that people could not see into each other’s bedrooms, so to speak. At that point, Balaam realized that the only way to weaken Israel was to corrupt them through sex.
According to the biblical narrative, Balaam was in charge of sex priestesses made up of Moabite and Midianite women. These women successfully seduced the Israelites in an orgy of sex and idolatry (Numbers 31:8, 16). 24,000 Israelite men were punished by God with death. At one point, the Israelite prince, Zimri son of Salu, publically fornicated with a Midianite princess named Cozbi, daughter of Zur, in the name of some kind of fertility rite. Apparently, these rituals were drawing big crowds until Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the High Priest (brother of Moses), picked up a spear and killed Zimri and Cozbi with one thrust while they were, so to speak, thrusting. This act ended Balaam’s attempt to subvert Israel through pagan sex (Numbers 25; 6-15). According to the book of Joshua, Joshua took revenge by killing Balaam during the Israelite conquest of Canaan (Joshua, 13:22).
So… back to the Deir Alla inscription. The amazing thing is that it is found on the border of ancient Israel, exactly where you would expect to find it given the biblical narrative. The people writing it are Balaam’s people. Meaning, for them he’s a hero, not a villain. So we’re getting the opposition point of view. They refer to him, just as in the Torah, as “Balaam Son of Beor”. Meaning, there is a letter-perfect synchronicity between the archeology and the Bible. But it gets better. According to the Torah, Balaam does have prophetic powers. According to the inscription, he is a prophet. According to the Torah, he gets his visions at night. According to the inscription, he gets his visions at night. According to the Torah, he worships false gods, but also dialogues with the God of Israel. According to the Deir Alla inscription, Balaam speaks to the “gods” and to “El” i.e., the God of Israel. But more than this, Balaam seems to be devoted to a goddess of fertility. Lest anyone think that the orgy episode in the Torah is exaggerated, the Deir Alla inscription refers to a “girl” or priestess who is “used” for the purpose of making one “saturated with love” (Combination 2, ii 4). It talks about God himself being “satisfied” with love making (Combination 2, ii 6).
So here you have a perfect synchronicity between the story in the Bible and the story that archeologists have discovered in a pagan temple in Jordan. But except for a few scholars, very few people have even heard of this discovery. More than this, the inscription has been removed from Deir Alla and put in drawers – I’m not kidding, drawers – in the Archeological Museum of Amman, capital of Jordan. Meaning, you could be standing right next to the greatest archeological match to the Bible and not know it.
The ultimate irony: in the Archeological Museum of Amman, they have a fragment of the Dead-Sea Scrolls. It is a quote from the Bible – the story of Balaam! So the amazing thing is that about 20 feet from each other are the Deir Alla inscription and the Dead-Sea Scroll, both quoting the exact same story – and both matching the Bible perfectly.
Isn’t it incredible? You don’t have to go into the realm of “DaVinci Code” style fiction to discover biblical cover-ups. They’re happening as I write – and it’s not fiction, it’s all too real.
See my episode on Balaam as part of “The Naked Archeologist”, Season 2, Episode 24.