One of the functions of the priests in the Old Testament was to bless the people in God’s name. The most famous priestly benediction in the Bible is the one found in Numbers 6:24-26:
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
The repetition of the name of Lord in this prayer is to emphasize that God’s intention was to bless his people. Because of the prayer’s focus on blessing, many churches have adopted this benediction as part of their liturgy.
In 1979, Professor Gabriel Barkay, an archaeologist at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, excavating on Ketef Hinnom, a hill overlooking the Hinnom Valley, southwest of the Old City of Jerusalem, discovered a tomb and found two small silver scrolls containing the text of the priestly benediction.
It took years for archeologists to discover the full significance of this finding. The two silver scrolls were cracked and corroded. Some of the words written on the scrolls were difficult to read and thus, made it difficult to date the writing.
At the beginning, some archaeologists believed the scrolls were from the third or second century B.C. However, the use of sophisticated technology and computer enhanced photo-imaging has allowed scholars to better evaluate and analyze the words on the scrolls.
This analysis has led Barkay to conclude that the scrolls can be dated to the 7th century B.C. If this date is correct, this would make the words of the scroll the oldest existing evidence of a biblical text.
A 7th century date for the scrolls places the writings on the scrolls near to the time when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 587 B.C. and took the people of Judah into exile to Babylon. This date also would make the words of the scroll 400-450 years older than the biblical text of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
According to a press release from the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the finding of these scrolls, “The word yhwh (the name of the Lord in Hebrew) appears in writing for the first time ever.” To read the article and see a picture of the scrolls, click here.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary