Looking at Some of the Oldest Extant Examples of Ancient Biblical Text

By Tamar Hayardeni, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23802552
Ketef Hinnom burial caves

Some of the oldest extant examples of ancient biblical text are the Ketef Hinnom amulets.[i] The silver amulets meant to be worn around the neck are very small. They are actually tiny scrolls made of rolled silver with inscriptions on them. They were found at the First Temple funerary site of Ketef Himmom southwest of Jerusalem.[ii]

Discovered in 1979, the inscriptions on the amulets were not detected until the scrolls were painstakingly unrolled in 1994 by the West Semitic Research Project at the University of Southern California. The inscriptions on one scroll contain text similar to the blessings found in the Tora[iii]h at Numbers 6:24-26[iv]:

6:24 Yahweh bless you and keep you;
6:25 Yahweh make his face shine upon youand be gracious to you;
6:26 Yahweh lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

(The italicized words are not found on the scroll but may have appeared in the area where the scroll has disintegrated.)

The other scroll contained language similar to the parallel passages in the Torah of Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 5:10 and 7:9, and the Prophets, Daniel 9:4 and Nehemiah 1:5.[v]

These amulets with the biblical inscriptions date to the First Temple period before the Babylonian exile. Conservative sources date them to the eighth–sixth centuries B.C.E.[vi] More liberal sources date them to the period immediately prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586/7 BCE.[vii] No one dates them after the destruction of the First Temple.

This is significant because the consensus of scholars date the Torah post exile to the Persian Period (539-333 BCE, and probably 450-350 BCE).[viii] While classic rabbinic views hold that the entire Torah was written by Moses during his life in the second millennium BCE, the consensus of modern scholars is that the Torah was written by a number of authors post exile.

The confirmed dating of the Ketef Hinnom amulets doesn’t necessarily prove that the Torah was written and in existence at the time those amulets were created. They could have been produced from oral tradition. It does establish, though, that pre-exilic Jews were familiar with the sayings in the Torah.

It’s also consistent (or not inconsistent) with the view that the Torah was written down before the exile – perhaps, even by Moses.

All five books of the Torah, and every book of the Christian Old Testament, except for Esther, was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The earliest Dead Sea Scroll texts date to 300 BCE. The remarkable similarity of the versions of the Hebrew text in the Dead Sea Scrolls to the texts preserved from a millennium or more later amazed scholars. While most of the books of the Old Testament found at Qumran were fragmentary, a complete scroll of Isaiah was found dating to no earlier than the first century BCE.[ix] The Ketef Hinnom amulets, though are much older still.

I have referenced mostly sources that are secular or liberal in their leaning. I did that on purpose, as even these sources attest to a certain factual baseline that is consistent with the biblical narrative, and not contradictory to it. They don’t rule out earlier dates and facts that are not just consistent, but which match the biblical record. Thus, archaeology continues to reveal artifacts consistent with a view of the historical reliability of the Old Testament.


[i] See Ketef Hinnom at Wikipedia

[ii] See Miniature Writing on Ancient Amulets, by Robin Ngo for Bible History Daily at the Biblical Archaeology Society website March 5, 2021.

[iii] The first five books of the Christian New Testament known as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

[iv] See Wikipedia

[v] Ibid.

[vi] See Miniature Writing on Ancient Amulets

[vii] Wikipedia.

[viii] See Torah at Wikipedia

See Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? By Andrew Lawler for Smithsonian Magazine January 2010

[ix] See 6 Things You May Not Know About the Dead Sea Scrolls by Jennie Cohen at History.com