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Oldest Biblical Inscriptions Deciphered

June 20, 1986 GMT

JERUSALEM (AP) _ The oldest biblical inscriptions ever found have been deciphered by Israeli archaeologists from 2,600-year-old silver charms unearthed seven years ago, the Israeli Museum announced Thursday.

Archaeologist Gabriel Barkay said the inscriptions he discovered in a Jerusalem burial cave predated by 400 years the Dead Sea Scrolls, which had been the earliest known biblical texts.

The museum’s announcement said the charms dated to the 7th century B.C., the period when descendants of King David ruled the area.

Barkay told The Associated Press he found the texts scratched onto two pieces of silver, which were rolled into cylinders like scrolls and apparently worn as amulets.

The amulets bore the priestly blessing found in the Book of Numbers. One charm, which was 3.8 inches long, had a full 15-word version, Barkay said in a telephone interview. The smaller piece, 1.5 inches long, was abridged to 10 words and combined two verses, the Tel Aviv University archaeologist said.

A translation of the Hebrew text reads: ″The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and grant you peace.″

Although unearthed in 1979, it took until a few weeks ago to decipher the script once the thin silver scrolls were unrolled, Barkay said.

The form of writing on the amulets disappeared after the Jews were expelled from Jerusalem in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians.

″The scratching was very shallow and delicate. It was difficult to tell what belonged and what was just an accidental line,″ Barclay said.

The amulets were among 1,000 items found in a cave in the ″shoulder of Hinnom,″ the hill west of the Old City and 1,000 yards from the site where tradition says King Solomon built his temple.

The burial chamber in the cave, which apparently belonged to a wealthy Jerusalem family, is near the 60-year-old Scottish Church of St. Andrew’s, a Jerusalem landmark.

The treasure of silver, alabaster, metal and bone objects was tucked away in a niche in the burial chamber. A partially collapsed roof hid the niche from looters and grave robbers, the museum said in a news release.

Barkay called the amulets ″the forerunners of phylacteries″ used today. He was referring to the leather cases containing biblical passages that Jews wear for morning prayers.