Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Book of Balaam

In 1967, archaeologists at the site of Tell Deir Alla uncovered two piles of crumpled plaster from around 800 BC on which were written portions of a book by Balaam--the same Balaam known until that time only in Numbers. Balaam was not, of course, a prophet of Israel. He appears in Numbers to be more of a prophet-for-hire. That he was a known and respected prophet in the ancient world--if only through legend--now seems confirmed through the combined witness of both biblical and extra-biblical evidence. A portion of the Aramaic text is translated below:
[THIS IS] THE BOOK OF [BA]LAAM, [SON OF BEO]R, A SEER OF THE GODS. And to that (man) came the gods at night. [And they spoke to] him according to the utterance of El. And they spoke to [Balaa]m, son of Beor, thus: ... [...] And Balaam arose in the morning. [...] ... [...] ... And he was not [able to eat.] [And he fast]ed, while weeping grievously. And his people came to him. And the[y said] to Balaam, son of Beor: Why do you fast? [And wh]y do you weep? And he said to them: Sit down! I shall tell you what the Shadd[ayin are ...ing.] Now come, see, what the gods are about to do! The go[d]s gathered, while the Shadday deities met in assembly, and said to Sha[mash:] Thou mayest break the bolts of heaven, in thy clouds let there be gloominess and no brilliance...
--The Book of Balaam, 1-22, from Weippert's The Balaam Text from Deir Alla and the Study of the Old Testament


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