On this page is a copy of copy of the inscription, found in the Iron Age town of Deir 'Alla, mentioning the Biblical prophet Balaam. Having had to replace my external link several times I now offer this largely stolen version based on http://www.livius.org/de-dh/deir_alla/deir_alla_inscr.html 6/23/10.  The translation is from what appears to be a class web site and this external link, but the link is not reliable.

Deir 'Alla is situated in western Jordan, about eight kilometers east of the river Jordan, and about a kilometer north of the Jabbok. The excavators found a very large Bronze Age sanctuary that had suffered in the period of wide-spread destruction in the thirteenth/twelfth centuries. Unlike other settlements, which were abandoned, Deir 'Alla remained in use well into the fifth century BC. That is remarkable.

Even more remarkable, however, was the discovery of a painted inscription that contained a prophecy by Balaamtell deir alla inscr museum3, a non-Israelite prophet who is mentioned in the Biblical book of Numbers 22-24 as a servant working for the Moabite king Balak. (The site of Deir 'Alla is, technically, on the Ammonite side of the river Jabbok.) The text refers to divine visions and signs of future destruction, in a language that is close to that of the Bible. For example, we read about the "Shaddai gods", an expression that is close to the Biblical El Shaddai, "God Almighty". On the other hand, the setting is not monotheistic: we read, for instance, about a gathering of a group of gods. The word elohim, which in the Bible (although plural) takes singular verbs so it is clear that in context it refers to one God, refers to more than one god in the Deir 'Alla text.

Reconstructing the contents is difficult, but it is clear that Bileam learns from the gods that the world will be destroyed, an apocalyptic event that is described with metafors from bird life. Somehow, Bileam and his people seem to have averted this disaster. There is also a description of the Underworld.

The text, in a language between Aramaic and Canaanite, can be dated to c.800 BC.


The Inscription

Combination 1

Balaam was visited at night by the high god El. The message from El was one of doom.

The misfortunes of the Book of Balaam, son of Beor.
A divine seer was he.
The gods came to him at night, and he beheld a vision in accordance with El's utterance.
They said to Balaam, son of Beor: "So will it be done, with naught surviving, no one was seen [the likes of] what you have heard!
Balaam is so troubled by the vision's that he fasts for two days. He finally tells his followers the details of the vision.
The gods have banded together; the Shaddai-gods have established a council. And they have said to [the goddess] Shagar
'Sew up, close up the heavens with dense cloud, that the darkness exist there, not brilliance;
So that you instill dread in dense darkness
And -- never utter a sound again!

Balaam goes on to describe the resulting chaos. So Balaam acts to save the goddess from sewing up the heavens and bringing chaos to the earth.

Heed the admonition adversaries of Sha[gar-and-Ishtar]
To skilled diviners shall one take you, and to an oracle;
[To] a perfumer of myrrh and a priestess.
[Who] covers his body [with oil]
And rubs himself with olive oil.
To one bearing an offering in a horn.
One augurer after another, and yet another
As one augurer broke away from his colleagues
The strikers departed [     ]

Balaam succeeds in saving the goddess and she doesn't have to sew up the heavens.

Combination 2

Combination 2 is less clear but deals with the creation of a netherworld by El.

El satisified himself with [lovemaking]
And then El fashioned an eternal house
A house where no traveler enters,
Nor does a bridegroom enter there.

The rest of the text talks about a seer being prevented from practicing his craft. No direct refrerence to Balaam is made.

Your quest is distant to you.
To know how to deliver an oracle to his people
You have been condemned for your speech,
And [banned] from pronouncing words of execration.