Deir Alla Inscription

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The Deir 'Alla Inscription (or Bal'am Son of Be'or Inscription) was discovered during a 1967 excavation in Deir 'Alla, Jordan. The excavation revealed a many-chambered structure that had also been destroyed by an earthquake, during the Persian period at the site, on the wall of which was written a story relating visions of the seer of the gods Bal'am, son of Be'or, who may be the same Bal'am mentioned in Numbers 22–24 and in other passages of the Bible. This Bal'am differs from the one in Numbers in that rather than being a prophet of Yhwh, he is associated with Ashtar, a god named Shgr, and "Shaddayin" (שדין, apparently gods and goddesses).[1] It also features the word "Elohin" (perhaps with different vowels, like "ilāhīn"), taken to mean "gods" in the plural rather than the Hebrew deity.

The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies describes it as "the oldest example of a book in a West Semitic language written with the alphabet, and the oldest piece of Aramaic literature."[2] Though containing examples of Aramaic, such as the word bar "(son of [Beor])" rather than the Canaanite ben, it also has many elements of Canaanite languages, leading some to believe it was written in a dialect of Canaanite rather than an early form of Aramaic. The inscription has been dated to 880–770 BCE;[3] it was painted in inks on fragments of a plastered wall - red and black inks were used, red apparently to emphasize certain parts of the text. In all, 119 pieces of inked plaster were recovered. The wall, near the summit of the tell, was felled by a tremor.[4]

Translation and reconstruction[edit]

The text in modern Hebrew letters is available on line. The text is difficult to read and to interpret.[3] Here is one reconstruction and translation of the text:[5]

(1) [VACAT] The sa]ying[s of Bala]am, [son of Be]or, the man who was a seer of the gods. Lo! Gods came to him in the night [and spoke to] him (2) according to these w[ord]s. Then they said to [Bala]am, son of Beor, thus: Let someone make a [ ] hearafter, so that [what] you have hea[rd may be se]en!" (3) And Balaam rose in the morning [ ] right hand [ ] and could not [eat] and wept (4) aloud. Then his people came in to him [and said] to Balaam, son of Beor, "Do you fast? [ ] Do you weep?" And he (5) said to them, "Si[t] do]wn! I shall inform you what the Shad[dayin have done]. Now come, see the deeds of the g[o]ds!. The g[o]ds have gathered (6) and the Shaddayin have taken their places in the assembly and said to Sh[ , thus:] 'Sew the skies shut with your thick cloud! There let there be darkness and no (7) perpetual shining and n[o] radiance! For you will put a sea[l upon the thick] cloud of darkness and you will not remove it forever! For the swift has (8) reproached the eagle, the voice of vultures resounds. The st[ork has ] the young of the NHS-bird and ripped up the chicks of the heron. The swallow has belittled (9) the dove, and the sparrow [ ] and [ ] the staff. Instead of ewes the stick is driven along. Hares have eaten (10) [ ]. Freemen [] have drunk wine, and hyenas have listened to instruction. The whelps of the (11) f[ox] laughs at wise men, and the poor woman has mixed myrhh, and the priestess (12) [ ] to the one who wears a girdle of threads. The esteemed esteems and the esteemer is es[teemed. ] and everyone has seen those things that decree offspring and young. (15) [ ] to the leopard. The piglet has chased the young (16) [of] those who are girded and the eye ....'"

A more recent and complete English translation can also be found on line.[6]


  1. ^ Thomas L. Thompson (2000). "Problems of Genre and Historicity with Palestine's Descriptions". In André Lemaire, Magne Saebo. Supplements to Vetus Testamentum, Volume 80. Brill. p. 322. ISBN 978-9004115989. 
  2. ^ Allan Millard (2006). "Authors, Books and Readers in the Ancient World". In J. W. Rogerson , Judith M. Lieu. The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies. Oxford University Press. p. 554. ISBN 978-0199254255. 
  3. ^ a b ברוך מרגלית (Oct 1998). "עלילות בלעם בר-בעור מעמק סוכות". Archived from the original on Dec 21, 2014. 
  4. ^ J. Hoftijzer and G. van der Kooij, Aramaic Texts from Deir 'Alla Documenta et Monumenta Orientis Antiqui 19 (Leiden) 1976.
  5. ^ P. Kyle McCarter Jr., The Balaam Texts from Deir 'Alla: The First Combination", Bulletin of the Schools of Oriental Research 237 (1980): 49–60
  6. ^ Deir 'Alla Inscription at


  • Dijkstra, Meindert, "Is Balaam Also Among the Prophets?" Journal of Biblical Literature 114/1 (1995), 43–64.
  • Hackett, Jo Ann, The Balaam Text from Deir 'Alla, HSM 31 (Chico, CA: Scholars, 1984).
  • Hoftijzer, J. and G. van der Kooij, G., Aramaic Texts from Deir ‘Alla (Leiden: Brill, 1976).
  • Hoftijzer, J. and G. van der Kooij, G., ed., The Balaam Text from Deir 'Alla Re-evaluated: Proceedings of the International Symposium Held at Leiden, 21–24 August 1989, (Leiden: Brill, 1991).
  • Puech, E. "L'inscription sur pl tre de Tell Deir Alla," in Biblical Archaeology Today: Proceedings of the International Congress on Biblical Archaeology Jerusalem, April 1984, ed. by J. Amitai (Jerusalem: IES, 1985), 354–65.
  • Weippert, Manfred, "The Balaam Text from Deir 'Alla and the Study of the Old Testament," pp. 151–84 in The Balaam Text from Deir 'Alla Re-evaluated: Proceedings of the International Symposium Held at Leiden, 21–24 August 1989, (Leiden: Brill, 1991).
  • McCarter Jr., P. Kyle, "The Balaam Texts from Deir 'Alla: The First Combination",Bulletin of the Schools of Oriental Research 239 (1980): 49–60
  • Naveh, J. "The Date of the Deir 'Alla Inscription in Aramaic Script", Israel Exploration Journal 17 (1967): 236–38.