By Aaron Lipkin
In the summer of 2022, the world of Biblical Archaeology was shaken when Dr. Scott Stripling announced the discovery of a tiny lead tablet from the site of Joshua's Altar on the slopes of Mt. Ebal in Samaria.
During the press conference, Scott presented what is the most ancient Israelite inscription ever found in the land of Israel.
The tablet, along with the careful interpretive work of Professor Gershon Galil and Dr. Peiter van der Veen, is currently undergoing peer review before it's formal scientific publication. The report will be presented in two parts. We expect the first part, dealing with the inscription inside the tablet, to be published in early 2023.
Needless to say, many thousands of scholars and enthusiasts are looking forward to the scientific debate that this publication will initiate. The ramifications to our biblical understanding of Israelite culture and religion at the time of Moses, Joshua, and the judges, are enormous.
During the months of May and June 2022, I lectured at dozens of churches, synagogues, TV stations and conferences in the U.S. While I was in the States, I received an insight that overwhelmed me, and I would like to share it with our readers.
One of the most important parts in the morning daily Jewish prayer is the Aaronic Blessing. This part stands out from the rest of the prayer which is mostly a dialogue between the cantor and the congregation.
When it's time for the blessing to start, the "Cohaneem" or "descendants of Aaron," come out of the congregation and stand at the front of the Synagogue. The say the following blessing:
"Blessed are you Lord our God, King of the universe, that has sanctified us with the sanctity of Aaron and commanded us to bless his people Israel, with love."
Following the blessing, they turn around, lift their hands in the air and with their fingers, they form a specific shape in each hand—the same gesture—left and right.
This is the time when they recite the Aaronic Blessing as it is written in the book of Numbers:
"The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num. 6:23-26).
Here is a short video of the Aaronic Blessing at the Western Wall:
I always asked myself, why are the Cohaneem—Priests standing and posturing like that? Where in the Bible do we have such a commandment to stand with two hands in the air with these gestures? I always answered myself that this is an ancient tradition from Sinai that we will never understand.
Well, thanks to the Mt. Ebal Lead Tablet and its inscription, I might have a good answer. Ready?
Let's look closer at the commandment to the priests in the book of Numbers. What is the commandment?
The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” and it continues:
I always understood this as verbally saying, chanting, or expressing the Divine Name as it appears in the Aaronic Blessing, thus allowing the Israelites to hear it and accept YHWH as their Lord.
I still believe that is the case, but it is not the complete picture, and does not give us a full understanding of this almost "bizarre" ceremony.
After several lectures in the states, during which I showed a slide with the name of God as it appears in the Tablet, suddenly it dawned on me! The Israelites wrote the name of God in a very different way than we do today.
It immediately struck me! The Divine Name in the newly-discovered lead tablet appears in its most ancient 3-letter form AND the middle letter is a person standing with his hands high.
I felt like lightning struck me! Could it be that the reason why the priests are standing with their hands in the air is to resemble the middle letter H ?
Is it possible that by making a special shape in both of their hands, they are actually signifying a letter from each side of the middle letter, the Y and the W ?
Is it possible that the priests are embodying Gods name and literally PUTTING it on the Israelites?
If I am correct, this is yet another example of how archaeology helps us to better understand the meaning of the biblical verses.
By the way, if you ever wondered why Spock did a similar gesture in Star Trek?
Leonard Nimoy was a Cohen, a descendant of Aaron. He brought an ancient Israelite custom into the Star Trek series and put God’s name on millions of viewers.
Live long and prosper !
Aaron Lipkin will be coming to U.S. in July and August of 2023 to lecture about Joshua's Altar and the Israelite Foot Structures.