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Historicity of Balaam the Non-Jewish Prophet

Historicity of Balaam the Non-Jewish Prophet

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05/09/2014

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Biblical Archeology: Prophet and the Earthquake
by Rabbi Leibel Reznick
The historicity of Balaam, the non-Jewish prophet.

One of the more enigmatic Biblical figures is the prophet Balaam. The Bible first
introduced him to us as the Israelite nation was encamped in the Plains of
Moab, on their way to the Promised Land. The Moabite king, fearing an attack
by the Israelites, summoned Balaam to come and curse the Children of Israel. In
the end, Balaam does not curse the Israelites but bestows blessings upon them.
[1]

The Talmud [2] tells us that earlier Balaam had been an adviser to the pharaoh
who enslaved the Children of Israel and sought to destroy their male children. In
fact, the plan to destroy the Israelites was masterminded by Balaam. The third
century BCE Greco-Egyptian historian, Manetho, also mentions that it was the
prophet-adviser to the pharaoh who instigated the enslavement of the Jewish
People.[3] (Do I mean to say that there is an ancient extra-Biblical source that
refers to the enslavement of the Israelites? Yes, but that issue deserves an
article all by itself.)

Not only did Balaam reside near the land of Moab and in Egypt, but Midrashic
sources also place him in Aram[4], modern-day Syria, and in the Aegean isles
[5], and in Cush, modern-day Ethiopia [6]. Balaam was an itinerant prophet with
a far-reaching reputation.[7] Due to Balaam's renowned preeminence, we would
expect that some mention of Balaam would be found in some ancient nation's
records. And indeed, our expectations will not be disappointed.

Balaam was the grandson of Laban the
Aramean. [8].The patriarch Jacob lived in
Aram and married the two daughters of
Laban, Leah and Rachel. Jacob
shepherded the flocks of his father-in-law
for many years. As Jacob and his wives
were returning to the land of Canaan, they
stopped for a while in the land of Moab in
the settlement later to be called Succoth. [9]
Archaeologists believe that the Jordanian
hill called Tel Deir Alla is the site of Biblical
Succoth. And, it was here in Tel Deir Alla that evidence of Balaam was found.

An expedition led by Professor Henk J. Franken of the University of Leiden was
excavating in Deir Alla in March of 1967. The workers were cleaning up some
debris from the day's work when someone noticed what seemed to be traces of
lettering on fragments of plaster that littered the floor. For archaeologists, the
most exciting find is not gold or silver, but writings! Professor Franken was
overjoyed at this unexpected discovery.

The weather during that time of year was capricious. One day heavy rains fell;
the next day a drying wind filled the air. Neither of these was good for the fragile
pieces of plaster. Hastily, a tent was erected to protect the area from the
elements. There were still two more weeks of excavation work that had been
planned, but all digging stopped. All attention was focused on the writing.

Reports of the discovery spread
throughout the archaeological
community. Scholars representing
the United States, Jordan, France,
Germany and Holland came to
examine the fragments. One
fragment had written on it in bold
letters the words: "the prophet,

Balaam son of Beor."

It took approximately ten years to
assemble the piles of plaster
fragments, jigsaw puzzle style, into a coherent text. Eventually, a chilling
prophecy emerged. It reads:

Inscription of Balaam son of Beor,
the prophet, man of the gods.
Behold, the gods came to him at night,
and [spoke to] him according to these words,
and they said to [Balaa]m son of Beor thus:
"The [Light] has shone its last;
the Fire for [judgment] has shone."

And Balaam arose in the morning,
[ ] days,
[ ] ,

and cou[ld not eat],
and he wept bitter tears.
And his people came up to him
and they [said] to Balaam son of Beor:
"Why are you fasting and why are
you weeping?"

And he said to them:
"Return! I shall tell you what
the gods (shaddayim) are [. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .]
Go on, consider the doings of the gods."

The gods have gathered together,
and the(shaddayim) gods have met in assembly,
and they have said to [.......]:
"Sew up, bolt shut the sky with your cloud!
Let darkness be there, and not brightness,
gloom and not radiance;
Yes, strike terror with the cloud of darkness,
and do not remove it ever

[...] hawk, swift, bat,
eagle, and pelican, vultures,
ostrich, stork, young of falcons,
and owl, chicks of heron, dove,
bird-of-prey, pigeon and sparrow. [10]

In order to date the inscription, the fragments were subjected to radio-carbon
dating tests. The results indicated that the inscriptions were to be dated circa

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