Biblical Archaeology Review 38:5, September/October 2012

First Person: Should Israel Return the Tablets of the Law to Egypt?

By Hershel Shanks

In 1969, barely two years after the 1967 Six-Day War, a team of Israeli archaeologists made an exploratory excavation at the base of one of the numerous sites in the Sinai Peninsula proposed as Biblical Mt. Sinai. It was not long before a member of the team exposed a piece of rock with a single Hebrew letter on it. This naturally led to more intensive excavation in this area, as a result of which additional, larger pieces of inscribed stones were recovered. They were taken to Israel for further study.

When examined by paleographers, experts in dating inscriptions by the shape and form of the letters, they were in agreement that this inscription dated to about 1200 B.C.E.

Gradually, the pieces of stone were fitted together. In the end, a few pieces from the end and on the side were missing, but they did not appear to have contained letters. What could be read was clear. Word for word, the inscription was identical to the text of the Ten Commandments. This text appears in the Bible twice, once in Exodus 20 and again in Deuteronomy 5. There are some differences, but the most important is in the Fourth Commandment’s reasons for the observance of the Sabbath. Surprisingly, the text on the reconstructed stone tablets from Sinai follows Deuteronomy more closely than Exodus.

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