The two scrolls on display at the Israel Museum
A reconstruction indicates that there were five chambers and a central 'hall' in cave 24. The cave could hold about 22+ bodies on benches, each with a headrest of stone. Under three of the chambers in the cave there were repositories. The repositories were used for secondary burial, which means that the bones and other remains of the long deceased body were removed and put into the repository, thus making space for another body on that particular bench. The chambers were neatly cut with smoothed surfaces using the royal cubit as measure. The repositories, such as that under chamber 25, had rough surface and a sack-like form, thus it was not intended to be seen. Ketef Hinnom cave 24 has a similar outline and capacity as the Mamilla cave complex 1 and 2, however, these cave complexes have more rooms than cave 24 at Ketef Hinnom. To accommodate more people Ketef Hinnom cave 24 has used the large chamber to the right to accommodate about 10 people, whereas this room in the Mamilla cave complexes did not have benches, thus probably they were used for chemical treatment of the bodies.
The repository under chamber 25 contained approximately 60 cm of material with over a thousand objects: many small pottery vessels, artifacts of iron and bronze (including arrowheads), needles and pins, bone and ivory objects, glass bottles, and jewelry including earrings of gold and silver. The tomb had evidently been in use for several generations from about 650 BCE, that is towards the end of the First Temple period, and it continued to be used after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587/6 BCE.
KH1 was found in Square D, the middle of the repository, 7 cm above the floor, while KH2 was found while sifting dirt from the lower half of the deposits in Square A, the innermost portion of the repository. Both amulets were separated from Hellenistic artifacts by 3 meters of length and 25 cm of depth, and embedded in pottery and other material from the 7th/6th centuries BCE.
Barkay initially dated the inscriptions to the late-7th/early-6th centuries BCE, but later revised this date downward to the early 6th century on paleographic grounds (the forms of the delicately incised paleo-Hebrew lettering) and on the evidence of the pottery found in the immediate vicinity. This dating was subsequently questioned by Johannes Renz and Wolfgang Rollig, who argued that the script was in too poor a condition to be dated with certainty and that a 3rd/2nd century BCE provenance could not be excluded, especially as the repository, which had been used as a kind of "rubbish bin" for the burial chamber over many centuries, also contained material from the fourth century BCE.
A major re-examination of the scrolls was therefore undertaken by the University of Southern California's West Semitic Research Project, using advanced photographic and computer enhancement techniques which enabled the script to be read more easily and the paleography to be dated more confidently. The results confirmed a date immediately prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586/7 BCE. Dr. Kyle McCarter of Johns Hopkins University, a specialist in ancient Semitic scripts, has said the study should "settle any controversy over [the date of] these inscriptions".
Gabriel Barkay at Ketef Hinnom
Dr. Wayne Pitard has stated that although evidence for the antiquity of the Priestly Blessing is now compelling, this does not necessarily mean that the Book of Numbers already existed at that time. Dr. James R. Davila has similarly pointed out that the idea that the scrolls are "proof that the Five Books of Moses were in existence during the First Temple period" (as described in an article in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz) is "an overinterpretation of the evidence." He nonetheless acknowledged that the find proves that at least "some of the material found in the Five Books of Moses existed in the First Temple period."
KH1 (27 x 97 mm; 1.0 x 3.75 inches)
- [Top line(s) broken]
- ...] YHW ...
- the grea[t ... who keeps]
- the covenant and
- [G]raciousness towards those who love [him] and (alt: [hi]m;)
- those who keep [his commandments ...
- the Eternal? [...].
- [the?] blessing more than any
- [sna]re and more than Evil.
- For redemption is in him.
- For YHWH
- is our restorer [and]
- rock. May YHWH bles[s]
- you and
- [may he] keep you.
- [May] YHWH make
- [his face] shine ...
- [Bottom line(s) broken.]
- Exodus 20:6—showing mercy to thousands of them that love Me and keep My commandments
- Deuteronomy 5:10—showing mercy to thousands of them that love Me and keep My commandments
- Deuteronomy 7:9—keeping covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations
- Daniel 9:4—keeping covenant and mercy to them that love Him, and to them that keep His commandments
- Nehemiah 1:5—keeping covenant and mercy for them that love Him and observe His commandments
Sefer Torah "Bamidbar" (Number) Chapter 6 verse 6:24 to 6:26 6:24 The LORD bless you, and keep you; 6:25 The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; 6:26 The LORD lift up His countenance on you, And give you "peace".
KH2 (11 x 39 mm; 0.5 x 1.5 inches)
- [Top line(s) broken: For PN xxxx]
- -h/hu. May be blessed h/sh-
- -[e] by YHW[H,]
- the warrior/helper and
- the rebuker of
- [E]vil: May bless you,
- keep you.
- Make shine, YH-
- -[W]H, His face
- [upon] you and g-
- -rant you p-
- [Bottom line(s) broken.]
- Numbers 6:24—Yahweh bless you and keep you;
- Numbers 6:25—Yahweh make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
- Numbers 6:26--Yahweh lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
Apotropaic nature of the amulets
- "The utterance of Yhwh are pure utterances, silver refined in a furnace in the earth, purified seven times. You O Yhwh, will guard them; you will protect him from this generation forever. On every side the wicked prowl, a vileness is exalted among humankind."