Ketef Hinnom Scrolls

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Ketef Hinnom Scrolls are two silver scrolls, inscribed with portions of the well known Priestly Blessing from the Book of Numbers and apparently once used as amulets. Dating back to circa 650-587 BCE (pre-exile) the scrolls are known as KH1 and KH2. They are written in Paleo-Hebrew characters not the Aramaic square script more familiar to most modern readers.


Jeremy Smoak has argued that the combination of the terms "guard" and "protect" is typical of apotropaic amulets and find parallels among Phoenician and Punic amulets from the Iron Age. The scrolls contain what may be the oldest surviving texts from the Hebrew Bible, dating from the First Temple period around the late 7th to early 6th century BCE prior to the Babylonian Exile, and are now preserved at the Israel Museum.

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.


circa 650-587 BCE

The KH1, which was found in Square D, the middle of the repository, 7 cm above the floor, may contain passages from the Books of Exodus, Deuteronomy, Daniel and Nehemiah.

1. ...] YHWH ...
2. [...]
3. the grea[t ... who keeps]
4. the covenant and
5. [G]raciousness towards those who love [him] and (alt: [hi]m;)
6. those who keep [his commandments ...
7. ...].
8. the Eternal? [...].
9. [the?] blessing more than any
10. [sna]re and more than Evil.
11. For redemption is in him.
12. For YHWH
13. is our restorer [and]
14. rock. May YHWH bles[s]
15. you and
16. [may he] keep you.
17. [May] YHWH make
18. [his face] shine ...
19. [Further bottom line(s) broken.]

circa 650-587 BCE

KH2: The Priestly Blessing
The scroll KH2, which measures 11x39 millimetres (0.43 in x 1.54 in), may contain passages for the Book of Numbers. It was found while sifting dirt from the lower half of the deposits in Square A.

1. -h/hu. May be blessed h/sh-
2. -[e] by YHW[H,]
3. the warrior/helper and
4. the rebuker of
5. [E]vil: May bless you,
6. YHWH,
7. keep you.
8. Make shine, YH-
9. -[W]H, His face
10. [upon] you and g-
11. -rant you p-
12. -[ea]ce.

Discovery and Restoration

circa 650-587 BCE

Cave 24: Location of Discovery
The scrolls were found in 1979 CE in Chamber 25 of Cave 24 at Ketef Hinnom, during excavations conducted by a team under the supervision of Gabriel Barkay, who was then professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University. The site appeared to be archaeologically sterile (the tomb had last been used for storing rifles during the Ottoman period), but a chance discovery by a 13-year-old "assistant" revealed that a partial collapse of the ceiling long ago had preserved the contents of Chamber 25.

The delicate process of unrolling the scrolls while developing a method that would prevent them from disintegrating took three years.

Dating the Scrolls
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. 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".