A recent New York Times article reported new developments in the research on two ancient silver scrolls discovered in Jerusalem's Hinnom Valley in 1979 and subsequently dated to the late seventh century bc. They were engraved with words that appeared to be text from Numbers 6:24–26. However, because of the aging of the metal, researchers were unable to read several of the inscriptions and thereby confirm the age of the scrolls.
Thanks to new photographic techniques and computer imaging technology, researchers at the University of Southern California were able to greatly improve the legibility of the inscriptions, making it possible to confirm the antiquity of the scrolls. Those words from Numbers are now positively identified as the oldest known instance of quoted text from the Hebrew Bible. The article noted that "early Hebrew inscriptions were a rarity" and further stated that the scrolls were "a significant contribution to the understanding of the history of religion in ancient Israel, particularly the time of the Judean Monarchy 2,600 years ago."
The scrolls were worn as amulets whose words were "intended to provide a blessing that will be used to protect the wearer from some manner of evil forces," said the researchers. Of additional interest is the fact (not noted in the Times article) that this confirmed early date refutes the theories of many biblical scholars that the Pentateuch was composed much later.
These findings were documented in the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research and will be discussed in greater detail in Near Eastern Archaeology. The New York Times article, "Solving a Riddle Written in Silver," can be found by searching the archives at http://nytimes.com [registration required].