"Yahweh Inscription" Discovered at "Mount Sinai"!

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Excerpt Robert Cornuke, the founder of the BASE Institute claims to have seen, and has photographs of, an ancient stone artifact from Mount Sinai that is inscribed with the name of the LORD, “Yahweh,” on it! Continue reading

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Robert Cornuke, the founder of the BASE Institute, claimed at the 2007 Promise Keepers events to reveal what would be an astonishing archaeological discovery.  He has photographs of what he claims is an ancient stone artifact from Mount Sinai that is inscribed with the name of the LORD, “Yahweh,” on it!  If the inscription on this stone is what he claims it is, then the headline of every archaeological publication and newspaper should state: “YAHWEH INSCRIPTION DISCOVERED AT MOUNT SINAI!”  But has he really revealed a monumental discovery of biblical significance?

A concerned Christian contacted the Associates for Biblical Research (ABR) and inquired as to the validity of this claim, which was forwarded to me for a response.  This individual had watched the six Promise Keepers video clips on the BASE Institute website.  On one of the videos, two pictures are shown of the stone object with the inscription (see line drawing below).  The discussion of the “Yahweh inscription” begins at 5:17 minutes into the video and goes for about a minute.  In order to find the video in question on the website, the duration of this video is labeled 6:16 minutes. [Last accessed October 9. 2009].

http://www.baseinstitute.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=109&Itemid=64

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFxyPGtq0bY&feature=player_embedded#

The Theory about the “Yahweh Inscription”

Here is what is stated on the video about this ancient stone artifact:  “This, this particular stone -- now I have not shown this before publicly.  This is a, ah, this particular shot I mean.  This is – You see this stone here?  This is found around the mountain [Jebel al-Lawz].  Why is this important?  Because if this is the real Mount Sinai, we have these different letters inscribed on rocks over there.  And this particular rock, umm, has a very unique appearance to it.  You can see the front of it?  That’s a, ah, that’s a ‘Y’ ‘H’.  And in the back side has a ‘W’ ‘H’.  O.K., that spells Yahweh [YHWH].

This is an ancient stone with ‘Yahweh’ on the face.  What did Moses have when he came down from Mount Sinai?  The glory of God was on his face.  These stones are crying out today.  Can we prove this with DNA and fingerprints?  No.  But the evidence is starting to mount slowly.”

The claim, if I understand it correctly, is either that this is a portrait of Moses that is inscribed with the name of “Yahweh” on it in order to represent the “glory of God … on his face” (cf. Ex. 34:29-35), or it is the face of Yahweh.

Line drawing of the “Yahweh Stone.”  The obverse side (right) has the face of Moses or Yahweh with two South Semitic letters on it.  On the reverse (left) there are two more South Semitic letters.  The reverse side was rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise from the position on the video and reduced to the same size as the obverse side.

Critique and Analysis of this Claim

A vigorous critique and scholarly analysis of this discovery is in order.  First, there is no discussion of the initial discovery or provenance (where it was found) of the inscription.  Nor is the identity of the individual revealed who found this stone at Jebel al-Lawz in Saudi Arabia, the mountain that Cornuke believes to be Mount Sinai.  Did Cornuke himself find the stone, or did somebody else actually find it there?  If the latter is the case, we are not told if the actual stone was given to Cornuke or he just received the photographs of the stone.  Assuming the stone was given to Cornuke by somebody else, that individual is not identified, nor are we told how or where it was obtained by this other party.  Was the stone actually found at Jebel al-Lawz or somewhere else?

Second, little is said about the stone itself.  We have no idea from the picture how big or small this object is.  Was it a hand held stone, or a standing stele?  There was no scale in either picture.  What is the geological make-up of the stone?  Is it made of basalt or something else?

A word of caution is in order.  Unless an artifact is found in situ (in place in a controlled scientific archaeological excavation), there is always the possibility that it is a modern-day forgery, something that is very common in the Middle East these days.  Proper scientific protocol should be followed and this stone should be inspected by a professional epigraphist for authenticity and a public report from the epigraphist should be issued, as to whether it is authentic or not.

Third, where is the present location of this object?  Was it deposited with the Saudi Arabian Department of Antiquities, as required by Saudi law?  Or, was it bought on the antiquities market and now held in a private collection, or is it on display in a museum?  If so, which museum?  Also, when, and in what scientific journal will this inscription be published?

Fourth, and most importantly, how was this text deciphered and translated?  To my knowledge, Bob Cornuke has no training in Middle Eastern field archaeology or Semitic languages, so we are not told how he arrived at the identification of these letters.  Did he identify them and translate the word himself?  Or did somebody else identify the letters and translate them as a single word?  If somebody else did, who was that individual?

I am a field archaeologist and a Biblical geographer but not a Semitic language expert, so I contacted two Semitics scholars and an archaeologist who worked for the Saudi Department of Antiquities.  I shared with them contents of the video published on the Internet.

Michael Macdonald, a Semitics scholar, is a research associate at the Oriental Institute at the University of Oxford.  He has had over 30 years of field experience, recording and cataloging tens of thousands of inscriptions from Syria, Jordan and the Arabia Peninsula.  In other words, he is very familiar with ancient rock graffiti and with the forms of letters in ancient scripts.  He once published a comparative chart of South Semitic alphabetic scripts (1992: 3: 419).  Thus readers can now compare the script on the “Yahweh stone” with what is known from archaeological excavations and field research.  But note his words of caution when using the chart: “The stance and shape of many letters in Safaitic and Thamudic may vary considerably.”

The second Semitics scholar I consulted with was Dr. K. Lawson Younger Jr., Professor of Old Testament, Semitic Languages and Ancient Near Eastern History at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Both Semitics scholars, independent of each other, concluded that this unprovenanced sculpture is most likely a crude modern day forgery.  In personal correspondence with the author, Macdonald wrote:

I am almost certain that the sculpture is a fake. Quite a lot of these very crude carvings are appearing on the market nowadays but they bear no relation to the types of ancient Arabian sculptures found in scientific archaeological excavations.  The two letters [on the obverse side] have genuine shapes, but this is not a surprise since published script tables of the ancient scripts are widely distributed in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. I have come across small boys in remote villages able to write their names in the ancient scripts!

The third person consulted was Dr. Majeed Khan, an archaeologist retired from the Saudi Department of Antiquities.  He is a specialist in the rock art of Saudi Arabia and worked on the comprehensive archaeological survey of the Jebel al-Lawz region for the Saudi Department of Antiquities.  Dr. Khan also believes that the stone with the inscription is a recent forgery.  He says, “Such false stones are on sale in Yemen and Najran area [of Saudi Arabia].  You can buy many stones like these particularly in Yemen.  All are false and recently sculptured.”  Dr. Khan personally worked on the comprehensive survey of the Jebel al-Lawz area, where this sculpture is said to have come from, and he never saw anything like this sculptured rock.

It is claimed that the inscription has the Divine Name “Yahweh” (yhwh) on the rock.  Is this a valid claim?  The side with the face on it (the “obverse”) is presumably the beginning of the inscription.  As with many Semitic languages, South Semitic scripts included, the inscription should be read from right to left.  The first letter, to the right of the nose, is transliterated as a “w”, not a “y.”  The second letter, to the left of the nose, is an “h with a dot under it” (ḥ).  Macdonald points out that this is an entirely different letter from the “h” in “Yahweh.”

On the reverse side of the stone are two more letters.  The letter on the right is transliterated as “h with a line under it” (ẖ).  Macdonald observes that it is pronounced as a "kh" (like the last sound in Scottish "loch").  This letter is not present in the name "Yahweh" and is not a “w.”  The last letter, to the left of the “ẖ”, is a “y” and not an “h.”

If these letters did form a single word, which is highly unlikely, it would be spelled “wḥẖy”, and not “yhwh.”  Macdonald points out that “the letters would make no sense as a single word or name in a Semitic language since the sounds ‘kh’ and ‘h with a dot’ cannot occur in the same word.”  Younger further comments: “This is an impossible word in any Semitic language which would never have these two gutturals in a row.”  He continues, “This is absolute proof that the inscription is a forgery!”  On a lighter note, Younger says, “It yields a word that could not be pronounced!  It would ruin someone’s throat trying!”

Younger sums it up this way: “I can say most emphatically this is not the Hebrew divine name Yahweh (yhwh).  There is an obvious wrongness to the order of the consonants, and the consonants themselves are wrong!”  Macdonald and Khan concur.

These are very important questions and serious objections that need to be answered by the BASE research team.  It is hoped that an answer will be posted to all these questions and objections, as well as a report from a professional epigraphist as to the stone’s authenticity in the very near future.  A good place to share the answers to these questions and objections would be under the “Investigations” category of the BASE Institute website.  There is no article in the “Inscriptions” file, except four short paragraphs.  The last one says: “Continue to check back here at the Institute for further information release.”  This statement has been up for about two years.  Now (October 2009), would be the time to add a report about the “Yahweh Inscription.”

Another important question raised is that the inscription was alleged to be found at a site other than a mountain in the Sinai Peninsula.  Mount Sinai is located in the Sinai Peninsula according to all the biblical data, and not at Jebel al-Lawz in Saudi Arabia where the discovery was allegedly made.  Ancient writers included the Sinai Peninsula within the province of Arabia in the first century AD.  The Apostle Paul was perfectly consistent with these ancient writers when he stated in Galatians 4:25, “Mount Sinai in [first century AD] Arabia.”  Mount Sinai is named in accordance with the Sinai Peninsula (not Arabia), and thus does not lie in the boundaries of modern Saudi Arabia, which excludes the Sinai Peninsula (Franz 2000: 101-113).

Conclusions

To sum up: the sculpture of the bearded man or deity is thus more than likely a modern-day forgery carved thousands of years after the Exodus.  It was also not written in genuine paleo-Hebrew and can not be translated “Yahweh.”  The facts surrounding the chronology and paleography of this inscription would negate this artifact as being clearly connected with the visit of the Children of Israel to Mount Sinai.

The men that attended the Promise Keepers events and heard this presentation, or those who view the video clip, should not share this information with others as proof that the Bible is true.  The Bible is true regardless of whether this discovery has any biblical significance.  The assertion that Mount Sinai is at Jebel al-Lawz in Saudi Arabia still lacks credible and verifiable historical, geographical, archaeological, or biblical evidence.

Bibliography

Franz, Gordon
2000 Is Mount Sinai in Saudi Arabia?  Bible and Spade 13/4: 101-113.

2001 Mount Sinai is NOT Jebel al-Lawz in Saudia Arabia.

Macdonald, Michael
1992 Inscriptions, Safaitic.  Pp. 418-423 in Anchor Bible Dictionary.  Vol. 3.  Edited by D. N. Freedman.  New York: Doubleday.

Comments Comment RSS

10/20/2009 5:41 PM #

Though I am not a S Semitics scholar (my expertise lying in Akkadian and NW Semitic), and therefore cannot comment on the epigraphy, Gordon Franz's observations alone are adequate for the moment to render the find suspicious at the least and most likely a hoax .

Eugene H. Merrill - 10/20/2009 5:41:29 PM

10/20/2009 6:19 PM #

Gentlemen:
I couldn't agree more with Gordon Franz's conclusion.  It is good that fakes like this be exposed.  On the other hand, do we give credence to a sensationalist/amateur like Cornuke when we discuss their "finds"?

Jim Battenfield - 10/20/2009 6:19:08 PM

10/21/2009 2:33 PM #

Dear Commenters,

Before posting about the location of Mount Sinai supposedly being in Saudi Arabia, please read our extensive research at these links here:

http://www.biblearchaeology.org/faq.aspx#Faq8

www.biblearchaeology.org/.../...ct-at-Rameses.aspx

www.biblearchaeology.org/.../...ossing-Part-I.aspx

www.biblearchaeology.org/.../...ssing-Part-II.aspx

THANKS!
ABR

ABR - 10/21/2009 2:33:36 PM

10/21/2009 3:52 PM #

Cornuke is treated with a gentleness perhaps undeserved.  Is there deceptive intent, or is this merely unbridled, ignorant self-promotion?  Perhaps it's time to look a little deeper.

Robin E. Simmons - 10/21/2009 3:52:50 PM

10/24/2009 9:32 AM #

Archaeology continues to have the sensationalist lurking on its borders.  Thank you for providing another reasoned critique that we can pass on when asked about the latest amazing "proof."

Alfred J. Hoerth - 10/24/2009 9:32:56 AM

10/24/2009 5:07 PM #

I barely have enough time in class to expose students to solid biblical scholarship let alone spending valuable Kingdom resources to discusss Cornuke's latest book deal. Thank you Gordon for your tireless work and scholarship to debunk this stuff, it saves me time when I can refer students to this article.

Steve Ortiz - 10/24/2009 5:07:24 PM

10/26/2009 4:00 AM #

I appreciate Gordon Franz taking the time and effort to look into sensationalistic claims like this one. Rather than simply sharing his own views and archaeological insights, Gordon also sought advice from many others including two respected Semitics scholars and an archaeologist who worked for the Saudi Department of Antiquities. This shows a level of integrity and humility that is sorely wanting in this area of research. Unfortunately, I am afraid that when individuals who present themselves as Biblical teachers publicly distort the archaeological record while speaking to large groups like Promise Keepers or even small private groups, they need to be held accountable. Everyone who speaks or teaches should consistently meditate on James 3:1-9. For these type of "teachers" who create or promote sensational pronouncements on uninformed audiences, perhaps they should reconsider the way that they financially support their families and pull back from their speaking engagements and monetary products like their books, DVDs, games, etc.

Rex Geissler - 10/26/2009 4:00:40 AM

10/27/2009 6:28 AM #

As usual, you can always depend on Gordon Franz to apply rigorous scholarship in his analysis of another Cornuke's incredible claims.  The Body of Christ benefits from Gordon's work in that they are not led astray by less than credible claims.

Bill Crouse - 10/27/2009 6:28:04 AM

10/27/2009 6:29 AM #

I applaud Gordon Franz for his discernment and scholarship. Someone needs to sound a warning and alert the flock to bogus claims of these false teachers. Cornuke is into nothing but selling and sensationalism and needs to be exposed. Thanks Mr. Franz for helping Pastors and leaders protect the sheep (Acts 20:28-30). May your tribe increase! Pastor Dick Fisher

Pastor Dick Fisher - 10/27/2009 6:29:00 AM

10/30/2009 9:12 AM #

As a pastor and Bible teacher for many years, I have had to answer questions from people asking about the latest claims from the latest bookseller. Thankfully, there are true archaeological scholars, such as Gordon Franz, that we can turn to. He brings the disciplines of language, history, culture and more. Equally important, however, he brings the objectivity of one not making any profit of fame or fortune from his work. This article is one in a long line of thoughtful, corrective works I have deeply appreciated from Mr. Franz, especially where it concerns Mr. Cornuke. Thanks for helping me and countless pastors bring the light of truth to shine on error at its best, or deception at its worst.

Pastor Mark Chalemin - 10/30/2009 9:12:50 AM

10/30/2009 9:51 AM #

I have known Gordon Franz since we met in Israel in 1983. His careful, thorough and professional work is always of the highest quality and integrity. He is modest and humble, patient with skeptics and critics alike. Once again he has done us all a real service by carefully analyzing this ancient inscription and showing us it most likely does not feature a reference to Yahweh. He reminds us that claims based on archaeological finds always need to be thoroughly documented and opened to peer review and scrutiny.

Lambert Dolphin - 10/30/2009 9:51:56 AM

10/30/2009 9:57 AM #

Thank you Gordon!  I teach high school Greco-Roman Archaeology and am constantly confronted with students enthralled with pseudo-archaeology and fantastical finds that stretch truth and sound archaeological methodologies.  Your article will be used to show students examples of well-researched artifacts by professionals who are leaders in their fields and to be weary of fanstastical finds that avoid the pesky problems of fact.

E. McGinnis - 10/30/2009 9:57:10 AM

10/30/2009 10:42 AM #

If a quarter of Cornuke's claims over the last decade or so were true he would be the most notable archaeologist in the world (and after meeting him once I'm sure he would enjoy that status).

This is simply another example of a "husker" making a living off unsuspecting sheep.  Most churches and ministries simply do not have the expertise to verify or falsify the claims made by such people.  In this case verification would be easy, were it true (or even plausible) it would be on every major news outlet in the English speaking world.

Thanks for Gordon's work to expose nonsense for what it is and the work of ABR in general in these areas.

Dennis M. Swanson - 10/30/2009 10:42:28 AM

11/3/2009 1:05 AM #

I appreciate the article by Gordon Franz very much, as I do with many articles of his that I have read. Few laypersons are trained to evaluate claims such as Gordon exposes in the article at hand in which an apparently untrained person in archaeology and ancient languages draws improper conclusions from what is discovered, to speak most charitably. Mr. Franz has done a fair assessment of the ancient stone discussed by Mr. Cornuke as to whether the stone bears an inscription referring to Yahweh, or that it bears the face of Moses or Yahweh. Certainly if the latter, there is a violation of the 2nd commandment. He asks important questions about the stone's place of discovery, whether Mr. Cornuke has followed proper legal practices in the procuring and placement of the stone, a more detailed description of the stone, and by what means it is translated yhwh, since the characters do not seem to be yhwh, though my knowledge of ANE languages is limited to only a few, and not south semitic. I did, however, check a south semitic alphabet and his substitution for yhwh with yhhw appears in my brief examination to be more in line. Without more evidence provided by Mr. Cornuke, including a response to Gordon Franz's legitimate questions, there is little reason to accept the accuracy of Mr. Cornuke's claims about this stone.

H. Wayne House - 11/3/2009 1:05:33 AM

11/6/2009 1:09 AM #

Thanks Gordon.  Sadly, when people eventually find out that these sensationalist claims are not substantiated, it tends to call into question the entire body of otherwise well-authenticated archaeological support for the historicity of the Scriptures, of which there is truly an ample supply.  Good scholarship, such as you present, is one helpful antidote to this unfortunate situation.  Thanks again.

Mike Caba - 11/6/2009 1:09:58 AM

11/6/2009 3:48 AM #

When will people realize that biblical archaeology can always "support" scripture...and is not needed to "prove" scripture? Sadly, Cornuke is painting himself into the same camp and corner as that of Ron Wyatt and others. Thanks Gordon for a capable, informative, and compassionate argument for truth and against misleading and dangerous claims.

Greg Gulbrandsen - 11/6/2009 3:48:46 AM

12/23/2009 3:43 AM #

I thank you also Gordon.

I encountered Bob Carnuke's ministry some years ago, I think it was through Chuck Missler, and I admit he interested me then. However my own knowledge (as well as my knowledge of my ignorance) has increased over the years and now I counsel people to be very sceptical in regards to his claims.

Jason - 12/23/2009 3:43:02 AM

2/16/2010 5:45 PM #

Thanks Gordon. Great article about discerning sensational claims.

Rick Dack - 2/16/2010 5:45:35 PM

2/19/2010 5:04 PM #

Granted the supposed tetragrammaton "find" is questionable, but how do you folks explain the tallest mtn. in NW Arabia having strong evidence of having been charred or smoked. Where else in the ME would you go to find such a thing. It was not that long ago that BAR ran a much more objective considerable of Wyatt's, Cornuke's and let's not forget Jim and Betty Caldwell's discovery of huge split rock very near this same mtn. which had amazing evidence of water erosion at its base unparalleled in the surrounding rock landscape. The BAR article documented the numerous early Jewish and Arab sources associating Mt. Sinai and Midiam (the city of the high priest of Midian, not a mispelling) with this very area not more than 20 miles N. of Jabal el Lawz, which is only three days journey by foot from the Port of Elat. The BAR author even suggests that Paul and Elijah may have sought quietude and consultation with Yeshua/Yahweh at this very mtn! ala Gal 1:17, etc. What say you to all this? Certainly Constantine's mother Helena has been responsibly for much phoney nomenclature stemming from her time in the 4th century-- ie. church of the holy sepulchre and the so-called Mt. Sinai on the peninsula so misnamed. Does anyone truly think that the Sinai peninsula was not in the control of the Egyptians, and therefore not part of Arabia, during the time of Egypt's greatest expansion and dominion of the ME during the reign of Tutmose III?  

Phil Derstine - 2/19/2010 5:04:55 PM

2/19/2010 5:19 PM #

Dear Mr Derstine (re: 2/19/10),

These claims by Wyatt, et. al., have been thoroughly refuted in these articles:

www.biblearchaeology.org/.../...-Saudi-Arabia.aspx

www.biblearchaeology.org/.../...-Saudi-Arabia.aspx

And in this book:
www.biblearchaeology.org/.../product.aspx?id=108

On Galatians 4, from Gordon Franz's article:

The third false assumption is that the Apostle Paul says in Gal. 4:25 that Mt. Sinai was in Saudi Arabia. Cornuke plainly states this when he says,

The apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, informs us that Mount Sinai is in Saudi Arabia. Not Egypt! (Cornuke and Halbrook 2000: 171).

The Bible says nothing of the sort. Granted, the Holy Spirit could have predicted the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia long before it came on the world scene. After all, He predicted Cyrus by name 210 years before he became king of Persia (Isa. 44:28; 45:1; Antiquities of the Jews 11: 5; LCL 6: 315). Yet all the Bible says is that Mount Sinai is in Arabia.

Moses never uses the word “Arab” or “Arabia” at the time he wrote the Pentateuch. The words appear later in the Bible (I Kings 10:15; II Chron. 9:14; 17:11; 21:16; 22:1; 26:7; Neh. 2:19; 4:7; 6:1; Isa. 13:20; 21:13; Jer. 3:2; 25:24; Ezek. 27:21). So the Apostle Paul does not have a Mosaic use of the word “Arabia” in mind when he uses the word in Gal. 4:25 because “Arabia” did not exist in Moses’ day.

The Galatians 4:25 reference might indeed support the view that Mount Sinai was in Saudi Arabia if the Apostle Paul was looking at a 1990 Rand McNally Atlas. However, it would not be true if he was looking at a First Century AD Roman road map. Although no actual maps of Roman Arabia exist from this period, we do possess the accounts of the contemporary travelers such as Strabo, a Greek from Pontus (64 BC to ca. AD 25). He describes the borders of Arabia as having its eastern border at the Persian Gulf and its western border at the East Side of the Nile River. This means that Strabo understood the entire Arabian Peninsula and the Sinai Peninsula to be included in First Century Arabia (Geography 16:4:2; 17:1:21,24-26,30,31; LCL VII: 309; VIII: 71-79, 85-87).

The word “Arab” first appears in an extra-Biblical inscription from a monolith found at Kurkh from the time of Shalmaneser III (853 BC). Throughout the Assyrian period, various Assyrian kings describe the activities of the Arabs, or desert nomads.

The first time the word “Arabia” is used as a term for a designated geographical area is in the mid-fifth century BC by the famous Greek historian and traveler, Herodotus (born ca. 484 BC). He traveled to Egypt and wrote about his trip in his book, The Persian Wars.

We suggest a wholesale rejection of the whole Wyatt/Cornuke hypothesis. It has no archaeological, historical or Biblical support.

Blessings---ABR

ABR - 2/19/2010 5:19:30 PM

6/7/2010 4:37 AM #

As a pastor from Jordan, archaeology has not said it's final word, so how can it be used as a tool, as it is, for understanding the Bible? This artical  is an important one in the research process.

Haidar Hallasa - 6/7/2010 4:37:19 AM

8/4/2011 5:14 PM #

Just so that everyone knows, the stone was brought out by Sung Hak Kim of South Korea and is now kept in a museum in Seoul (www.tulsaworld.com/.../article.aspx Miles Jones, the translator, clearly did not care much about letter order. The former was interviewed in the potential film "The Exodus Conspiracy".

E. Harding - 8/4/2011 5:14:20 PM

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