Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

The Mystery Stone

Does a rock in New Mexico show the Ten Commandments in ancient Hebrew? Harvard professor says yes.

Print Email
(Photoillustration: Tablet Magazine)

But there are those who think that a context does exist for the stone. James Tabor, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, says that the archeological context is to be found at the top of the mountain, where there are the remains of dwellings and more Hebrew writings. The organization of the dwellings on the mountaintop plateau is reminiscent of Masada. But even more convincing to Tabor is the star map engraved on one of the stones that records a solar eclipse dated to Sept. 15, 107 BCE. That was the date of Rosh Hashanah of that year. All this adds up to a context compelling enough to rule out the possibility of it being a hoax, Tabor explained to me in a phone interview in February.

Tabor bases his opinion on the expertise of Cyrus Gordon, late professor of Near Eastern cultures and ancient languages at Brandeis and NYU. Gordon, who died in 2001, was greatly respected for his work in all areas save one. “His colleagues were very embarrassed that Gordon thought that ancient peoples visited the New World before Columbus,” Tabor tells me.

Yet Gordon did cite evidence for his claim. The Samaritans, who continued to use Paleo-Hebrew, had a special tax put on their ships, indicating that they were maritime and prosperous. Furthermore, the Mystery Stone is sized and placed appropriately to be a Samaritan mezuzah, which tended to be a large slab, rather than a small scroll, and was placed at the entrance to the town. As it happens, the Mystery Stone is located at the entrance to the only path leading to the mountaintop village. “The better question,” Tabor points out, “is why it is so odd to think that ancient people could have ended up in the New World in the thousand years between Solomon and the Common Era.”

After meeting Gordon at a conference at Harvard in 1995, Tabor made the trip to see the stone in 1996. During the trip, he spoke to Frank Hibben, who told him that an Indian guide recalled having seen the inscription as early as 1880. This suggested to Tabor that if it was a hoax, it was a 19th-century hoax, not a 20th-century one.

The story of Hibben being shown the rock by a guide is discomfortingly close to the one Huning told Shetter. Still, it seems a lot more likely that Hibben “borrowed” the story, than that he wrote the inscription.

Tabor published a paper on the Mystery Stone in David Horovitz’s United Israel Bulletin, but he has since retracted it, though he is still tentatively convinced that the site is ancient. “People tend to misrepresent things,” he says. I ask if he is religious, and he says, “Not in a way that is relevant.”

Interestingly, both those who think the stone is of ancient origin as well as those who think it is a hoax see the truth of the issue to be marred by a lack of objectivity in the scientific community. David Atlee Phillips, curator of Archeology at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology and professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico, finds it much more likely that the inscription is the work of con artists than evidence of an ancient civilization. Preferring to communicate via email due to the “touchy nature of the subject,” Phillips writes, “As every con man knows, the essence of a good fraud is allowing the victim to believe what that victim wishes to believe. The ‘true believers’ I have encountered vis a vis the Los Lunas inscription fall into two categories. First, individuals for whom an ancient Old World inscription in the New World would validate their particular religious beliefs. Second, individuals who are looking to make the Next Great Scientific Discovery. Some humans are able to resist the temptation of the more self-serving path, but others are not—and once they are on that path, they use their certainty to determine which potential facts are correct and which are not. In my experience, once people have started down that path, they are quite impervious to whatever information I provide them.”

Photo by Batya Ungar-Sargon

The smoking gun for Phillips is the “caret,” symbolizing a correction, a modern symbol. “I infer that the person who inscribed the words was not fluent in the language, but was working off a photograph or drawing and temporarily overlooked part of the inscription.” Furthermore, Phillips writes, “when you stand and look at the inscription, a glance downward will show the possible signature of the creators. There in the bedrock is inscribed ‘Eva and Hobe 3-13-30.’ There is an oral tradition at UNM that Eva and Hobe were anthropology majors who prepared the inscription as a hoax, and who were found out. They were told that if they ever did something like that again, their careers in the field would be over.”

When I press Phillips on the “touchy nature of the subject,” he writes, “It is touchy because there are people out there who want very, very much to prove that the inscription is ancient, to the point that they will use only the parts of what I say that fit their preconceptions.”

The same charge is leveled—this time, against Mystery Stone skeptics—by J. Huston McCulloch, a retired professor of economics at Ohio State University who has published on the subject of Hebrew inscriptions in America. While Phillips says he is too much of a scientist to believe in the stone’s authenticity, McCulloch sees the insistence on disbelieving the inscription’s authenticity as unscientific. “A scientist must follow the scientific method,” McCulloch told me in a phone interview. “We compare the theory to the data, and if it doesn’t match, we revise the theory, not the data.” But when it comes to archeological findings, especially those that seem to corroborate the claim that non-Native Americans lived in America pre-Columbus, he says, “Archeologists claim that the data is wrong. Each time something is found, they claim it is unique and thus discredit it for having no context. They did that with the Bat Creek inscription, and the Newark Stones, and now with the Los Lunas Decalogue Stone,” referring to other finds of artifacts of disputed origin.

McCulloch’s interest in ancient inscriptions began with his interest as an economist in congressional appropriations. Specifically, in 1881, Congress appropriated $5,000 to the Smithsonian Institution to conduct a “Mound Survey” for “ethnological research” that included the inscribed stones. McCulloch sees this not uncommon occurrence as a blatant attempt to keep the inscriptions from being viewed as Hebraic, possibly due to anti-Mormon sentiment at that time.

1 2 3 4 5View as single page
Print Email

That there is some good writing, I appreciate it.

New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment, which to paraphrase, the Land of Hype. There’s an enduring love of mystery here. The valley northward from Mexico to Taos has been a crossroads for all sorts of migrants for hundreds of years. The area of Santa Fe and Albuquerque attracted offbeat academics and wealthy intellectuals for its dry climate and thin air as a curative to the dreaded tuberculosis. And a strong culture of superstition gave credibility to such legends as Kokopelli and La Llorona.

Put all these factors together and you have a likely scenario in which an amateurish 19th century joke could turn into a widespread myth. But by the charm of New Mexico, fortunes have been built on less intriguing mysteries.

Gerald F. McBride says:

I enjoyed the article. One small correction. Truth or Consequences was originally called Hot Springs, not Hope Springs.

Thanks for spotting that, Gerald. We’ve corrected the text.

pkbrandon says:

Like Roswell and the UFO’s.

jcarpenter says:

Anybody check with Glenn Beck? Last I heard, he was all geeked that the Midwestern mound-builders were Lost Tribes of Israel, proto-Mormons. This tablet would definitely confirm the truth in his mind.

Patrick says:

The paleo-Hebrew script used before the exile was essentially the same as that of the Moabites and the Phoenicians. The Hebrew alphabetic script used after the exile was Aramaic / Aramean, not Assyrian. Aramaic was the Lingua Franca of the Middle East roughly the same time that Greek was the Lingua Franca of the Mediterranean. Eventually Arabic supplanted Aramaic, though it lingers among many Christian pockets in the Near East. The ancient Assyrians wrote using cuneiform, a non-alphabetic script. Today’s Assyrian people, living in Iraq, Syria and other Near Eastern countries still use a dialect of Aramaic, though they use a later alphabetic script.

Excellent story. I believe I’ve solved the mystery and the relic is authentic; the inscription is an ancient Phoenician Chinese takeout menu.

The Talmud refers to the post-exilic script as “כתב אשורי” i.e., Assyrian script. Was cuneiform still in use at the time of the Babylonian exile (586 BCE- 517 BCE)?

hg

Patrick says:

Ah, you’re probably right about that. I’m looking back too far.

tony rebello says:

Yeah, nice article and interesting comments.

Captivating journalism. Love those first two translations. I’d like to view the terrain from Google satellite imagery.

Hey, hope springs eternal.

The adjective “Assyrian” in the Talmud does not refer to the ancient Assyrians of Iraq, but to Arameans of Syria. The script in question is Aramaic.

It would have been wise for the author of this piece to consult a few paleographers. Quite apart from the spelling errors the author notes, the script of the stone is an utterly impossible mixture of forms and stances. Not one single scholar who knows anything about West Semitic scripts of the first millennium bc would credit the inscription as authentic. Whoever carved the letters thought, e.g., that the letters should “sit” on an ideal baseline. Ancient Semitic scribes “hung” their letters from an ideal ceiling. The distinction may seem subtle, but it is unassailable evidence that the inscriber was not an ancient.

Laila Rasheed says:

Hi,

If you want to know how religions are created, then study Mormonism. All the facts are easy to find & research & then you will understand how Judaism was created by Ezra. He got all his material in Babylon! He even got a revamped YHWH, by taking on the Universal God, Ahura Mazda. YHWH was a failure as a tribal god, so he evolved into the Universal God, while on holidays in Babylon. Ezra was commissioned by Cyrus to rebuild the Temple & establish Babylonian Talmudic Judaism. When he got pack he kicked out anyone who wasn’t 100% Pure Jewish Blood. Now you know where Adolf got his idea.

Remember, prior to Ezra, the Jews were a bunch of bandits, always finding & always getting the sh-t kicked out of them. Ezra said, “We need a good script to show that we are the Chosen of God & give us a history”! Jacob Spielberg said, “I’m good at writing & making up stories”! “OK, the jobs yours”! And that is how the Jews got their book & the idea that the are the Chosen People. A Big Whopper!

Another important element: some of the original settlers of New Mexico were “crypto-jews” who maintained jewish traditions in secret. So rather than it being authentically ancient, it might be something transmitted through generations before being written in stone.

http://www.nmjhs.org/crypto-jews.html

Doctor Bucephalus says:

Speak his name and the crazies shall appear.

Aptitude says:

Perhaps it proclaims the Greater Azatlan
& the birth right of La Raza.
Viva Greater Mexico !!!

3 different bogus translations
sound like Zecharia Sitchin.

francis321 says:

up to I saw the check 4 $7288, I did not believe that…my… friend woz
realie taking home money part time online.. there great aunt started
doing this 4 less than twenty two months and a short time ago cleard
the mortgage on their cottage and purchased a great Lotus Carlton. read
more at, jump15.comCHECK IT OUT

This looks kind of, but not exactly like, like the Deseret Alphabet to me.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deseret_alphabet

You guys got the date wrong. Post this again on April 1st!

disqus_qZ6DCvpsy9 says:

Neither the author nor any of the learned professors indicate WHICH of the three versions of the Ten commandments in the torah is the one inscribed. Makes a difference, y’know…

What’s written on the rock at the top of the article is no mystery. It’s the ten commandments written using a squarish version of the Canaanite/Paleo-Hebrew script. It’s easy to read. All these other theories and translations are just silly. I suppose it is an early 20 Century fake by someone wanting to fool Mormons.

desertvoice says:

Examine the age of the stone!

VinoJon says:

Can you please cite the source in the Talmud where they debate the original orthography of the Torah? I’ve wondered about this for years, because I could never reconcile my Hebrew education upbringing with the language of the Dead Sea scrolls. Thanks a lot in advance!

“There is even a debate in the Talmud as to whether the Torah that was originally given to the Israelites was written in Paleo-Hebrew or Assyrian, today’s Hebrew orthography.”

In fact, Aramean was the main international language under the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Though they still spoke Akkadian (specifically, Neo-Babylonian, one dialect of that era, alongside Neo-Assyrian) and wrote cuneiform inscriptions, much official correspondence for the Empire was conducted in a form of Aramaic, thus using the Aramaic script. It is scarcely surprising that the Jews would label the script and language as “Assyrian”.

Often missed was that, though this Aramaic form of the alphabet was used in the main for post-exilic writing, there was some preservation of Paleo-Hebrew forms. This shows up, for instance, in the practice of some, of writing the Scriptures in Aramaic letters EXCEPT for the tetragrammaton, which they honored by rendering it in paleo-Hebrew letter forms.

Strixton says:

It just to goes to show that you can bring in lots of “experts” and each and every single one of them will come up with an entirely different translation of what the words may possibly mean. In old Yatzvingian_Rushden dialect the script appears to me to read ” And lo, the bus conductor has setteth fire to his dancing shoes. Haste ye now and send reinforcements for the enemy is advancing on the western flank”.

Ron Hendel says:

Very cheesy story. “Harvard professor says yes” — in 1949! No Harvard professor, or Semitic epigrapher trained at Harvard in the last half century, would say yes. This is pure hokum. One can even tell which old script charts the forger used. Lazy journalism.

Natan79 says:

Hoax. This story sounds like one the last chapters in Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn”, when Tom and Jim write some gibberish and make it pass as ancient and secret African wisdom.

something about a select group of older Hebrews spending winters in New Mexico because of the cold weather in the Bronx

knauth@lycoming.edu says:

Fun story, but I’ll never understand why people always seem to think it has to be either/or. Pre-Columbian or modern fraud. It seems to me that the evidence points to its being post-Columbian but pre-1880 authentic religiously motivated inscription of whatever community lived on top of the hill, which apparently included some religious person who liked to write in paleo-Hebrew script and thought that a paleo-Hebrew rendition of the decalog would be an appropriate marker for the entrance of the settlement. I’m pretty sure there are similar kinds of inscriptions in modern court-houses that are likewise neither pre-Columbian nor “frauds.” The architecture, pottery, and other “garbage” at the top of the hill would supply the rough date. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some Franciscan monks happened to have studied paleo-Hebrew script for example.

Don Spohn says:

Although I believe there are ancient writings on American stones, the facts as presented here lead me to believe they were probably signed and dated by their inscribers, Eva and Hobe. Many people like to add their names (graffiti) to a ancient inscriptions, but they could easily inscribed “discovered” by Eva and Hobe, but they did not.
Although notbelieving the inscription is authentic, McCulloch (retired professor of

economics at Ohio State University) makes a great point. He sees the insistence
on disbelieving the inscription’s authenticity as unscientific. “A scientist must follow the scientificmethod,” McCulloch told me in a phone interview. “We compare the theory to thedata, and if it doesn’t match, we revise the theory, not the data.
But when it comes to archeological findings, especially those that seem to
corroborate the claim that non-Native Americans lived in America pre-Columbus,”
he says, “Archeologists claim that the data is wrong. Each time something is
found, they claim it is unique and thus discredit it for having no context.”
Of course, a good geologists can easily tell us if the main text and Eva and Hobe text were chiseled around the same time or separated by hundreds or thousands of
years. There is no reason for this to remain a mystery!
Don Spohn

Great Lakes Copper Research

Sanhedrin 21b

Some modern Muslims are now claiming that there are Arabic inscriptions in North America, showing that Muslims got there before Columbus. It’s another hoax, of course, but it fulfills some deep cravings for precedence, a reversal of European and subsequent American moves into the Middle East and beyond.

VinoJon says:

Thanks very much!

Yes it was. Actually, cuneiform still remained in use in the ex-Akkadian kingdom during the time of Alexander the Great. See: I.J.Geld (various studies; Google the name) and Johannes Friedrich.

Only one student of archeology has lodged an assessment of this site, it was for field-work credit and he simply stated it as “Obviously recent”. In 1926 Geologist Thor Warner ascended the South side of the mesa noting extensive fortifications covered its flat top being obviously ancient. If it were possible that a group of (very knowledgable) hoaxers could coordinate such an elaborate work as these (intentionally) angled inscriptions within their surrounding symmetry of deeply inset rocks (so identical with Negev fortifications), that would be a greater mystery than an Israelite-Phoenician origin.

To enter the site one must cross a bridge over (then walk alongside) the Arroyo Garcia, which is an extention by erosion from a cataract effected in the Rio Puerco in antiquity. Erosion rates here are well established with UNM (due to the other site connected to this one “Pottery Mound”, the colony 5 miles downstream which you mention in the article) because the digs which unearthed the Kiva art displayed at Maxwell also effected erroding. Also to be seen from atop the mesa are agricultural furrows arcing out from the riverbank to perpendicular to sunlight from in-line with normal wind direction.

Strewn about this mesa and the mound is much pottery. The type found on the mountain are mostly very dark inside and brown outside -and some lighter almost golden or even red but still nearly black within. This is very old stuff, a lot of it interestingly textured and not at all like the newer stuff which came after with natives moving into the area later. These people used food contained elsewhere and broke the vessels.

The location of this agricultural outpost and clean ‘high-place altar’ with its pottery making colony makes ongoing expedition possible, but no more evidence of phonic literacy as these inscriptions exhibit has been found. Much petroglyphing of the tribal nature is to be seen which may be related, however, as with the Zodiac table on the mesa Northernmost point which records a total eclipse dating to the fall equinox of 759 BCE (during the only united monarchy of Israel-Judah with the Kings Jeroboam II and Uzziah).

The only mystery is where did these seafaring people go from here once their stock was replenished… going the way they came -from the Gulf up the Rio Grande- with the spring runoff makes sense, but it puts them out in unfavorable currents for returning across the Atlantic they could have easily crossed with “hurricane alley”. And if they managed to circumvent the Celts to return to Tarshish then well, but if going on past Greece- the world they would re-enter was no longer their ‘golden age’ but that of empires in upheaval. Israel was being exiled by Assyria and Judah was going to be destroyed and sent captive to Babylon.

There are two very important finds to be brought out from this place, and another significant development inspired from it, but this comment section is not the appropriate forum. It would be welcomed if the UNM School of Anthropology were to ‘take a good long look’ at this mountain and their PM site as originally connected, and change their stance regarding it.

Isn’t there a theory floating around that the Native Americans of the America’s are descended from the 12 Lost Tribes of Israel?? Maybe a hoax but it could also be very real. I think we sometimes don’t want to see the truth in front of us.

There is a slight problem with this theory.
Native Americans belong to the mongoloid race (i.e. Asian in common language), the Israelites were caucasoid (i.e.White). How can Whites have Asian descendants? .

The entire area from there down through El Paso-Juarez has had and still has a sizeable population of Ladino-speakers. There was already a Hebrew script Ladino project based there some years ago and the stone is one of many pilgrimage objects you would know of placed around various mountains and local holy places in the area. Policy has been that those who want to talk do so. See more about the linguistic aspect of the area here:

http://www.livestream.com/spnwnewswire (currently off air, because it never got funding but there should be a video library. See also: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL553F178718CC9894

carlos lascoutx says:

…like parts of the Oera Linda Book, whose matrix may have been authentic, the lie
is given by modern phrasing as each millennium expresses itself in completely different
metaphor, using mnemonics as an oral code often contained in each word which produces a formalism impossible to duplicate in the present slipshod Age.

farawayplace says:

Written like either a crazed Moslem or an Iranian.

Grigalem says:

Right. Spanish/Portuguese Jews who spoke Ladino moved to Arizona so they could carve mis-spelled inscriptions in paleo-Semitic.

Got it.

Grigalem says:

Bunkum, of course, and wildly off-topic bunkum at that.

Jordan Anderson says:

Excellent Article. I love to read all of Tablet Mags great posts. I always go to Tablet Magazine or Jewish Quarterly whenever I need a good read regarding Jewish culture and politics. Thanks for sharing!

Mike H says:

Israel, as well as the Arab countries, are Semitic, not Caucasian; a west Asian sub-type.

Persia, India, even so in part, at least until Indonesia, are actually Caucasian, Aryan sub-type. in old Farsi, Eir-yan (Aryan) is shorted to Iran in English. From the Caucasas mountains there were essentially two groups – one went west and north, the other south and east. Many mixed with local tribes and peoples, others conquered.

Native Americans are east Asian sub-type as you say, but it is possible there was movement by the Jewish Israelite peoples, since we have the tradition that 10 of the 12 tribes are “lost” over the “sea of the Sambachan” perhaps meant the Pacific

The Jewish people (as well as Arab) tended to stay in their territories unless forced into exile, (which happened often) therefore the language could have spread to the Americas, two-thousand plus years ago

Mike H says:

the Torah is KTaV “inscribed” with the DVaR “word” call it whatever you want, it existed before classification and taxonomy of speech or written form. “Paleo Hebrew” is what we would call the stone carved script from at least the time of Abraham, descendant of Ever. therefore Ivrim as a people and Ivrit (i in Hebrew pronounced like a long ‘e’) from the root Ayin Bet Reish, meaning to cross over, since Ever crossed over from one side of the great river (likely Euphrates) in his own lifetime, an unusual occurence. Directly linked to the Israelite Jewish people crossing through the Yam Suf (Red Sea) on the way out of Mitsrayim (Egypt)

In human developmental terms, Assyrian script is definitely more modern than Paleo Hebrew since it requires a brush or quill implement to be written.

Mike H says:

Yes, Joy, your theory makes some sense, since as a proclamation of finally being out from under the thumb of the inquisition, they did exactly what Moses and Joshua did, inscribe the commands upon a stone, so all entering the domain could see.

Mike H says:

yeah but now i know why they drive so many mazdas in israel… fuel economy!

Mike H says:

didn’t Tim Leary teach at Harvard for a bit

BrokenRecord says:

And hence a new revelation and vision was formed in the forests (deserts now, and it will become forests by miracle ) of new mexico and in a few millenia , there will rise a new religion to replace the current ones.

Grigalem says:

Ahura !

VinoJon says:

Very compressive.

Catherine says:

There is a growing body of evidence of pre-Columbian contacts with the New World, including growing number of Viking settlements in eastern Canada that predate Columbus and other findings. Also look at how some sites in the Near East have inscriptions, but no other evidence so far.

John Eidsmoe says:

You present two possibilities for the Las Lunas Stone’s origin — ancient Hebrew/Phoenician, or modern forgery.
I suggest a third possibility — that the Decalog inscription was carved by a Jewish converso sometime in the 1500s or later.
After the surrender of Grenada and the Alhambra in 1492, Spain was entirely under Christian rule. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella required Spanish Jews to either convert to Christianity or leave the country. Some of these Jews (probably including genuine converts, pretended converts, and others who refused to convert) came to America with the conquistadors. I suggest that one of these Jewish conversos carved the Las Lunas inscription.
If the inscription was carved by a 16th-century converso for whom Hebrew was a second language, that could explain why the writer aligned the letters at the bottom rather than the top, and used vowel points and spacing.
I think this possibility deserves further consideration. I discuss this theory further in a post to be found at:
http://www.morallaw.org/LosLunasStoneEidsmoe_3_5_10.htm‎

Deborah says:

Read several articles about the Decalogue stone, very fascinating. Any thoughts on how it got to where it is? Its a long way from the Holy Land, if that is where it came from. Thank you.
Deborah

2000

Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

The Mystery Stone

Does a rock in New Mexico show the Ten Commandments in ancient Hebrew? Harvard professor says yes.