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The Mystery Stone

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

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(Photoillustration: Tablet Magazine)

Getting into Abeita’s truck is like getting onto a horse. We fly through the desert at 80 miles an hour on dirt roads. It is calving season. Velveteen cows and their 2- and 3-week-old calves stand by the side of the road in groups, unperturbed by the truck. Abeita talks about the Tribal Council of 12 who are voted in by the people every two years. I ask if they campaign. “Kinda, sorta,” he says. “Basically, the people with the biggest family get voted in.” He talks about a calf that was born yesterday and jokes that it has Down Syndrome—“I don’t know what’s wrong with him! His face is all crooked,” he says affectionately—and about the two women who broke his heart. He repeatedly and patiently explains to me the ins and outs of land ownership in New Mexico—“We own 120,000 acres, from Isleta Pueblo near the airport all the way down toward Pottery Mound. We lease some more land for the grazing rights to 12,000 other acres—that’s where your stone is. But there’s also the water rights which run underground. Used to be all ranchers here. Now they’ve been moved out because of the water rights.”

He explains to me that Comanche Ranch was bought from the Hunings by the Isleta Pueblo for $6.7 million, with proceeds from their casino and an associated Hard Rock Café. Now the Pueblo is incorporated, which some support and some don’t.

On the way in to the ranch, we meet one of his employees, Francisco, who is Hispanic. Francisco asks me gravely, “Are you going to educate us about that rock?” Abeita laughs at him.

Uncle Joe is a short man with a deeply lined, weather-worn face and a quick smile. He asks me my name and makes a big show of giving up after no tries. “What language is that? I can hardly speak English and you want me to say that!”

I ask him about the Mystery Stone.

“Well? So what?” he says, shrugging. “We didn’t know it was there. If they knew, no one said. It was a secret.” The Indians’ Christian conversion had clearly not extended to caring about the stone. “Just like the Pottery Mound. They say it’s sacred. If it’s sacred, I got no business going up there.”

Abeita had gone to check on the calf and left Shetter and me to speak with his uncle. He returns just as Uncle Joe finishes complaining about women being allowed to vote and run for council. “It’s the white man’s way. They are too light on crime.”

“So, did you get what you needed?” Abeita asks me.

“Take me to the Pottery Mound,” I say.

“Absolutely not. No one goes up there,” he says emphatically, and then, sheepishly, “Five thousand dollars.”

But it’s no use—I have sensed the half-heartedness of his resistance. I let the sum reverberate for a beat, which is all it takes.

“Oh, get in the truck,” he grumbles, and we climb back in.

If the Mystery Stone is all Truth, Pottery Mound is all Consequences. The ground is littered with a mosaic of bits of broken pottery, dried lava, and the occasional arrowhead, interspersed with the bones of foxes and other small creatures. The pottery shards are painted in all colors with beautiful designs—black on white, green on white, black on red, dots along lines with the remnants of figures. The pieces are mostly the size of my palm, though some are bigger. The mound is split down the middle by a deep ravine, and along the ravine wall a long white object is visibly protruding.

If the Mystery Stone is all Truth, Pottery Mound is all Consequences.

When I get back to New York I will learn from David Atlee Phillips at UNM that Pottery Mound was an Indian village between 1350 and 1500. I will learn that the pottery is in pieces because given the available technology, whole pots were fragile. Phillips gauges the average lifespan of a pot to have been no more than a couple of years. A few years ago, Abeita found some uncovered bodies and demanded that the site be returned to the Isleta Indians. As for Eva and Hobe, no one knows what became of them. Inquiries came up empty at UNM, where, like in a ghost story, their names continue to float around.

But for now, I don’t know any of this. I know only that I am in a sacred place. I walk silently along the mound, picking up pieces of pottery and putting them gently down again. The sun is beginning to set in the west, and dried lava shimmers against the desert ground. I look over at Shetter, and she is walking quietly with the same palpable reverence she radiated at the Mystery Stone. Mysteries are not there for the solving. Her blue eyes look up at me in the dying desert light.

Back in my motel room off of Route 6, the question of who wrote the Mystery Stone resumes its subtle, persistent drumming. Images of Samaritan ships intersperse in my mind with Ken Feder’s theatrical voice, demanding to know of the theoretical American Hebrews, “Where’s their garbage?” The truth of Mystery Stone is obfuscated by the stakes of the mystery’s solution, the consequences of a non-Native, pre-Columbian existence in North America requiring too much belief for some and receiving too much skepticism for others. But if we can’t agree whether the Mystery Stone is sacred artifact or profane hoax, we can agree that our debates about what constitutes the sacred and the profane, the scientific and the belief-worthy, are sanctified.

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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

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The Mystery Stone

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

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