Beginning in 1960, a Dutch archaeological expedition from Leiden University, in cooperation with the Jordan Antiquities Department, began an excavation at Tell Deir Alla, known as the Sacred Mound. This excavation continued through to 1984. What this archaeological excavation is best known for is the Balaam Text, dating between early 800 BCE and a few scholars place it as late as the 600’s BCE.


Tell Deir Alla is located in Jordan. At the time of the conquest of Canaan, according to the Tanak, that land was held by Siychon, king of the Amarru [Amorites], which was later held by the Beniy Ammon [Ammonites]. The site lies east of the Yarden River, south of the Sea of Kineroth and north of the Yabboq River, names according to the Hebrew text of the Tanak. According to modern maps, the sea is the Tiberias or Galilee, the main river is that of the Jordan [modern English spelling of Yarden] and the Yabbok River is now called the Zarqa. I have included a map of the site below, using the locations of the ancient maps. I cannot show the ancient name for the Tell, because scholars do not yet know exactly what village it was. Some speculate it was Sukkoth, but many do not agree with that, believing that it would be a forced finding to try and place another biblically known city.




The site at Tell Deir Alla is a many chambered structure. Archaeologists are able to tell what happened to a particular site and this particular site was destroyed by an earthquake. While excavating in one of the hidden chambers, one of the archaeologists found a fragment of plaster with an inscription on it. This led to further sifting for possible plaster fragments to uncover more of the text. They found 119 fragments. The plaster had been placed around a column and the text inscribed with ink. The inscription is written primarily in black and with some red ink. Scholars do not all agree 100% with the ordering of the fragments. Combine that with sections missing, the text and translation is still disputed. Below is an image of some of the fragments. You can see in the top center fragment some of the red ink.



The language of the text is hotly disputed. Some believe that it is some early form of Aramaic, because the text does contain some Aramaic words, such as the bar, in the name Balaam bar Beor. Bar means son of, just as in Hebrew and Canaanite ben means son of. While the text does contain some Aramaic elements, it is not an Aramaic dialect of any known time period or location. Others believe that it is a Canaanite dialect because of so many Canaanite elements. But again, it is not entirely Canaanite either. From a conference that was held by numerous scholars to discuss and present findings on this subject, two authors compiled a number of the scholars papers on the subject into one volume called, The Balaam Text From Deir Alla Re-Evaluated. It is edited by J. Hoftijzer and G. Van Der Kooij, published by Brill in Leiden, 1991. In one of the chapters by Jonas C. Greenfield, an Aramaicist, page 18, he states, “What language or dialect are we dealing with then when we discuss the DAPT? Although Deir Alla is not that distant from Biblical Ammon proper, there is now hesitation to use the term ‘Ammonite’ for it. Ammonite, as known from the limited corpus of material available, displays a different set of linguistic features. The term ‘Southern Canaanite’ is best preserved for the Canaanitisms in the Amarna correspondence and related texts from the second millennium. Although the comparisons that have been made by this writer and others perforce with Biblical Hebrew, the language of the DAPT is clearly not Hebrew, as known from the major literary works preserved in the Hebrew Bible. Taking geographic factors into consideration it may be best called Gileadite. It is a local dialect, close to the Canaanite of its time, sharing with it essential morphological, syntactic, phonological and lexical features.”


The script is similar to the Moabite script of the Mesha inscription, which is about the mid-9th century BCE. While the script dating and the dating of certain items from the excavation all point to around the 8th century BCE, the majority of the scholars believe that the original text inscribed on the plaster is not from that time period, but is a copy of an earlier text relating this particular prophecy by Balaam bar Beor.


According to the Hebrew text, the Tanak, Balaam was in Canaan at the time of the Israelite conquest, which was approximately 1250 BCE. Some scholars date this to an earlier time and others later, this is just an average. At any rate, if you are to believe the Tanak, that would put Balaam ben Beor in Canaan around 1250 BCE. Since the  Balaam Inscription is dated around 850 BCE, we are looking at a 400 year difference. A number of factors can explain this. 1 – the “conquest of Canaan did not take place at that time. 2 – the account of Balaam occurred later, but the post exilic editors inserted the incident at an earlier time period in their editings. 3 – The Balaam inscription is a prophecy from an earlier time period, being recalled and inscribed at the sanctuary. 4 – a combination of the above possibilities. I do not believe in the wholesale account by post-exilic editors of a mass conquest of Israelites into the land of Canaan. Archaeology does not bear this out. Post exilic editors are notorious for creating “historical accounts” out of current information and out of fragments of very old accounts, creating their own timeline. Since we do not have any exact dates from the Deir Alla site, scholars can only speculate as to the exact time period that Balaam bar Beor may have actually lived.


So who was Balaam bar Beor? According to the edited Hebrew text, the first account of Balaam occurs in BeMidbar [Numbers] 22-24. The following is the account from the Tanak.


22  1 and the sons of yisrael journeyed and camped in the plains of moab, beyond the yarden [jordan],  yerecho [jericho].  2 and balaq ben tsifor saw all that yisrael had done to the emoriy.  3 and moab was very afraid of the presence of the people, for it,  numerous; and moab was disgusted by the presence of the sons of yisrael.  4 and moab said to the elders of midyan, 'now will the assembly lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the green thing of the field.' and balaq ben tsifor,  was king of moab at that time.  5 and he sent malakiym [messengers]to bilam ben beor, to fethor [pethor], which was, by the river of the land of the sons of his people, to call for him, saying, 'look, a people has come out of mitsrayim [egypt]; look, it has covered the eye of the land, and it is abiding over against me.  6 and now, come, i pray, curse for me this people, for it is mightier than i; it may be i will prevail, we will strike it, and i will cast it out from the land; for i have known, that which you bless is blessed, and that which you curse is cursed.'  7 and the elders of moab and the elders of midyan went, and divinations in their hand, and they came in to bilam, and spoke to him the words of balaq.  8 and he said to them, 'lodge here tonight, and i will bring you back word, as YHWH speaks to me,'  and the princes of moab stayed with bilam.  9 and elohiym [plural gods] came in to bilam, and said, 'who are, these men with you?'  10 and bilam said to the elohiym, 'balaq ben tsifor, king of moab, has sent to me.  11 look, the people that have come out from mitsrayim and covered the eye of the land, now come, pierce it for me; it may be i am able to fight against it, and cast it out.'   12 and elohiym said to bilam, 'you will not go with them; you will not curse the people; for it is blessed.'  13 and bilam rose in the morning, and said to the princes of balaq, 'go to your land, for YHWH is refusing to allow me to go with you.'  14 and the princes of moab rose, and went in to balaq, and said, 'bilam refused to come with us.'  15 and balaq added yet to send princes, more numerous and honored than these.  16 and they come in to bilam, and said to him, 'so said balaq ben tsifor, be not, i pray, kept from coming to me.  17 for very greatly i honor you, and all that you say to me i will do; and come, i pray, pierce for me this people.'  18 and bilam answered and said to the servants of balaq, 'if balaq  gave to me the fullness of his beyth of silver and gold, i am not able to pass over the command of YHWH elohay, to do a little or a great thing.  19 and, now, remain, i pray you, in this, you also, tonight; and i know what YHWH is adding to speak with me.'  20 and elohiym came in to bilam, by night, and said to him, 'if to call for you the men have come, rise, go with them, and only the thing which i speak to you, it you do.'  21 and bilam rose in the morning, and saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of moab.  22 and the anger of elohiym burned because he was going, and a malak of YHWH stationed himself in the way for an adversary to him, and he was riding on his donkey, and two of his servants with him.  23 and the donkey saw the messenger of YHWH standing in the way, and his drawn sword in his hand, and the donkey turned aside out of the way, and went into a field, and bilam struck the donkey to turn it aside into the way.  24 and the messenger of YHWH stood in a narrow path of the vineyards, a wall on this and a wall on that.   25 and the donkey saw the messenger of YHWH, and was pressed to the wall, and pressed the foot of bilam to the wall, and he continued to strike her.  26 and the messenger of YHWH continued to pass over, and stood in a straight place where there was no way to turn aside, right or left.   27 and the donkey saw the messenger of YHWH, and crouched under bilam, and the anger of bilam burned, and he struck the donkey with a staff.  28 and YHWH opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to bilam, 'what have i done to you that you have struck me these three times?'  29 and bilam said to the donkey, 'because you have rolled yourself against me; oh that there were a sword in my hand, for now i would have slain you.'  30 and the donkey said to bilam, 'am not i your donkey, on which you have ridden since your to this day? have i at all been accustomed to do to you so?' and he said, 'no.'  31 and YHWH uncovered the eyes of bilam, and he saw the messenger of YHWH standing in the way, and his drawn sword in his hand, and he bowed and did obeisance, to his face.  32 and the messenger of YHWH said to him, 'why have you struck your donkey these three times? look, i have come out for an adversary, for way has been perverse before me.  33 and the donkey saw me, and turned aside at my presence these three times; unless she had turned aside from my presence, surely now also, you i would have slain, and her kept alive.'  34 and bilam said to the messenger of YHWH, 'i have sinned, for i did not know that you,  standing to meet me in the way; and now, if evil in your eyes, i turn back by myself.'  35 and the messenger of YHWH said to bilam, 'go with the men; and only the word which i speak to you, it you will speak;' and bilam went with the princes of balaq.  36 and balaq heard that bilam had come, and went out to meet him, to a city of moab, which, on the border of arnon, which, in the extremity of the border.  37 and balaq said to bilam, 'did i not diligently send to you to call for you? why did you not come to me? am i not truly able to honor you?'  38 and bilam said to balaq, 'look, i have come to you; now, am i at all able to speak anything? the word which elohiym set in my mouth, it i will speak.'  39 and bilam went with balaq, and they come to qiryath chutsoth.  40 and balaq sacrificed oxen and sheep, and sent to bilam, and to the princes who, with him.  41 and it came to pass in the morning, that balaq took bilam, and caused him to go up the high places of baal, and he saw from there the extremity of the people.


23  1 and bilam said to balaq, 'build for me in this, seven altars, and make ready for me in this, seven bulls and seven rams.'  2 and balaq did as bilam had spoken, and balaq, bilam also, offered a bull and a ram on the altar.  3 and bilam said to balaq, 'station yourself by your burnt offering and i will go on, it may be YHWH will come to meet me, and the thing which he shows me, i will declare to you;' and he went, a high place.  4 and elohiym came to bilam, and he said to him, 'the seven altars i have arranged, and i offered a bull and a ram on the altar;'  5 and YHWH put a word in the mouth of bilam, and said, 'turn back to balaq, and so you will speak.'  6 and he turned back to him, and look, he was standing by his burnt offering, he and all the princes of moab.  7 and he took up his proverb, and said: 'from aram he will lead me, balaq king of moab; from mountains of the east: come, curse for me yaaqob, and come, be indignant,  yisrael.  8 what, do i pierce? el has not pierced. and what, am i indignant? YHWH has not been indignant.  9 for from the top of rocks i see it, and from heights i see it; look a people. alone it settles, and among goyim does not reckon itself.  10 who has counted the dust of yaaqob, and the number of the fourth of yisrael? let me die the death of upright ones, and let my last end be like his.'  11 and balaq said to bilam, 'what have you done to me? to pierce mine enemies i have taken you, and look, you have certainly blessed.'  12 and he answered and said, 'that which YHWH puts in my mouth, it i not observe to speak?'  13 and balaq said to him, 'come, i pray you, with me to another place, where you will see it, only its extremity you will see, and all of it you will not see, and pierce it for me there;'  14 and he took him, the field of tsofiym, to the top of fisgah, and built seven altars, and offered a bull and a ram on the altar.  15 and he said to balaq, 'station yourself here by your burnt offering, and i will meet there.'  16 and YHWH came to bilam, and set a word in his mouth, and said, 'turn back to balaq, and so you will speak.'  17 and he came to him, and look, he was standing by his burnt offering, and the princes of moab with him, and balaq said to him, 'what has YHWH spoken?'  18 and he took up his proverb, and said, 'rise, balaq, and hear; give ear to me, ben tsifhor.  19 el, not a man, and lies, and a son of man, and repents. has he said, and does he not do ? and spoken, and does he not confirm it?  20 look, to bless i have received, he blesses, and i not reverse it.  21 he has not seen iniquity in yaaqob, nor has he seen perverseness in yisrael; YHWH elohay,  with him, and a shout of a king, in him.  22 el is bringing them out from mitsrayim, as the swiftness of a rim [wild ox, buffalo] is to him.  23 for no enchantment,  against yaaqob, nor divination against yisrael, at the time it is said of yaaqob and yisrael, what has el wrought.  24 look, the people as a lioness rose, and as a lion he lifted himself up, he lies not down till he eats prey, and blood of pierced ones does drink.'  25 and balaq said to bilam, 'neither pierce it at all, nor bless it at all.'  26 and bilam answered and said to balaq, 'have i not spoken to you, saying, all that YHWH spoke, it i do?'  27 and balaq said to bilam, 'come, i pray you, i will take you to another place; it may be it is right in the eyes of the elohiym, to pierce it for me from there.'  28 and balaq took bilam to the top of feor [peor], which is looking on the front of the wilderness,  29 and bilam said to balaq, 'build for me in this,  seven altars, and make ready for me in this,  seven bulls and seven rams.'  30 and balaq did as bilam said, and he offered a bull and a ram on an altar.


24  1 and bilam saw that  good in the eyes of YHWH to bless yisrael, and he did not go as time by time to meet enchantments, and he set towards the wilderness his face;  2 and bilam lifted up his eyes, and saw yisrael living, by its tribes, and the breath of elohiym was on him.  3 and he took up his proverb, and said, 'an affirmation of bilam ben beor, and an affirmation of the man whose eyes are shut,   4 an affirmation of him who hears sayings of el, who a vision of shadday saw, falling, and eyes uncovered.  5 how good have been your tents, yaaqob, your dwelling places, yisrael.  6 as valleys they have been stretched out, as gardens by a river; as aloes YHWH has planted, as cedars by waters.  7 he made water flow from his buckets, and his seed,  in many waters; and higher than gog,  his king, and exalted is his kingdom.  8 el is bringing him out of mitsrayim; as the swiftness of a reem is to him, he eats up goyim, his adversaries, and their bones he breaks, and his arrows he struck.  9 he has bent, he has laid down as a lion, and as a lioness, who raises him up? he who is blessing you,  blesses, and he who is cursing you,  curses.'  10 and the anger of balaq burned against bilam, and he struck his hands; and balaq said to bilam, 'to pierce mine enemies i called you, and look, you have certainly blessed, these three times.  11 and now, flee for yourself to your place; i have said, i do greatly honor you, and look, YHWH has kept you back from honor.'  12 and bilam said to balaq, 'did i not also to your malakiym [messengers] whom you have sent to me, speak, saying,  13 if balaq  gives to me the fullness of his beyth [house] of silver and gold, i am not able to pass over the command of YHWH, to do good or evil of mine own heart, that which YHWH spoke, it i speak?  14 and, now, look, i am going to my people; come, i counsel you that which this people does to your people, in the latter end of the days.'  15 and he took up his proverb, and said, 'an affirmation of bilam ben beor, and an affirmation of the man whose eyes, shut.   16 an affirmation of him who  hears sayings of el, and knowing knowledge of the elyon; a vision of shadday he saw, falling, and eyes uncovered.  17 i see it, but not now; i see it, but not near; a star has proceeded from yaaqob, and a sceptre has risen from yisrael, and will strike corners of moab, and destroy all sons of sheth.  18 and edom will be a possession, and sheiyr will be a possession, its enemies, and yisrael will do valiantly.  19 and rule out of yaaqob, and destroy a remnant from iyr.'  20 and he saw amaleq, and took up his proverb, and said, 'a beginning of the goyim,  amaleq; and his latter end, for ever he perishes.'  21 and he saw the qeyniy [kenites], and took up his proverb, and said, 'enduring,  your living, and setting in a rock your nest.  22  but the qeyniy is for a burning; till when does asshur keep you captive?'  23 and he took up his proverb, and said: 'alas. who does live when el does this?  24 and ships, from the side of kiththiym, and they will humble asshur, and they will humble eber, and it also for ever is perishing.'  25 and bilam rose, and went, and turned back to his place, and balaq also went on his way.


HaDebariym [Deuteronomy] 23:4,5 also mentions Balaam, “4 because they did not meet you with bread and with water in the way when you came out of mitsrayim; and because they hired against you balaam ben beor, from fethor [pethor] of mesopotamia, to curse you.  5 but YHWH your el would not listen to balaam, and YHWH your el turned the curse into a blessing to you, because YHWH your el loved you.


This account states that he was from Aram, much farther north than the archaeological site.

Balaam’s name is Bilam ben [son of]  Beor [according to late Masoretic vowel points]. Modern English renders this as Balaam and is the most common rendering. The name in Hebrew is spelled as beyth, lamed, ayin, mem [BLAM]. According to this rendering or letter order and vowel points, it is defined in the Hebrew as “not of the people”, ayin, mem – am- meaning people. The Jewish editors are also notorious for changing names, especially to hide the name of Baal and to render the meaning of a name of an adversary as derogatory. If rendered Baalam [BALAM], his name would mean Baal of the people, which means master or lord of the people. The Hebrew text also states that he was from Aram, but the Samaritan Pentateuch of the first five books of Moses, for the BeMidbar [Numbers] 22:5 verse says, “and he sent messengers to bilam ben beor to fatharah, which is beside the river, in the land of the sons of ammon, to say...” Fatharah [fe, thau, resh, he] is rendered Pethor in the Hebrew text. Obviously, the Shomron Hebrews had no agenda in stating that Balaam was from the Ammonites, where the Jewish Hebrew editors did not want to link him to near kin, seeing as how they viewed him as an enemy, instead placing him farther to the north in Aram. Another possible factor is a genealogy listed in Bereshiyth [Genesis] 36:31, listing an Edomite king named Bela ben Beor. Bela is spelled beyth, lamed, ayin [BLA], the same as Bilam, minus the final mem. While the territory of Edom is farther south than Ammon, they are still kin, Esau [Edom] being the twin of Yaaqob [Jacob]. And there is the similar ancestor name of Beor to consider. Knowing that the Genesis genealogy is fabricated by post exilic editors, there may be a possible basis that Bilam ben Beor was a king, which would also tie in with his name meaning master, lord of the people, if the original was BALAM.  Due to the fact that the site is in the territory of Ammon and the Samaritan Pentateuch states the same, I am inclined to believe that Bilam ben Beor was not in Aram, but was from the Beniy Ammon, Sons of Ammon, the territory east of the Jordan River, just north of the territory of Balaq, the king of Moab, who sent the messengers to bring Balaam.


The root of the name of the village beside the river, Fatharah, fe, thau, resh [F, Th, R] means to solve, interpret, especially dreams. The name of the sanctuary village may have been named because an interpreter operated out of this place. This is what Balaam did as an intermediary for the deities. The Hebrew text says in Yahusha [Joshua] 13:22, “and the sons of yisrael killed bilam ben beor, the diviner, with the sword, among their slain.” The word diviner, in the Hebrew is qosem. Qosem means to practice divination, to cut, break, divide, distribute, as you would animals to divine. The Balaam inscription opens with, “Writing of Bilam bar Beor, the chozeh of the ilhn [Canaanite spelling similar to elohiym in the Hebrew – gods].” Chozeh means a seer from the root chazah – to see. There are a number of cases of seers with the same Hebrew spelling, in the Hebrew text. Gad, a seer to Dawiyd – II Shmuel [Samuel] 24:11; Iddo – II Dibrey HaYamiym [Chronicles] 9:29; Asaf – II Dibrey HaYamiym 29:30 to name a few.


An interesting aspect of the Balaam inscription is the last portion. It lists a number of bird species [much contested by the interpreting scholars]. Some believe these species were used in the divinations of Balaam. Since they are dealing with fragments and do not have the whole text, there is no way to know for sure what the bird list involves, at this time.


I cannot provide all the text, partly due to the fact that the text is in fragments, but also because the fragmentary issue brings about translation problems. If missing passages were provided, it could cause a serious shift in the interpretation and application. What is known is the beginning and after that, there is much supposition.


“Writing of Bilam bar Beor, the seer of the ilhn [gods]. Look, the ilhn came to him at night, and [spoke to] him according to these words, and they said to [Bila]m bar Beor so: The [light] has shone its last; the fire for [judgment] has shone. And Bilam arose in the morning, ... days, and he cou[ld not eat], and he wept bitter tears. And his people came to him and they ... to Bilam bar Beor; Why are you fasting and why are you weeping? And he said to them: Return. I will tell you what the shaddiyn [shaddiyn is the plural form of what is known in the Tanak as Shadday – singular, the Almighty] are...Go on, consider the doings of the ilhn. The ilhn have gathered together and the shaddiyn have met in assembly [moed], and they have said to Sh[?]sh (I question some of the scholars translations of this as Shamash, the Mesopotamian sun deity, since the missing consonant is missing and due to the fact that the Canaanite sun deity was a goddess and her name was Shapash and this text is about a goddess) :” The rest is about the sky being sewn up and bolted shut with her cloud, there was darkness, not brightness, terror with the cloud of darkness and then there is the list of numerous birds.


 I am not qualified to offer an explanation as to all the meanings and applications of this fragmented text. Even reading the various experts you get many varied beliefs. I did want to show another example of an extra biblical account and point out that we need to look deeper into archaeology and not rely solely on an edited text by a specific class of scribes for answers. If searching the net, please be careful of the inscription information at Christian sites. They like to tweak the inscription or their take on things to back up their agenda – corroboration of the Bible as it is. I would hope that those reading this study, would look into matters for themselves to get a better perspective.


Kathryn QannaYahu