Deir Alla Inscription
Drawing of the Deir 'Alla inscription
Createdc. 825 BC
Balqa, Jordan
Present locationAmman, Amman Governorate, Jordan

The Deir 'Alla Plaster Inscription (or Balaam Inscription, or Bal'am Son of Be'or Inscription), known as KAI 312, is a famous[1] inscription discovered during a 1967 excavation in Deir 'Alla, Jordan. It is currently at the Jordan Archaeological Museum. It is written in a peculiar Northwest Semitic dialect, and has provoked much debate among scholars and had a strong impact on the study of Canaanite and Aramaic inscriptions.[2][3]

The excavation revealed a multiple-chamber structure that had been destroyed by an earthquake during the Persian period, on the wall of which was written a story relating visions of Bal'am, son of Be'or, a "seer of the gods", who may be the same Balaam mentioned in Numbers 22–24 and in other passages of the Bible. The Deir Alla inscription's take on Bala'am differs from that given in the Book of Numbers. Bal'am's god is associated with the goddess Šagar-we-Ishtar. Deities with such names, "Šagar-and-Ishtar", certainly are known to history, but quite separately. The enigmatic narrative also foregrounds the "Shaddayin" who establish a council. (שדין, perhaps meaning gods and goddesses).[4] It also features the word "Elohin", taken to mean "gods" in the plural rather than the Hebrew deity.

It was on ink on plastered wall; like in the plaster inscriptions at Kuntillet Ajrud, black and red inks were used. Red apparently emphasized certain parts of the text.[5][6] The inscriptions were written with a broad nibbed pen with ink, an extremely early example.[7] They represent the earliest point of evidence in the history of the West Semitic alphabet. The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies describes it as "the oldest example of a book in a West Semitic language written with an alphabet, and the oldest piece of Aramaic literature."[8]

Reconstruction and translation

When the text was found, it was broken into fragments, which were lying on the ground. The fragments are poorly preserved,[9] and only a part of the text has been found. In all, 119 pieces of ink-inscribed plaster were recovered. The wall, near the summit of the tel, was felled by a tremor.[6]

Scholars have succeeded in arranging many of the fragments into two large 'combinations'. At least to some extent, they had use of information about which fragments were found close together or wide apart on the ground.[9] Still, uncombined fragments remain. For the reading of damaged or missing parts of the text, they sometimes had to guess; however, where the same group of words seems to appear in several places, but with different parts damaged in different occurrences, they could reasonably reconstruct a combined text.

The first complete translation and reconstruction of the inscription was published in 1981.[9] Today, the text in modern Hebrew letters is available online. The text is difficult to read and to interpret.[10] Here is one reconstruction and translation of the first combination:[11]

  1. [This is] the book of [Ba]laam, [son of Beo]r, a seer of the gods. To him came the gods at night. [And they spoke to] him
  2. according to the utterance of El, and they spoke to [Bala]am, son of Beor, thus: [ ... ]
  3. And Balaam arose in the morning, [ ... ] And he was not [able to eat. And he fast]ed while he was weep-
  4. ing greviously. And his people came to him, and the[y said] to Balaam, son of Beor: "Why do you fast? [And w]hy do you weep?" And he sa-
  5. id to them: "Sit down! I will show you what the Shadd[ayin are] Now come, see what the Elohin are about to do! The Elo[h]in gathered,
  6. while the Shaddayin met in assembly, and said to Sha[mash]: "Thou mayest break the bolts of heaven, in thy clouds let there be gloominess, and no bril-
  7. liance, darkness(?) and not thy radiance(?) thou mayest cause terror [by] the gloomy [cl]ouds– but do not be angry forever! For the swift is re-
  8. proaching the eagle, and the vultures' brood the ostrich. The st[ork is] the [young of the] hawk, and the owl the chicks of the heron. The swallow is the
  9. dove, and the sparrow the [ ... ] And [ ... ] staff. Where the stick would lead sheep, hares are eating
  10. [the g]rass. [ ... ] The [ ... ] are drinking wine. The hyenas are listening to instruction. The young of the [ ... ]
  11. while [the ... ] is laughing at wise men. And the poor woman is preparing an ointment of myrrh. And the priestess
  12. [ ... ] And...
  13. ...while the deaf are hearing from afar.
  14. ...And all are beholding the oppression (exercised) by Shagar-and-Ishtar.
  15. ...the leopard. The piglet is driving out the (you-
  16. [ng] of the...) [ ... ] ...destruction and ruins.

A more recent and complete English translation can also be found online.[12]

The second combination:[9][note 1]

  1. [ ... ]
  2. [ ... ]
  3. [ ... ]
  4. [ ... ] El satisfies himself with lovemaking.[note 2]
  5. [ ... ] Why is the tot[note 3] in the tophet[note 4] with the foliage?[note 5]
  6. So that El will be satisfied. He will make to the house of eternity.[note 6]
  7. a house which no travelers enter, nor does a bridegroom, [a house ... ]
  8. as wormrot[note 7] from a grassy grave. From the reckless affairs of man, and from the lustful desires [ ... ]
  9. Your sacrifices make poor haruspecy. [ ... ]
  10. [From] the bed, (or you will) cover him with one garment. Look, if you mistreat (lit. hate) him he will falter [ ... ]
  11. punishment, [and wormrot] under your head, you shall lie on your eternal bed. To pass away to [ ... ]
  12. [ ... ] all [ ... ] in their heart! The corpse moans in his heart![note 8] He moans [ ... ]
  13. daughter. There, sacrifices shall be held Bal[ ... ] There is no compassion when death seizes an infant! And an infant [ ... ]
  14. An infant [ ... ] there [ ... ] shall endure, he sighs to his heart as he approaches [Sheol ... ]
  15. To the edge of She[ol ... ] and the shadow of the hedge [ ... ] The quest of a king becomes his "moth",[note 9] and the q[ue]st of [ ... ]
  16. [ ... ] and [ ... ] seers. Your quest has become dis[tant] from you! Why [ ... ]
  17. To know how to deliver an oracle to his people, you have been condemned for what you have said, and banned from pronouncing words of execration.
  18. [ ... ]
  19. [ ... ]
  20. [ ... ]
  21. [ ... ]


Deir Alla
Native toJordan
RegionDeir Alla
Language codes
ISO 639-3

Though containing some features of Aramaic, such as the word bar "(son of [Beor])" rather than the Canaanite ben, it also has many elements of Canaanite languages, leading some to believe it was written in a dialect of Canaanite rather than an early form of Aramaic. The inscription has been dated to 880–770 BCE.[10]

Inscribed clay tablets and cannabis findings

In the 1960s, in addition to hundreds of vessels like bowls and jars, seven clay tablets were found with an unknown script. They still haven't been deciphered, nor has their clay been tested to see if it's local to Deir Alla.[13]

Cannabis has been found as hemp here and at another Iron Age cultic site, Tel Arad in the Negev, as burned incense or drug.[14]

See also


  1. ^ In large measure following Dewrell 2017.
  2. ^ The idiom rwy ddn, Heb rawah dodim: 'to satisfy oneself with lovemaking'. After Levine.
  3. ^ nqr: 'sprout, scion'; see Isaiah 11:1: "… a shoot from the stump of Jesse". However, Levine says nqr means 'corpse'; it could be both or wordplay.
  4. ^ Following Hackett: mdr, 'firepit'.
  5. ^ Or something wet.
  6. ^ Ambiguity follows original.
  7. ^ 'Wormrot' is Levine's word based on Isaiah 14:11: tahteyka yussa' rimmah 'wormrot is to be set as your bed'.
  8. ^ Or, 'the child sighs to itself'.
  9. ^ The citation mark as given by Levine. The phrase is šʔlt. mlk. sshssh (for which Levine tentatively tries "moth") could also mean 'horse'. The common word mlk can mean 'king' or 'sacrifice'. If ʔlt is the root, it could have many possible meanings.


  2. ^ "The Dialect of the Deir Allah Inscription". Archived from the original on 2014-11-29. Retrieved 2022-01-17.
  3. ^ B. Halpern, "Dialect Distribution in Canaan and the Deir Alla Inscriptions", in D.M. Golomb, ed., "Working With No Data": Semitic and Egyptian Studies Presented to Thomas O. Lambdin (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1987), pp. 119–39, in particular p. 139.
  4. ^ Thomas L. Thompson (2000). "Problems of Genre and Historicity with Palestine's Descriptions". In André Lemaire, Magne Saebo (ed.). Supplements to Vetus Testamentum, Volume 80. Brill. p. 322. ISBN 978-9004115989.
  5. ^ Renz, Johannes; Röllig, Wolfgang (March 2016). Handbuch der althebräischen Epigraphik (in German). Darmstadt: WBG (Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft). p. 57. ISBN 978-3-534-26789-7.
  6. ^ a b J. Hoftijzer and G. van der Kooij, Aramaic Texts from Deir 'Alla Documenta et Monumenta Orientis Antiqui 19 (Leiden) 1976.
  7. ^ Context of Scripture 2.27 pg II:141
  8. ^ Alan Millard (2006). "Authors, Books and Readers in the Ancient World". In J. W. Rogerson , Judith M. Lieu (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies. Oxford University Press. p. 554. ISBN 978-0199254255.
  9. ^ a b c d Levine, Baruch A. “The Deir ʿAlla Plaster Inscriptions.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 101, no. 2, 1981, pp. 195–205. JSTOR, Accessed 18 July 2021.
  10. ^ a b ברוך מרגלית (Oct 1998). "עלילות בלעם בר-בעור מעמק סוכות". Archived from the original on December 21, 2014.
  11. ^ Hoftijzer, and van der Kooij. The Balaam Text from Deir 'Alla Re-Evaluated. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 01 Jan. 1991. Web. pp. 153–158
  12. ^ Deir 'Alla Inscription at
  13. ^ Digging up the Bible? Excavations at Deir Alla 1960-1967 Steiner pg 114
  14. ^ Steiner, Margreet (2019-02-27). "Iron Age Cultic Sites in Transjordan". Religions. 10 (3). MDPI AG: 145. doi:10.3390/rel10030145. ISSN 2077-1444.