Balaam: A Light to the Gentiles? -- By: Glenn A. Carnagey, Sr
CTSJ 4:4 (October 1998) p. 18
A Light to the Gentiles?
[*Editor’s note: Glenn Carnagey earned his B.A. at the University of Texas, Th.M. at Dallas Theological Seminary, and Ph.D. at the University of Tulsa. Glenn has done extensive archaeological work in the Near East and editorial work for a major archaeological journal, as well as presented scholarly papers at meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society. Dr. Carnagey has also pastored churches in Texas, Oklahoma, and Minnesota. Glenn is a member of Chafer Seminary’s National Board of Advisors, is a contributing editor to the CTS Journal, and was instrumental in the formation of CTS.]
In February and March of 1967, H. J. Franken was conducting excavations at Deir ‘Alla in the Jordan River Valley when his vigilant foreman, Abu Abdul Rasul, noticed writing on pieces of plaster being removed from the remains of an ancient building. He brought the information to the excavator.
That building probably was a sanctuary for a goddess whose name begins with the Hebrew letter “shin.” Shamash and Shgr have both been suggested as possibilities, especially Shgr, since it occurs later in the second combination in connection with the Council of the Gods.
This inscription is an eighth century narrative concerning the seer/prophet Balaam, well known to Bible students as the prophet who dominates Numbers 22–24. This inscription offers some useful insights into the biblical text.
Then he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying: “Look, a people has come from Egypt. See, they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me (Numbers 22:5)!1
Deir ‘Alla is located on the Jordanian side of the Jordan River Valley, near the spot where the Zerqa River flows into the Jordan. It is north of Jericho, but still within the wide swath of the Jordan River, which at this point has the Hassid plains on both sides. Moses quite accurately called this expanded area “The Plains of Moab.” However, the biblical text also sees the campsite as “this side of Jordan by Jericho,” hence it was a fair distance south of Deir ‘Alla.
No one has suggested in the literature that Deir ‘Alla could have been identified with Pethor during the lifetime of Balaam, but the excavations clearly demonstrate very limited Middle Bronze occupation followed by extensive Late Bronze and Iron Age cities. If not ...
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