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A clumsy hoax still promoted as evidence for Hebrews in North America

The Los Lunas inscription

The Los Lunas Inscription

At Los Lunas, 56 km (35 miles) southwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico (USA), is an inscribed rock face at what has come to be known as ‘Mystery Mountain’ but is more properly known as Hidden Mountain. It appears to have been first reported in the 1880s (interviewed in 1996, the controversial archaeologist Frank Cumming Hibben (1910-2002) said that he had been taken to the site in 1933 by a guide who claimed to have seen it some fifty years earlier). Hibben’s assessment of its age in the 1930s, based on the growth of mosses and lichens on it, was that the incised characters were at least a hundred years old.

The biblical connection

According to its supporters, it is a copy of the ‘Decalogue’ (otherwise better known as the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament of the christian Bible) written in Palaeo-Hebrew using a north Canaanite script of the early first millennium BCE (some proponents claim that it is as early as c 1000 BCE). According to the claims, the inscription is very ancient; tests conducted in the 1980s by the consultant geologist and mining engineer George E Morehouse (a geologist with the Arrowhead Uranium Company) are said to have confirmed that it is between 500 and 2000 years old. These tests consist of measuring the polish produced on the surface of rock by wind-blown sand, the so-called ‘desert varnish’. However, the technique is highly suspect and the wide range of dates suggested by it gives rise to considerable disquiet about its accuracy. Morehouse, a member of the Epigraphic Society, was also able to compare the inscription with nearby graffiti of the 1930s and was able to confirm that the inscription is older.

Problems with the inscription

If these claims about the inscription are correct, then it shows extraordinary carelessness. The Decalogue is one of the best known passages of the Bible and for anyone whose native tongue was Hebrew, it ought to have been all but impossible for the inscriber to make elementary errors. They did, though. In some places, the text is abbreviated; this is not unusual in ancient inscriptions, but in something so important as the Decalogue, it is surprising. The writer also changed the word order from the original Hebrew, something a person who believed in the inspired and unchangeable nature of the supposed words of Moses would never have done.

Equally damning is the inscriber’s use of what is known as a ‘caret’. This is the upside-down V placed under a piece of text where something has been missed out. Sometimes found in ancient Latin and Greek texts, it is not known in Hebrew until the Middle Ages. To make matters worse, it is above a dot that seems to be a full stop (or period); full stops did not exist in ancient Hebrew. Moreover, there are Greek letters of a slightly later date mixed in with Hebrew forms and some eccentric uses. For instance, Hebrew א (’aleph) is treated as a vowel – the letter shape became our letter A – but in Hebrew it was a consonant; the writer muddles כ (kaph) and ק (qoph), sounds that are distinct in Hebrew but both of which are approximately rendered by English K). The inscription uses Greek δ (delta), ζ (zeta), κ (kappa (reversed)) and τ (tau) in place of their Hebrew counterparts ד (daleth), ז (zayin), כ (kaph) and ת (taw). According to its supporters, this is evidence for a Greek influence. The greatest problem is that the inscription uses an archaic form of א ’aleph. Also, the letters י (yodh), ק (qoph) and ש (the flat-bottomed shin) are said to be Samaritan in form.

Cyrus Gordon (1909-2001) suggested that rather than being a Palaeo-Hebrew Decalogue, the inscription is instead a Samaritan mezuzah, a large stone slab placed by the gateway to a property or synagogue, bearing a shortened version of the Decalogue. He also suggested that the inscription is more likely to be Byzantine and to post-date the persecution of Samaritans by the Emperor Justinian I (527-565 CE). However, the text itself follows the Masoretic text, albeit illiterately. This text was established by Orthodox Jews in the late first millennium CE; the Samaritan text had been established centuries earlier and is quite different. The Masoretic text begins with the injunction to “remember the Sabbath day”, as does the Los Lunas inscription, whereas the Samaritan text begins “preserve the Sabbath day”. The Samaritan text also contains an addition to the tenth commandment, referring to a temple to be built on Mount Gerizim, which is not there in the Los Lunas inscription.

George E Morehouse was (or is) not a prominent geologist with a proven expertise in dating so-called ‘desert varnish’; indeed, virtually all internet searches for his publications link only to his 1985 report “The Los Lunas Inscriptions – A Geological Study” (Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers 13, 44-50). As a mining engineer, his expertise in geological matters is beyond question. However, in the very inexact art of dating inscriptions, this lack of peer-reviewed work ought to make us wary of accepting his conclusion that it was over 500 years old in the 1980s (and therefore pre-Columbian). It would be useful to know if anyone with better experience and no axe to grind (members of the Epigraphic Society can hardly be said to be dispassionate when it comes to investigations of supposedly pre-Columbian inscriptions!) has examined the stone.

Viewed dispassionately, the Los Lunas inscription is a clear, but well constructed forgery (for its day). Despite the claims of high antiquity, there are features of the text (such as the mixing of letter forms between two separate alphabets) that are much more likely to derive from the work of a modern forger than from an ancient Hebrew or Samaritan scribe. The evidence for its origin is poor, but a comparison with the Bat Creek Stone suggests that it was a Mormon forgery. The ‘Mormon Battalion’, which was part of the US Army during the Mexican War, is known to have marched from Santa Fe down the Rio Grande Valley, passing close by, and it is possible that this is the date of the inscription.

13 Responses to The Los Lunas Inscription

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  • Brad Graham says:

    I have travelled to the Los Lunas stone on several occasions, I have done an extensive amount of research on the inscription on it and ignoring the fact that some vandalism has occured on the stone, the inscription is easily explained by someone that is multi lingual in speach but not highly educated. The inscription usage of greek and paleo judean characters indicates intended pronounciation of the word. Much as we now use all caps to EMPHASISE a word when trying to make a point. One of the characters, the “aleph”, was unknown as to its meaning until the 20th century even though the stone was well known in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. No one would use a character such as the aleph to make a “hoax” only to have it properly translated years later and it be appropriate to the context. Just some thoughts that you must have overlooked.

  • Nick says:

    Graham writes: “One of the characters, the “aleph”, was unknown as to its meaning until the 20th century even though the stone was well known in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.” Really? According to the historical citations concerning this stone, it was not shown to Hibben until 1933. Where is proof that is was “well known” any earlier. The (unknown) guide who is said to have seen it 50 years earlier is the only ambiguous reference to it being known at all.

  • Bobby says:

    What cracks me up about all this “science” is that it’s literally just based on assumptions. One PhD archaeologist who studied the thing for decades off and on believes it’s authentic, another says it’s almost certainly a fake. The later argues it must be a fake because the text doesn’t fit within a certain perfect linguistic model, as if all people everywhere on the face of the planet always speak the same. As Brad points out, it’s perfectly plausible that a certain person with the right background might have written it the way they did. And as Brad also points out, there is linguistic evidence that it isn’t a fake. While not as hard of evidence as one might like, there is evidence of the stone being spotted pre-20th century. Why would the guide that led Dr. Hibben to the stone lie about having seen it as a child?

    And while some argue with the dating methodologies, they can’t be completely dismissed either. Bottom line is our dating methodologies (past and present) are imperfect. It seems rather apparent that the antagonists are approaching their analysis from a position of bias rather than objectively considering all the data.

    On Wikipedia I read one archaeologist argue it must be a fake because someone back in that time would have been simply passing through as a traveler and they wouldn’t have had the tools necessary to make such a genuine inscription. That’s quite a load of b.s. The whole thing that makes the inscription interesting to begin with is that it challenges the accepted historical narrative. That being the case is it really that difficult to even consider that maybe an ancient person travelling in that region who can also speak Hebrew just might not conform with the accepted history?

    I have no dog in the hunt one way or the other, but find it interesting. Since we’re making assumptions, I have a few.

    If it were a fake, one question I have, why would they try to create the text from scratch on their own rather than simply copy it word for word from some other text?You’re telling me some modern person learned imperfect ancient Hebrew in order to make a fake stone in the middle of nowhere that nobody could see? Someone back in that time period (early 1900s) in that location wouldn’t have had the ability to learn Hebrew at all. If it was a fake all they could have done is use a copy they had from and old book or other text. And if they had done this it would then match the linguistic model the experts say that it doesn’t…. and then I suspect they’d be complaining about this instead. “Oh well it can’t be real because the only people who knew this Hebrew lived in an earlier time and we’d expect someone who knew Hebrew in the Americas to have adopted a different style of language over time because of the influx of other languages and passage of time, yada, yada.”

    And there are no historical records of this area being used as part of some grand hoax? Just as some would say there is little evidence of it being genuine, well, there is zero evidence of it being a hoax, am I right? Are there any records of someone herding people out into the middle of nowhere desert we now call New Mexico in order to charge people to visit this stone?

    We know at a minimum the stone is from the 1800s… so why in the world would someone create this thing to begin with if it was purely a hoax? “Here, let me create this stone so some people 100-200 years from now will be really confused about it”… doesn’t really make much sense. Where is the motive?

    • Stephen says:

      Where to begin with this?

      “What cracks me up about all this ‘science’ is that it’s literally just based on assumptions. One PhD archaeologist who studied the thing for decades off and on believes it’s authentic, another says it’s almost certainly a fake.”

      They’re not based on “assumptions” as much as different interpretations of observations. They’re not just making and arguing over random claims.

      “The later argues it must be a fake because the text doesn’t fit within a certain perfect linguistic model, as if all people everywhere on the face of the planet always speak the same.”

      We know that it is not the case that “all people everywhere on the face of the planet always speak the same”; in fact, knowing about the ways people spoke in different places at different times is a major factor in determining whether or not an artifact is authentic. And this inscription is not at all consistent with how we understand people to have spoken and written Hebrew and Greek.

      “As Brad points out, it’s perfectly plausible that a certain person with the right background might have written it the way they did. And as Brad also points out, there is linguistic evidence that it isn’t a fake. While not as hard of evidence as one might like, there is evidence of the stone being spotted pre-20th century. Why would the guide that led Dr. Hibben to the stone lie about having seen it as a child?”

      Brad’s comment is incomprehensible. What does he mean that “aleph” was unknown until the 20th century? I’m not going to address an incoherent argument. Again, the inscription is inconsistent with anything we know about how people have actually written Hebrew throughout history.

      “If it were a fake, one question I have, why would they try to create the text from scratch on their own rather than simply copy it word for word from some other text?You’re telling me some modern person learned imperfect ancient Hebrew in order to make a fake stone in the middle of nowhere that nobody could see? Someone back in that time period (early 1900s) in that location wouldn’t have had the ability to learn Hebrew at all.”

      Why wouldn’t someone in the early 1900s have been able to learn bad Hebrew? It hasn’t at all been uncommon for religious, educated Christians to learn Greek and Hebrew. In fact, this inscription is exactly consistent with what we would expect someone who has learned a bit of both but isn’t very good with them to create: Poorly worded and written in a confused mixture of multiple scripts. Maybe someone was just passing through and scribbled on a rock. We don’t have any compelling reason to suggest that this isn’t the case; the claim that this inscription is genuinely ancient is the extraordinary claim that is difficult to support.

      “If it was a fake all they could have done is use a copy they had from and old book or other text. And if they had done this it would then match the linguistic model the experts say that it doesn’t…. and then I suspect they’d be complaining about this instead. ‘Oh well it can’t be real because the only people who knew this Hebrew lived in an earlier time and we’d expect someone who knew Hebrew in the Americas to have adopted a different style of language over time because of the influx of other languages and passage of time, yada, yada.’”

      Even if the inscription was worded and written perfectly, we’d still have the problem that we have no other evidence or reason to suggest that that there has been a community of ancient Hebrew speakers in the Americas, while we know very well that there have been religious Christians capable of producing such a stone.

  • Lanny says:

    Don’t discount the presence of refugee Jews in the earliest waves of Spanish colonists and settlers in the 16th or 17th century. This was one of the farthest outposts in the empire of New Spain. It was an excellent place to avoid the horrors of the Inquisition. Hebrew has been read and written by jews since long before the 1900′s.

  • jbm1 says:

    What I find funny is why you purport the Los Lunas Stone a fake, you’ve neglected to report the U.S. government has declared “many native North American Indians genetically are from the near east”…(Middle East)

    Origin and Diffusion of mtDNA Haplogroup X

    “Finally, phylogeography of the subclades of haplogroup X suggests that the Near East is the likely geographical source for the spread of subhaplogroup X2, and the associated population dispersal occurred around, or after, the LGM when the climate ameliorated. The presence of a daughter clade in northern Native Americans testifies to the range of this population expansion”.

    Link below.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1180497/

    DNA scientists claim that Cherokees are from the Middle East
    http://www.examiner.com/article/dna-scientists-claim-that-cherokees-are-from-the-middle-east

    HAARETZ Publishes
    Israeli researchers: Group of Colorado Indians have genetic Jewish roots

    Sheba Medical Center geneticists find common genetic mutation, often called the ‘Ashkenazi mutation,’ associated with an increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

    http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-world-news/israeli-researchers-group-of-colorado-indians-have-genetic-jewish-roots.premium-1.433227

    FORBES Publishes:

    Israel in all of Us? Research finds ‘Jewish genes’ in unusual places

    “Just last week, in an article accepted for publication in the European Journal of Human Genetics, Israeli geneticists from Sheba Medical Center announced that they had found that descendants of many Spanish speaking Americans in northern Texas and parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and southern California carry a potentially deadly genetic mutation–a variation of the BRCA1 gene known to cause breast and ovarian cancer in Jews. Geneticists have determined that this variation originated in the tightly knit Jewish community centuries ago, marking a carrier as a descendant of Jews”.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2012/06/04/israel-in-all-of-us-research-find-jewish-links-in-unusual-places/2/

    With this kind of reporting, who wants to bet the Los Lunas is a fake?

    And what does your Bible say… I can make a case for Israelites in America just on that alone. No genetic evidence reporting needed…

    • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

      No, you’re misrepresenting the genetic evidence. The presence of subhaplogroup X2 among certain Native American populations is not evidence for a recent migration from the Middle East, as you and some others want to claim. As you quote “the Near East is the likely geographical source for the spread of subhaplogroup X2, and the associated population dispersal occurred around, or after, the LGM when the climate ameliorated”, I’m left wondering if you know what LGM actually means? It’s the Late Glacial Maximum, the period when the last cold phase of the Pleistocene Ice Age reached its coldest, when the ice sheets that extended furthest from the poles. In other words, the population carrying the subhaplogroup is hypothesised to have arisen in the Middle East around 18,000 years before present and to have spread out from there around this time. Are you seriously claiming that ancient Israelites existed this far back in time and that there descendants were able to write passable psot-medieval Hebrew 18,000 years later? The article to which you link in The Examiner is making a preposterous claim based on this evidence: it’s sloppy journalism that misunderstands (perhaps even wilfully) the scientific evidence.

      The Ashkenazi mutation occurred among diaspora Jews living in the Rhineland and Germany. I don’t see what relevance it has to your argument.

      Your final quote refers to a mutation in “descendants of many Spanish speaking Americans in northern Texas and parts of Colorade, New Mexico, Arizona and southern California”. Did you miss the bit that says “Spanish speaking”? In other words, these are descendants of Spanish people with Jewish ancestry. Again, this is not relevant to your attempted defence of the Los Lunas inscription as genuine.

      All in all, the Los Lunas inscription remains a moderately-competently executed fraud.

  • Donovan says:

    This is the LORD’S WORD written in stone for the colonization of the Americas by the ancient Hebrews who are known today as the Native American Indians! Shame on you for spewing lies about this Holy Rock. The Lord will humble you for this blasphemy! You and the so-called archeologists are withholding tons of evidence about the Native American’s Shemite Hebrew culture. No loss, because all the evidence we will ever need is written in the Holy Bible by the Greatest Author Ever the Lord Jesus Christ Himself!

    • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

      No matter how much you may think I am blaspheming (by the way, how can I blaspheme a deity that I don’t believe in?), it is absolutely clear that the stone is a nineteenth-century hoax. No amount of insult or quoting your bible will change that.

    • VC says:

      Donovan, I myself am a Christian. I am curious as to what evidence you see in the Bible for this inscription being true and not a hoax. Or that Indians are direct descendants of ancient Hebrews for that matter (though they would be related to a degree of course). I have no idea how you would get that from the Bible. I know many Christians are all too eager to give credence to something that might possibly be evidence for the Bible, but you seem to take it to an extreme. Truthfully, I wonder if Donovan is a troll.

    • Joel says:

      Jesus didn’t write a single word of your bible, moron.

  • shane says:

    It’s truely amazing how a stone can contribute to such contention. Anybody, telling truth, doesn’t have to say, I don’t have a dog in the fight, then go on to say one way or another. YaHuWaH is Master. Arguements based on all sorts of difference in opinion and ones own understandings, is to replace YaH as Master and put yourself as Head. It is a cool discovery! It is wonderful to even hear of this discovery, fake or real. Are you g-d? Do you know everything? I do know 10 tribes of YaH have been scattered all over the globe, prior to columbus! Most importantly YaH hasn’t forgotten His promise to His 12 and He Will bring us back on the Teachings of Torah and Prophets! I’m planning to visit the area soon. If there is one discovery, there is more in the area. I don’t desire to offend men/women more intelligent than myself. But just stop the contentions. YaH is One. Which means He is One with His people and they with each other.

Agree or disagree? Please comment!