Numbers 22-24 tells the story of the prophet Balaam, son of Beor.  The children of Israel had finally entered the Promised Land and were conquering the inhabitants of the land one after another.  The Moabites, fearing they would be next, hired Balaam to curse the children of Israel.  While he tried his best, God prevented him from doing so.  Instead, he blessed them.

There was no extra-biblical record of a prophet by this name, but in 1967 Dutch archaeologists excavating in Deir ‘Alla, Jordan, uncovered one.  They found 119 fragments of plaster with ink writing carbon-dated to ~800 BC (the time of Ahab).  The language is a mix between Aramaic and Canaanite.  The presence of archaic words indicates it is based on an older text.

When put together, the fragments tell the story of a prophet, Balaam son of Beor, had a vision in which the people would be chastised by a fiery judgment:

The misfortunes of the Book of Balaam, son of Beor. A divine seer was he.
The gods came to him at night.
And he beheld a vision in accordance with El’s utterance.
They said to Balaam, son of Beor:
“So will it be done, with naught surviving.
No one has seen [the likes of] what you have heard!”
Balaam arose on the morrow;
He summoned the heads of the assembly to him,
And for two days he fasted, and wept bitterly.
Then his intimates entered into his presence,
and they said to Balaam, son of Beor,
“Why do you fast, and why do you weep?”
Then he said to them: “Be seated, and I will relate to you what the Shaddai gods have planned,
And go, see the acts of the god!”
“The gods have banded together;
The Shaddai gods have established a council,
And they have said to [the goddess] Shagar:
‘Sew up, close up the heavens with dense cloud,
That darkness exist there, not brilliance;
Obscurity and not clarity;
So that you instill dread in dense darkness.
And – never utter a sound again!’
It shall be that the swift and crane will shriek insult to the eagle,
And a nest of vultures shall cry out in response.
The stork, the young of the falcon and the owl,
The chicks of the heron, sparrow and cluster of eagles;
Pigeons and birds, [and fowl in the s]ky.
And a rod [shall flay the cat]tle;
Where there are ewes, a staff shall be brought.
Hares – eat together!
Free[ly feed], oh beasts [of the field]!
And [freely] drink, asses and hyenas!”
Heed the admonition, adversaries of Sha[gar-and-Ištar]!
… skilled diviner.
To skilled diviners shall one take you, and to an oracle;
To a perfumer of myrrh and a priestess.
Who covers his body with oil,
And rubs himself with olive oil.
To one bearing an offering in a horn;
One augurer after another, and yet another.
As one augurer broke away from his colleagues,
The strikers departed …
The Admonitions are Heeded; The Malevolent Gods are Punished, the Goddess Rescued, and the Land Saved
They heard incantations from afar
Then disease was unleashed
And all beheld acts of distress.
Shagar-and-Ištar did not …
The piglet [drove out] the leopard
And the … drove out the young of the …
… double offerings
And he beheld …

Significance: While the story and the content of Balaam’s prophecy has no connection to the Biblical event, this find provides good evidence that such a prophet by the Biblical name was active in the region, and may have been active at the precise time described by the Bible.

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