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Deir Alla, Jordanmarker, was the site of a sanctuary and metal-working centre, ringed by smelting furnaces built against the exterior of the city walls, whose successive rebuildings, dated by ceramics from the Late Bronze Age, sixteenth century BCE, to the fifth century BCE, accumulated as a tell based on a low natural hill. The hopeful identification of the site as the Biblical Sukkot is not confirmed at the site. A series of Dutch excavations, beginning in 1960, made its most dramatic discovery in 1967, an ink wall inscription relating a hitherto-unknown prophecy of Balaam, who thereby becomes the first Old Testament prophet to be identified in an inscription.

Deir Alla was the first Bronze Age city excavated in Jordan. The initial expectations were of establishing a relative chronology of Palestine pottery in the transition between the Bronze Age to the Iron Age, established through meticulous stratigraphy. It was intended to span a gap between established chronologies at Jerichomarker and Samariamarker.

The oldest sanctuary at Deir Alla dates to the Late Bronze Age; it was peacefully rebuilt at intervals, the floor being raised as the tell accumulated height, and the squared altar stone renewed, each new one placed atop the previous one. The final sanctuary was obliterated in a fierce fire; the blackened remains of an Egyptian jar bearing the cartouche of Ramses II gives a terminus post quem of ca 1350 BCE, a date consonant with other twelfth-century urban destruction in the Ancient Near East. Unlike some other destroyed sites, Deir Alla's habitation continued after the disaster, without a break, into the Iron Age; the discontinuity was a cultural one, with highly developed pottery of a separate ceramic tradition post-dating the destruction.

At the end of the 1964 campaign, two inscribed clay tablets in a hitherto unknown, possibly alphabetic script were discovered.

The Balaam inscription

The 1967 excavation revealed a many-chambered structure that had also been destroyed by earthquake, during the Persian period at the site, in which was found a previously unknown prophecy by the seer and prophet Balaam, written in an unattested peripheral local dialect, with Aramaic and South Canaanite characteristics, which employed an idiosyncratic script. The Deir Alla Inscription is datable to ca. 840-760 BCE; it was painted in inks on fragments of a plastered wall: 119 pieces of inked plaster were recovered. The wall, near the summit of the tell, was felled by yet another tremor.


  1. Metal slag was found at every level, and often-rebuilt furnaces. (H.J. Franken, "The Excavations at Deir ʿAllā in Jordan" Vetus Testamentum 10.4 [October 1960, pp. 386-393], p 389).
  2. The expeditions were underwritten by Z.W.O., the Netherlands Organisation for the Advancement of Pure Research, under the auspices of the department of theology, University of Leiden.
  3. Franken 1960:386-393.
  4. There had been earlier, but unrelated Chalcolithic inhabitants of the tell. (1961:371)Franken
  5. H.J. Franken, "The Excavations at Deir ֝Allā in Jordan: 2nd Season" Vetus Testamentum 11.4 (October 1961), pp. 361-372.
  6. Jo Ann Hackett, The Balaam Text from Deir ʿAllā. (Harvard Semitic Monographs 31) 1980, released 1984.
  7. Red and black inks were used, apparently to emphasize the text.
  8. J. Hoftijzer and G. van der Kooij, Aramaic Texts from Deir 'Alla Documenta et Monumenta Orientis Antiqui '19 (Leiden) 1976.

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