Is this the world's oldest surviving inscription of the Ten Commandments.. in New Mexico?
    
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There is a fascinating old site some few miles west of a little town called Los Lunas in New Mexico. The site has been known as "Mystery Mountain" by the locals for many years. At the foot of this hill there is an ancient rock inscription. Many scholars now believe that it contains the Ten Commandments, including 3 instances of the Tetragrammaton, inscribed in old Hebrew letters.  (Photo 1997 J.Neuhoff)
    
However, conventional history teaches that the Americas were discovered by the Europeans either in 1492 by Columbus, or maybe a few hundred years earlier by the Vikings. There still seems to be an aversion among the establishment historians to even consider the idea that ancient Mediterranean peoples from the Middle East might have traveled to the Americas in the centuries before Christ. Only so-called diffusionists (14) would have accepted a different view. And yet, there it is, this inscription in New Mexico, an undeniable witness from an ancient past telling its history ... 

Some background information on the history of the Inscription Rock
People were already aware of the inscription when New Mexico became a territory in 1850, but no one could read it back then, mainly because the old-Hebrew or Phoenician alphabet in which this rock is inscribed was mostly unknown among scholars or archaeologists at that time. (1) The site is located some few miles west of the small New Mexican town of Los Lunas, about an hour's car drive south of Albuquerque. The inscription is carved into the flat face of a large boulder resting on the north-eastern side of the so-called Hidden Mountain. Local Indians told the then landowner Franz Huning in 1871 that the monument predated their tribes coming to the area

About one century later, in 1949, Robert H. Pfeiffer of the Harvard University, made a first known translation of the strange writing. Being an authority on the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures of the Bible) he concluded that the inscription was a copy of the Ten Commandments. He thought that the inscription was written in the Phoenician, the Moabite, and the Greek languages. Indeed, some local native American Indians, as a result of his work, have been refering to this rock as the Phoenician Inscription Rock. Professor Pfeiffer never stated at that time whom he thought carved the message. Many locals have been calling this site the "Ten Commandments Rock" ever since.
    
Further speculation involved the authorship of that rock inscription.Some even considered it to be an inscription from a member of one of the lost tribes of Israel. Others have expressed the thought that perhaps some Mormons may have carved this message in an attempt to support their views of an ancient pre-Columbian semitic history in North America. However, a simple research on Mormon Web sites reveals absolutely nothing about this rock inscription. It is not used by their church as a proof for the existence of ancient Nephites in America. For a certainty it is not written in so-called "reformed Egyptian" language.
 
Robert L. Pfeiffers translation has not remained unchallenged. Notably two translators rejected the idea that the rock inscription had something to do with the Ten Commandments. In 1964, Robert L. LaFollete wrote a translation which resulted in a travelers story carved on the rock using Phoenician as well as some Hebrew, Cyrillic and Etruscan letters. LaFollete translated this story in English as well as in the Navajo language. Dixie L. Perkins published another translation in 1979. This time under the assumption that the writer was of Greek origin and that he was using old-Greek and Phoenician letters. Perkins translation, too, challenges the Ten Commandment version, again resulting in another travelers story. (1) However, Mrs Perkins stated in her foreword to her translation that she only studied Latin and Greek, not however Hebrew.
    
Many modern scholars now seem to agree that the rock inscription is indeed an abridged version of the Decalogue or Ten Commandments. Among others, these include: Cline 1982 (2), Deal 1992 (3), Stonebreaker 1982 (4), Underwood 1982 (5), Cyrus Gordon 1995 (6), and Skupin 1989 (7).  In 1996, Prof James D. Tabor of the Dept. of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina, Charlotte, interviewed Professor Frank Hibben who is a local historian and retired archaeologist from the University of New Mexico. Hibben is convinced that the inscription is ancient and thus authentic. He also stated in the interview that he first saw the text in 1933. Also, that he was taken to the site by a guide who had seen it as a boy back in the 1880s. (see Tabor 1996: "An Ancient Hebrew Inscription in New Mexico: Fact or Fraud" (8), see also J.Huston McCulloch 1997: "The Los Lunas Decalogue Stone" (9)).  
    
Dr. Cyrus Gordon, a historian of ancient Near Eastern civilizations, has promoted the idea that such peoples reached the New World for the past several decades. The historical and archaeological evidence is not unimpressive and has been well documented by Barry Fell in his major study entitled "America B.C." (10)
    
In 1999 Stan Fox, a linguist and Bible expert from Colchester, England, made a fresh translation of the Los Lunas Inscription, based upon photos and a careful drawing of the text. It is apparently the first translation to be published on the Internet (see translation on this Web site).

An Epigraphy of the Los Lunas Inscription


    
The first step in deciphering the Los Lunas Inscription was to identify the letters.  Native American Indians in the New Mexico area never developed a character-based alphabet. They were mainly carving petroglyphs on rock surfaces. These are quite different and are more like little pictographic drawings than writings. The inscription itself was done in old-Hebrew or Phoenician letters, as can be seen from the following (to the right)  character chart:
 
     The approach taken for identifying the letters was to look elsewhere for comparable character-based known inscriptions. The closest matching writing samples are Phoenician, Moabite and old-Hebrew monumental inscriptions from the far away Mediterranean Middle East. The modern western Latin-based character set alphabets are ultimately derived from the ancient Phoenician alphabet. The old Hebrew alphabet was virtually identical with the mid-Phoenician alphabet from the tenth to sixth century B.C.E.. It was only after the Jewish return from the Babylonian exile in 539 B.C.E. that their scribes started to develop their own script known as square-Hebrew, even though some old-Hebrew writings continued to be produced till the early Roman era.

Some of the known Middle Eastern carved inscriptions which bear a resemblance to the Los Lunas inscription style are those from the Eshmunazar Sarcophagus, Jewish Seals, the Nerab Stelae or the Bar Rakab Inscription.

The Los Lunas letters are mostly vertically or horizontally aligned, without going beneath their baseline, while their Middle Eastern counterparts tend to be more diagonally stretched, including droppings below their baseline. For more information on the meaning of the Middle Eastern Phoenician letters see "http://www.phoenicia.org/tblalpha.html".

Translation of the Los Lunas Inscription
The stone inscription is carved in old-Hebrew letters. These are almost identical in shape and font-style with Phoenician characters. Each line in the message is to be read from right to left. In the Hebrew written language there are no vowels. It only uses consonants.
    
Each statement is separated from the next one by a dot sign. This separation style is not uncommon for old Hebrew or Phoenician inscriptions. E.g. the Middle Eastern Moabite Stone (9th century B.C.E.) follows a similar pattern using dot separators between words. (see 11) 
    
The Los Lunas inscription starts with the top line, continues on the 3rd line, goes back into the 2nd line (that one was inserted later, hence the smaller line spacing !), it then goes on with the left half of the 3rd line and continues all the way down to the last line.
    
A detailed interlinear translation, which has been compiled from a careful drawing of the Los Lunas inscription, can be studied below:
 


Here is a modern-day English translation of the Los Lunas Decalogue:

I am Jehovah your God who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slaves. There must be no other gods before my face. You must not make any idol. You must not take the name of Jehovah in vain. Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. Honour your father and your mother so that your days may be long in the land that Jehovah your God has given to you. You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not give a false witness against your neighbour. You must not desire the wife of your neighbour nor anything that is his.

The Tetragrammaton in the Los Lunas Decalogue
The so-called Tetragrammaton is composed of the 4 Hebrew consonant letters YOD HE WAW HE and refers to the divine name. It is commonly rendered as Jehovah in the English language, by inserting the 3 vowels "e", "o" and "a" between the consonants.  In fact, the Hebrew part of the Bible (also known as the Old Testament) contains the Tetragrammaton more than 6800 times, including some instances inside the Ten Commandments.
    
The following table compares the Los Lunas Tetragrammaton with those from other ancient Middle Eastern inscriptions:

Photo 1993 David Moore
Below is a drawing of the same inscription and an interlinear translation: 

 
Los Lunas Decalogue in New Mexico

Moabite Stone from 9th century B.C.E.


Lachish Ostracon from late 7th century B.C.E.
 

Dead Sea Scroll from 3rd century B.C.E.


Square Hebrew in the centuries after Christ

 
The Los Lunas Decalogue inscription uses the Tetragrammaton in 3 places. They are carved on the rock surface in old Hebrew letters. And they are probably one of the world's oldest surviving writing samples of the Tetragrammaton!
    
There is another short stone inscription on the south pinnacle of the mesa. It may have served as an altar. The picture was taken by David Moore on a field trip to Hidden Mountain in 1993. The first line contains the Tetragrammaton in paleo-Hebrew letters. The letters are similar in style to those on the Decalogue inscription stone but appear to be more eroded.

Indian Petroglyphs at the Los Lunas site
The Decalogue inscription is located at the foot of the Hidden Mountains on the north-eastern side, at the only accessible pathway going up. However, there are other artifacts of interest, too. When James D. Tabor did his survey of the whole site in 1996 he reported the existence of some leftovers of an ancient habitation (see 8). If there was an ancient fortification, as he claims there was, it certainly is not immediately visible from the ground to the untrained eye. However, the whole site, especially the top and the north-eastern rocks and slopes, are covered with petroglyphs.
    
The researcher David Deal has published a detailed analysis for one of these petroglyphs (3) . It depicts a sky-map, laid out on a flat rock, recording the positions of the planets and constellations during a solar eclipse. It coincides with the solar eclipse on September 15, 107 B.C.E., to be followed by the Jewish "Rosh Ha Shannah" on the next day. This interesting discovery was first published by David Deal back in 1984. "Rosh Ha Shanah" is the first day of the Jewish month of "Tishri". "Ethanim" was the old-Hebrew name for "Tishri" referring to the seventh lunar month of the sacred calendar of the Israelites. It was also regarded as the first month of their secular calendar, especially in an agricultural sense. Like David Deal, James D. Tabor, too, emphasizes the significance between the date of the Los Lunas solar eclipse on September 15 107 B.C.E. and the Jewish New Year. However, he thinks both events were on the same day (8).
    
Another interesting petroglyph, whose picture is shown below here for the first time on the Web, seems to portrait an ancient high-ranking mediterranean visitor, possibly wearing a crown. Crowns were unknown to native American Indians. They are of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean origin. The small cross-like symbol in the circle below looks like an artistic representation of the old-Hebrew or Phoenician letter TETH. This might be just a coincidence, but should be taken into consideration in view of the other Hebrew or Phoenician artifacts on that same site.

Photo: J.Neuhoff 1996     Left: An unidentified petroglyph depicting a face and with what looks like a crown on its head. It is less than 50 yards away from the Decalogue inscription. Does the circle with the cross below the face represent an old-Hebrew or Phoenician TETH character? See drawing above.  

[Another theory for the origin of this petroglyph may be considered at the Celtic Bishop-Kings page.]

How old is the Los Lunas Inscription?
This question may never be fully answered. In order to get at least some ideas about the age, several factors are to be taken into consideration:

1. Geology of the Los Lunas site
2. Other Phoenician and old-Hebrew inscription samples
3. Phoenician and Bible history
4. A zodiac calendar stone at the Los Lunas site
 
Geology of the Los Lunas site
The whole eastern side of Hidden Mountain, which is of the same basalt than the mesa top, has gradually moved down over the centuries. The boulder with the Decalogue inscription is now tilted by approximately 40 degrees. This supports the assumption that the inscription must be at least some centuries old. George Moorehouse, a professional geologist, has given a cautious estimate of the age (12). Critics claim that the engraving looks too fresh and lacks the patination characteristic of great age. However, Moorehouse concludes that the freshness actually derives from the frequent, recent scrubbing of the inscription (with wire brushes on some occasions) to improve its visibility. Taking this into account, Moorehouse estimates the age of the Los Lunas inscription by comparing its weathering with a nearby 1930 inscription. Conclusion: the Los Lunas inscription is much older than 1930. Any length of time from 500-2000 years or even more would be "quite reasonable" (13).
 
Other Phoenician and old-Hebrew inscription samples
Another way to narrow down the problem of the age is to compare the Los Lunas inscription with other Phoenician and paleo-Hebrew inscription samples from the Mediterranean Middle East. In general, if the Los Lunas inscription is old-Hebrew, it is no younger than 600 B.C.E. because after that old-Hebrew came to be gradually replaced by the square-Hebrew alphabet. The old-Hebrew and Phoenician characters used to be almost identical from 1100 B.C.E. to 600 B.C.E. Thereafter, mainly the Phoenicians continued to use this old alphabet, until their Mediterranean colonies were destroyed by the Romans during the Punic wars of the 2nd century B.C.E.  
 
As mentioned in the Epigraphy section, the closest matching Phoenician or paleo-Hebrew writing samples are those from the Eshmunazar Sarcophagus (4th century B.C.E.) or those of the Bar Rakab Inscription and the Nerab Stelae.
    
Some scholars, such as Cyrus Gordon (6), think that the Los Lunas Decalogue is of Samaritan origin because the letters YOD, QOPH and SHIN have a Samaritan form. Others have suggested that the letters TAW, ZAYIN, DALETH and KAPH look like old-Greek letters indicating a Greek influence as well as a post-Alexandrian date. Gordon suggests that the Los Lunas inscription is an ancient Samaritan mezuzah with its abridged version of the Decalogue. This would indicate an age from the Byzantine period. However, the Los Lunas Decalogue follows the Masoretic text by saying "remember the Sabbath day" instead of the Samaritan "preserve the Sabbath day". Also, the additional Samaritan clause to the 10th commandment calling for a temple to be built on Mt. Gerizim does not appear in the Los Lunas Decalogue.
 
Phoenician and Bible history
Perhaps it makes more sense to assume that the Los Lunas Decalogue is indeed plain old-Hebrew. Its message certainly is in the Hebrew language. In that case the following question has to be answered: Has the ancient nation of Israel ever been capable of doing long-distance overseas expeditions and trading? The answer is Yes! According to the Bible record, ancient king Solomon of Israel and the Phoenician king Hiram of Tyre closely cooperated in their overseas trading activities (quotes are taken from the Revised Standard Version):
1 Kings chapter 10 verse 22:

For the king had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.

1 Kings chapter 9 verse 27: And Hiram sent with the fleet his servants, seaman who were familiar with the sea, together with the servants of Solomon.
   
Solomon and Hiram used to have ocean going fleets at around 1000 B.C.E.! Their joint fleets were based both in the Mediterranean Sea and in the Red Sea. This gave them access to both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The word Tarshish is an old name referring to the Iberian peninsular. It would take the fleet three years to complete each round trip. The only reasonable explanation for such an extremely long traveling time seems to be that of cross-oceanic voyages.
   
The Phoenicians eventually set up trading outposts and colonies all over the Mediterranean area, including Tarshish and e.g. Carthage in Northern Africa. When Carthage was founded, part of its culture may have been based on the Hebrew language, customs and names, along with the Phoenician traditions. Carthage called itself "Kirjath Hadeschath," a Hebrew name, while the name Carthage was given to it at a later time by their Roman enemies. Carthage became a leading Phoenician trading center during the second half of the 1st millennium B.C.E.. Herodotus, the Greek historian, confirms that the Carthaginians organized cross-Atlantic trips as part of their trading activities.
   
The Los Lunas site itself used to be accessible via the Rio Puerco, a contributory to the Rio Grande, which in turn leads into the Gulf of Mexico. The present dry climatic conditions did not always prevail in New Mexico. According to the climatologist C.E.P. Brooks (15) and the archaeologist Ellsworth Huntington there used to be wet periods during the first millennium B.C.E.. This would have allowed easy navigation along the Rio Grande and Rio Puerco for boats coming from the Gulf of Mexico.
   
Israel's capabilities of doing long distance overseas travels soon came to an end after king Solomon's death. The Phoenicians may have continued Atlantic crossings for centuries till their decline during the Punic Wars against the Romans. It was not until after the time of Alexander the Great and the subsequent spread of Greek culture and language in the Middle East when more Jews settled in places outside Israel, especially in Alexandria, Egypt. They came to be mostly Greek speaking people, with only some of them having a secondary knowledge of Hebrew. Interestingly enough, some letters in the Los Lunas Decalogue, such as the DALETH, ZAYIN, HETH or TAW,  look like their Greek counterparts DELTA, ZETA, ETA or TAU. Also, the Los Lunas Decalogue uses the letter ALEPH like a vowel in a misspelled Hebrew word for "remember". This is an indication that the Los Lunas writer may have had only a secondary knowledge of Hebrew, with Greek as his primary language. If this is the case then the date of the Los Lunas Decalogue inscription has to be somewhere between the third and first century B.C.E., which in turn agrees with David Deals analysis of a nearby Zodiac calendar stone.  
 
A zodiac calendar stone at the Los Lunas site
As pointed out in the section about the petroglyphs, on the top of Hidden Mountain there is a special petroglyph which seems to depict a sky-map. It is laid out on the broken pieces of a flat rock. The researcher David Deal has done some detailed studies of this calendar stone during the 1970s and 1980s and even found some broken off pieces from further down the hill. His conclusion, after comparing them with known astronomic sky maps over that area for the past centuries, is that they depict a nearly total solar eclipse over New Mexico from the year 107 B.C.E. (3). This, along with the fact that there used to be an ancient habitation or small fortification on top of that hill (8), again points to a time period before Christ.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

References
1.    Dixie L. Perkins, "The Meaning of the New Mexico Mystery Stone", Sun Publishing Company, Albuquerque 1979
2.    Donald Cline, "The Los Lunas Stone", Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications 10 (1982 part 10)
3.    David Allen Deal, "Discovery of Ancient America", Kherem La Yah Press, Irvine CA, first published in 1984. 1999 3rd Edition available from David Deal (davebigdeal@cox.net).
4.    Jay Stonebreaker, "A Decipherment of the Los Lunas Decalogue Inscription", Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications 18 (1989)
5.    L. Lyle Underwood, "The Los Lunas Inscription", Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications 10 (1982, part 1)
6.    Cyrus Gordon, "Diffusion of Near East Culture in Antiquity and in Byzantine Times", Orient 30-31, 1995
7.    Michael Skupin, "The Los Lunas Errata", Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications 18 (1989)
8.    James D. Tabor, "An Ancient Hebrew Inscription in New Mexico: Fact or Fraud", United Israel Bulletin Vol. 52, Summer 1997
9.    J.Huston McCulloch "The Los Lunas Decalogue Stone", 1997, mcculloch.2@osu.edu
10.    Barry Fell, "America B.C.", New York: Pocket Books, 1989
11.    T.C. Mitchell, "The Bible in the British Museum", Document 18, British Museum Press, 1988
12.    George E. Moorehouse, "The Los Lunas Inscriptions: A Geological Study", Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications 13 (1985)
13.    Science Frontiers #43, JAN-FEB 1986.
14.    Marc. K. Stengel, "The Diffusionists Have Landed", Atlantic Monthly, January 2000 issue
15.    C.E.P. Brooks, "Climate Through the Ages", New York, Dover Publications, Inc. 1970

Feedback
We'd like to hear from you. What is your opinion about the Los Lunas Decalogue? Is it a genuine antique rock inscription (as we think it is), or is it a clever 20th century hoax (as some conventional historians believe)? Do you have any interesting additional information on this Decalogue inscription which haven't been published yet on the web? Has anybody seen similar inscriptions in other North American sites?
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