In the comments section of my blog, longtime advocate of the authenticity of the Bat Creek inscription J. Huston McCulloch takes me to task for failing to address several points about the inscription in my earlier review of a chapter from Lost Worlds of Ancient America in which geologist Scott Wolter attempted to analyze the stone, found in 1889, which supposedly contains an ancient Hebrew text. In my review, I discussed earlier scholars’ work pointing to the close similarity between the Bat Creek inscription and a reconstructed paleo-Hebrew text appearing in an 1868 Masonic text, Robert Macoy's General History, Cyclopedia and Dictionary of Freemasonry.
McCulloch, like the diffusionist linguist Cyrus Gordon before him, points to the small comma- or dot-shaped mark appearing between the two words. This, he says, is a paleo-Hebrew word-divider. Since this divider does not appear in the Masonic reconstruction, McCulloch argues that the text could not have been copied from the Masonic image. The fact that the inscriber had knowledge of paleo-Hebrew word division therefore strongly implies that the stone was genuinely ancient. “There is,” McCulloch wrote in 2010, “no way this subtle detail could have been copied from Macoy's illustration, even if the copyist threw in a few random changes to disguise his or her source.” As William F. McNeil put it in 2005 in Visitors to Ancient America, “The word divider is an important clue to establishing the authenticity of the stone because it was not known until well into the twentieth century.”
But is this the case?
It is not entirely clear to me that the mark is a word divider at all, since there is a quite obvious space between the two words. Word dividers, not consistently used in ancient Hebrew, were intended to divide words without the need for spaces.
But let’s assume that it is a word divider. Does this prove that the inscription could not have been faked from Masonic texts? No, it does not.
In 1868, a stele of the Moab king Mesha recording a victory over Israel was found in what is now Jordan. Known as the Moabite Stone in the nineteenth century and today as the Mesha Stele, it caused a sensation because it contained the earliest pre-Biblical reference to Yahweh, the Israelite god. This stone was extensively discussed in the Masonic literature.
In the 1870 book Freemasonry in the Holy Land, published in the United States and distributed to Masonic lodges, Robert Morris makes two important statements about the Moabite Stone that directly impact whether a Masonic forger could have placed a word divider in the Bat Creek inscription.
First, the Moabite inscription proved, he said, that “the Semitic alphabet was the Phoenician” due to the strong similarities. (Cyrus Gordon, McCulloch’s predecessor, later identified the Bat Creek alphabet as “Caananite.") Second, he stated that “punctuation was carefully observed in old writings, so far as to separate by marks both words and sentences.” The following image or the Mesha Stele, from his text, demonstrates that the style and shape of the letters, along with word divider marks, were well-known in the 1870s and 1880s and was thus not a twentieth-century discovery.
The divider on the Bat Creek inscription is correctly placed in the bottom right corner of the word, as it is on the Moabite Stone. Note, too, that the characters on the Moabite Stone are an even closer match to those found on the Bat Creek inscription than in Macoy's Masonic text. The appearance of an extra character beneath the main line of text in the Bat Creek inscription mirrors the isolated characters in the drawing of the Mesha Stele. Finally, note that while on the actual basalt carving of the Mesha Stele the dividers are small circles, the pen and ink drawing from 1870 makes many of them appear elongated (such as the one right of center on line 24), giving the appearance of commas, like the one found on the Bat Creek Stone.
A reasonably perceptive forger would note that this new discovery superseded the reconstructed paleo-Hebrew of the 1868 engraving. It is a short step from there to adding a word divider and some random Maobite characters to make the forged inscription harmonize more closely with newly-established facts. Given that even Cyrus Gordon found some of the characters on the Bat Creek inscription “problematic” (the first two are uncertain, though to me they look like they were drawn from the Maobite Stone), it is not impossible that a forger used parts of Macoy's paleo-Hebrew drawing with extra characters from the Moabite Stone to compose a hoax text.
Is this conclusive proof that the inscription is forged? No, but it removes one obstacle to declaring it a forgery as it can no longer be asserted that a Victorian forger with access to Masonic texts could not have known to use a word divider.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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