The east Jordan Valley site of Deir ‘Alla was the place of a Late Bronze Age (1550–1200 B.C.E.) sanctuary and is best known for its Iron Age plaster inscription relaying a vision of doom pronounced by “Balaam, son of Beor,” the prophetic figure who appears in Numbers 22–24 and other Biblical texts. (Part of the inscription mentioning Balaam is pictured above; the box marks the end of Balaam’s name and his patronymic: “[Balaa]m son of Beor.”) Both the Balaam inscription and its archaeological context (radiocarbon-dated to c. 800 B.C.E.) lack any features supporting a distinctly Israelite cultural or political identity for the site during this period. Although the inscription’s letter forms relate to the Ammonite national script that began developing at this time, the inscription’s language is not Ammonite but, rather, in keeping with the site’s location, somewhere on the dialect continuum among Hebrew, Ammonite, Moabite and Aramaic of the surrounding kingdoms. Briefer inscriptions are written in standard Aramaic of the day. These factors combine to suggest that Deir ‘Alla during the time of the Balaam inscription (c. 800 B.C.E.) fell under the hegemony of Damascus, following Hazael’s extensive conquests in the region and claims over all Israelite territory in Transjordan as stated in 2 Kings 10:32–33.

In the inscription, Balaam communicates with an assembly of deities headed by the god El and designated collectively as the Ilahin and Shaddayin. The only other deity singled out in the surviving text is a goddess whose name is lost to a break in the plaster—but who plays a central role in the divine assembly’s call for a cataclysmic disruption of life on earth. Since Deir ‘Alla is located between highland political centers, it is fitting that the inscription identifies with the divine realm at the level of the divine assembly under El, surmounting and encompassing the various national gods, rather than at the level of national religion. With Israel’s late-ninth-century loss of control over its Transjordanian territories, it is not Yahweh but the higher level of the pantheon centering around El that becomes the backdrop of the vision. This tacitly supports Damascus’s hegemonic claims over this territory.

The Deir ‘Alla Inscription provides a counterexample to the projections of national identity embodied by national gods in contemporary stone inscriptions: the Amman Citadel Inscription, Mesha Stele and Tel Dan Stele. During the Iron Age, this longstanding pantheon of Syria-Palestine is assumed as an international framework organizing these national religious identities of the region and rationalizing territorial losses in battle.