With the help of NASA technology, researchers have finally managed to read, authenticate and date two silver amulets from ancient Israel, one of which contains the Birkat Cohanim and the other of which contains the inscription, "May h[e]/sh[e] be blessed by YHWH, the warrior/helper, and the rebuker of Evil."
These amulets, which were discovered in 1979, date back to the first Temple period c. 600 BC, just before the Babylonian exile. According to the researchers, they show "the earliest known citations of texts also found in the Hebrew Bible and... provide us with the earliest examples of confessional statements concerning Yahweh."
Ha'aretz says this is proof "that the Five Books of Moses were in existence during the First Temple period"; this interpretation is explicitely disputed in the original NYT article by Dr. Wayne Pitard, professor of the Hebrew Bible and ancient Near Eastern religions at the University of Illinois, who says the inscriptions "did not necessarily mean that the Book of Numbers already existed at that time. Possibly it did, he added, but if not, at least some elements of the book were current before the Babylonian exile."
Either way, however, it is extremely exciting to see what light new technology can shed on old discoveries. I'll be thinking of the original owner of that amulet when I listen to Birkat Cohanim in shul over the Chag!