The Los Lunas Decalogue Stone is a controversial artifact located in New Mexico. It is inscribed with a copy of the ten commandments written using early Semitic characters. It has been surrounded with controversy ever since it was first mentioned in print in 1933, including a very valid argument that the man who first wrote about it had once been caught intentionally manipulating a different archaeological site.
As I’ve scoured sources of data for hints of evidence of Book of Mormon cultures in Baja and the Southwest, I have sometimes stumbled across references to the Los Lunas Decalogue Stone but never gave it serious consideration because of the questions about its authenticity.
Although it would be great if we found out that the inscription was actually authentic, my opinion is still that the inscription is most likely a forgery, but there are a few things that have been pointed out about the inscription that are interesting enough to mention.
Here are a few facts related to the stone:
- It was supposedly first mentioned in print in 1933, but nobody seems to have a copy of that first article.
- Between 1933 and 1949 several inaccurate interpretations of the stone were published.
- It wasn’t until 1949 that the stone was properly interpreted as being an inscription of the ten commandments. This interpretation was given by Robert Pfeiffer of Harvard’s Semitic Museum. This interpretation was endorsed by The Epigraphic Society and is not disputed.
- There are spelling errors indicative of phonetic mistakes made by whoever authored the inscription.
- The stone sits at a 45-degree angle as if it settled into that position along with the many rock surfaces around it. If it could be proved that the inscriptions were written before the stone reached it’s current position and angle, it would be strong evidence against the idea that the inscription is a hoax from the 1930’s.
- The inscription contains a few paleo-Greek characters.
- The inscription appears bright and new because Boy Scouts “cleaned” the desert varnish off of the stone in the 1950’s.
- A recent account claims that there are additional Semitic inscriptions on a stone on the hill above the Decalogue Stone and which spell “Yahweh, Elohim”. Unlike the Decalogue Stone, these inscriptions are covered with desert varnish.
Arguments in favor of the inscription being a hoax include:
- Frank C. Hibben, the man who first wrote about the inscription, was previously involved in an attempt to manipulate an archaeology site in order to make the site appear older than it actually was.
- Some say that there were two students named Eva and Hobe who created the inscription as a hoax.
- The Mormon Batallion created it in support of the Book of Mormon.
- Jewish settlers fleeing the Inquisition might have settled nearby and created the inscription in historic times
- …and many more.
How solid is the evidence supporting the hoax theories?
In my mind, Frank C. Hibben appears to be holding the smoking gun. He had shown that he was willing to manipulate archaeology to suit his purposes. On the other hand, what was his motivation for this hoax? It doesn’t support his theories regarding ancient North America and, although many people published incorrect interpretations of the stone between 1933 and 1949, Hibben never pointed out that it was actually an inscription of the ten commandments. It also turns out that despite everyone attributing the first mention of the stone in print to Hibben, nobody can actually produce the written account. There is enough doubt about Hibben that I’m keeping my mind open to other ideas.
In regards to the “Eva and Hobe” theory, there doesn’t appear to be any documentation of the incident. On the other hand, someone did carve “Eva and Hobe” onto several rock surfaces at the site along with a date from the 1930’s. This could be evidence of their hoax, or it could be something that someone else carved at the site after hearing the story about their hoax, or the whole story about Eva and Hobe’s supposed hoax might have begun because someone saw their names carved at the site. Nobody knows who Eva and Hobe actually were. We can’t rule out the “Eva and Hobe” theory, but there’s not a lot of evidence in favor of it either.
The idea that someone from the Mormon Batallion made the inscription is founded in the idea that Mormons have the most to gain if people think it’s authentic. While it might be true that we have the most to gain, there is absolutely nothing about the Los Lunas site or inscription that in any way connects it to the Mormon Battalion (or any other Mormon for that matter) other than the argument for motive.
If Jewish settlers created the stone after fleeing the Inquisition, why would they create it in ancient characters? Why would they incorporate paleo-Greek? And why would someone who is astute enough to learn paleo-Hebrew and paleo-Greek make simple spelling errors? Again, this hoax theory is only based on motive, not on any evidence connecting the site or stone to historic Jewish settlements.
Another thing to consider is whether the spelling mistakes and incorporation of Greek are evidence for or against it being a hoax. Why would someone purposefully build errors into the script that are so obvious? Wouldn’t it be more likely for someone to create a hoax based off of text that is more convincing?
I am very anxious for a professional to try to date the other inscriptions reported on top of the mesa above the Decaloge Stone. If those inscriptions can be dated to before the historic period then the Decalogue Stone would suddenly become very good evidence of a writing system consistent with our model.
Anyhow, like several other topics, the Los Lunas Decalogue Stone is interesting, even a little intriguing, but the evidence in favor of it being authentic isn’t enough for me yet. It may be fun to show how weak the hoax theories are, but dismissing a hoax theory does not prove the authenticity of the inscription. Hopefully some better research will be done on it in the future. Until then, the arguments for and against its authenticity are rooted in too many opinions and rumors and too few facts.