According to the Bible’s Old Testament, Balaam was a prophet and diviner perhaps best known for his talking donkey. His exploits are described in the Book of Numbers, which is the fourth book of the Hebrew Bible. Balaam is believed to have dwelt in the ancient lands of Mesopotamia, where Balak the king of Moab commissioned Balaam to curse the Israelites around the year 1400 BC.

Professor Tom Meyer from Shasta Bible College and Graduate School in California, US, told Express.co.uk: “Balaam is probably best remembered for the Biblical account of his donkey speaking to him in a human voice to stop his insane action of cursing God’s chosen people Israel.

“Unsuccessful in his attempts to curse Israel, Balaam became synonymous with rebellion and apostate religion in later Jewish history.

“But 600 years after Balaam lived, he posthumously retained his fame and following.

“In fact, he probably became more popular after he died.”

But what archaeological evidence is there to claim Balaam was a historical figure?

In 1967, archaeologists in Jordan discovered a non-Hebrew temple that has been dated between 840 BC and 760 BC.

The temple was found at Succoth or tel Deir’alla, the first Bronze Age city excavated in Jordan.

And within the temple is an intriguing inscription that mentions Balaam by name.

Professor Meyer said: “Inside the temple archaeologists discovered next to collapsed plaster walls a jigsaw puzzle of a find.

“The fragmented remains of plaster were eventually reconstructed to reveal an Aramaic inscription that once decorated the walls of the temple.

“The discovery, which turns out to be the oldest example of Aramaic literature in the world, was dedicated to none other than the ‘seer of the gods, Balaam, son of Beor.'”

The inscription was painted in red and black inks on fragments of the temples plastered wall.

In total, 119 pieces of the plaster have been recovered.

Part of the Aramaic inscription reads: “The misfortunes of the Book of Balaam, son of Beor.

“A divine seer was he. The gods came to him at night …”

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The longer text, or at least the surviving fragments of it, describe Balaam’s vision of divine destruction by the gods.

Professor Meyer believes the pagan temple may have been a school of prophets that began in the tradition of Balaam’s prophecies.

In a similar way, he said, other Old Testament prophets such as Elijah and Samuel developed a following.

This theory is shared by Eliezer Segal at the University of Calgary in Canada, who wrote: “The text in question, which was probably composed around 700 BCE, was written in Aramaic (or Ammonite) on plaster slabs that might have formed part of a sanctuary or cultic monument.

“From it we learn of the existence, some six hundred years after Balaam’s lifetime, of a religious movement that continued to revere Balaam as its great prophet and spiritual mentor.

The temple remained in use until about the eighth century when it was brought down by an earthquake.

Professor Meyer said: “The inscription was perhaps a way of commemorating one of Balaam’s famous (extra-Biblical) prophecies.

“In the inscription, he curses the gods who brought famine and death and also petitions the fertility gods who could restore life and order to the region.

“The Balaam inscription is one of over 100 examples wherein archaeologists have found the name of a person mentioned in the Bible on an object buried in the earth.

“Such discoveries demonstrate that the people mentioned in the Bible were historical persons, even such notorious characters as Balaam the diviner.”

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