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Archeology / Hebrew Scriptures

The Jehoash Inscription

Another really neat 20th century forgery?

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The Jehoash/Joash Inscription

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Overview:

This inscription is carved into a rectangular Arkosic sandstone tablet, about 12 x 24 x 3 inches (30 x 61 x 8 cm). 1 It consists of 10 or 15 lines 2 of text in ancient Hebrew, written in ancient Phoenician script. The inscription discusses repairs to King Solomon's temple. If it had been authenticated as dating to the 9th century BCE, it would have been a unique piece of physical evidence which confirmed the accuracy of portions of 2 Kings in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). It would also have profound political implications. Jewish and Christian sources believe that the temple of Solomon was located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem; Muslim sources deny that a Jewish temple was ever located near the Haram as-Sharif, (Noble Sanctuary) on the mount. "The mosque compound is Islam's third-holiest site, while the adjacent Western Wall, the last remnant of the second Jewish Temple compound, is Judaism's holiest site. Most rabbis ban Jews from entering the Temple Mount for religious purity reasons." 3 Rabbis are concerned that a visitor could inadvertently step on the location of the Holy of Holies; this would be considered a sacrilege by Jewish religious authorities.

As in the case of the recently found bone-box of James, the origin of the tablet is not known. Experts have concluded that both are very cleaver forgeries. One individual, Oded Golan first presented the inscription to the world and is the current owner of the bone box. He was arrested on 2003-JUL-22 by Israeli police and charged with forgery.

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The tablet itself:

The dark gray sandstone tablet is rectangular -- about one foot by two. A rumor was circulated that the object was found during renovations in the Haram as-Sharif Sanctuary. The director of the Islamic Trust which administers the Jerusalem mosque compound, Adnan Husseini, denied this.

The owner, who has remained anonymous, asked the Israeli Museum to authenticate the tablet. The Museum determined that they could not rule out the possibility that the stone was a forgery. The owner then asked Israel's Geological Institute (GSI) to authenticate it. Shimon Ilani, who tested the inscription, said: "Our findings show that it is authentic." 4

The scientists found tiny flecks of gold burned into the outer layer of the tablet. The tablet had suffered fire damage. Both could have happened when the Babylonians, under King Nebuchadnezzar, destroyed the temple in 586 BCE. Gold objects in the temple may have been melted at the time. Institute director, Amos Bean, commented: "These specks of gold are not natural material, but a sign of human activity. They could be from gold-plated objects in the home of a very rich man, or a temple....Itís hard to believe that anyone would know how to do these things to make it look real." 4

Carbon-14 dating by the Geological Survey of Israel shows that the crust on the stone is 2,300 years old. That would be consistent with the stone being an actual relic from the 9th century BCE, which was allowed to corrode at about the start of the 3rd century BCE. 10

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Biblical reference:

The tablet contains an inscription in ancient Hebrew that appears to refer to repairs to the temple made during the reign of King Jehoash Joash Ben Ahaziya). He was the dictator of Judea from 836-798 BCE. The inscription says in part: "holy money ... to buy quarry stones and timber and copper and labor to carry out the duty with faith." The last sentence promises that if the work is completed well, then "the Lord will protect his people with blessing." 5 The inscription seems to be related to two passages from 2 Kings:

2 Kings 12:1-6 states, in part:

"In the seventh year of Jehu Jehoash began to reign; and forty years reigned he in Jerusalem....And Jehoash did that which was right in the sight of the LORD all his days wherein Jehoiada the priest instructed him. But the high places were not taken away: the people still sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places.  And Jehoash said to the priests, All the money of the dedicated things that is brought into the house of the LORD, even the money of every one that passeth the account, the money that every man is set at, and all the money that cometh into any man's heart to bring into the house of the LORD, Let the priests take it to them, every man of his acquaintance: and let them repair the breaches of the house, wheresoever any breach shall be found. But it was so, that in the three and twentieth year of king Jehoash the priests had not repaired the breaches of the house."

2 Kings 12:11-16 states, in part:

"And they gave the money, being told, into the hands of them that did the work, that had the oversight of the house of the LORD: and they laid it out to the carpenters and builders, that wrought upon the house of the LORD, And to masons, and hewers of stone, and to buy timber and hewed stone to repair the breaches of the house of the LORD, and for all that was laid out for the house to repair it. Howbeit there were not made for the house of the LORD bowls of silver, snuffers, basons, trumpets, any vessels of gold, or vessels of silver, of the money that was brought into the house of the LORD: But they gave that to the workmen, and repaired therewith the house of the LORD. Moreover they reckoned not with the men, into whose hand they delivered the money to be bestowed on workmen: for they dealt faithfully. The trespass money and sin money was not brought into the house of the LORD: it was the priests'. "

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Comments about the tablet:

bulletHershel Shanks, editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review, (BAR) said that if the tablet is authentic, it would be "visual, tactile evidence that reaches across 2,800 years." 5
bulletGabriel Barkai, a biblical archaeologist, said that the correlation of the inscription with the Scripture text "has far-reaching implications of the historical importance of the biblical text." 5 He said that if it can be proven to be authentic, it would be considered one of the greatest Israeli archaeological finds in history, and would offer, for the first time, physical evidence of the existence of a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
bulletDr. Eilat Mazar stated: "The fact that the tablet was not revealed to the public in its archaeological context, but rather in the antiquities market, means that the burden of proof, beyond any shadow of a doubt, is on those who claim that it is authentic." 5 She added: "I am speculative about the authenticity of an item that is not found in an organized archaeological dig. In a case like this, authenticity is doubtful." 1
bulletRabbi Yaakov Meidan, a Bible lecturer from Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion, said that he has "hope in my heart that it's authentic, partly based on the tests that were done, and partly based on my knowledge of those who are denying its authenticity... It could be that they're right, but many times they simply don't allow the facts to confuse their theories. In general, there are important streams among the archaeologists who are trying to deny the Bible... while people like me, who are always striving for a 'meeting' with reality - in this case, between the scientific reality and the Biblical verses - certainly see this as a very welcome discovery." 5

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The origin of the book of Kings:

1 and 2 Kings was originally a single book, which was subsequently divided into 1 and 2 Kings by the translators of the Septuagint -- a Greek language version of the Hebrew Scriptures. Most biblical scholars believe that the 1 Kings  was not written at the time of King Jehoash in the 9th century BCE, but was composed centuries later.

bulletConservative theologian Paul Benware suggests that it was originally written between 600 and 575 BCE, with the final editing occurring during or after the period of captivity in Babylon. 6
bulletThe conservative New commentary on the whole Bible suggests that the author "seems to have compiled the book of Kings from earlier documents utilizing Israel's earlier history to make his theological and prophetic points...The final author/editor clearly used the earlier accounts to create a new composition which is a single literary unit." 7
bulletThe more liberal Interpreter's one-volume commentary on the Bible suggests that the anonymous author "lived and worked during the early years of the Babylonian exile and that he completed his history immediately following the last event he records [in] 2 Kings 25:27-30, circa 560 BCE....He has combined materials from annals, with prophetic legends, temple archives with popular stories and pure D creations." ("D" refers to the author of Deuteronomy). 8

There is a near consensus that the unknown author of Kings relied heavily on historical documents, and incorporated them into his writing.

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The plot thickens: Analysis by Prof. Nadav Neeman:

Professor Nadav Neeman, 63, is a historian at Tel Aviv University, and author of the recently published book "He'avar Hamekhonen et Ha'hoveh" [The Past that Shapes the Present]. He specializes in the study of sources upon which the anonymous biblical author based the book of Kings. When Neeman read the inscription on the tablet, he recalled an article that he published in a Dutch periodical in 1998. In the article, he suggested that the author of 1 Kings might have relied on two hypothetical earlier documents: one was written by King Jehoash and used to compose 2 Kings 12. The other was written by King Ahaz and used to write 2 Kings 16, which describes how Ahaz had an altar built which was "similar to the altar in Damascus, in an attempt to placate Tiglath Pileser, king of Assyria, who conquered Damascus at the time." After Neeman had read the tablet, he concluded "one of two things - either I hit the nail on the head, and my theory was confirmed fantastically, or the forger read my theory and decided to confirm it. In any case, if in the near future another inscription turns up, the 'Ahaz inscription,' I will be convinced that it's a forgery. At present I'm only suspicious." 9

There are other problems with the tablet. Neeman said: "the inscription looks problematic. It's not similar to any other royal inscription I am familiar with from the ancient Near East, and it is one of a kind in every possible way. It contains several words that do not appear in the Bible and mainly the conclusion of the supposedly royal inscription: 'Yitzav hashem et amo bivrakha' [May the Name command his people with a blessing.]" The royal inscriptions familiar to us from the ancient Near East, "usually end with a curse on anyone who harms the inscription, or sometimes with a blessing for the person who wrote the inscription, whereas here - 'Yitzav hashem et amo bivrakha'? There is nothing else like it. Even the emphasis in the inscription on the contribution of the people of Judea to Jehoash's repairs of the Temple is unique, because in royal inscriptions, a king always emphasizes his own activities and completely ignores all the others who participated in the construction." He continued: "Salvation will not come from archaeologists or epigraphists. The forgers were sufficiently sophisticated not to fall into the trap and to contend with the criticism of both the archaeologists and the epigraphists. There is no difficulty today in creating an inscription with writing appropriate to the period, such as the writing on what is called the King Jehoash inscription. This is especially true since archaeologists and epigraphists have no precedent for this kind of inscription - such an ancient Judaic royal inscription....only if there is agreement among the geologists that forgery can be ruled out, and that it is impossible to create a patina such as that on this specific find, only then will we be obliged, perhaps, to accept their edict. I don't suspect the geologists who examined the stone in the GSI, but we have to hear additional opinions, and this inscription, whether it's a forgery or an original, has to be open to examination by any scholar, and cannot be hidden with a private collector." 9

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Sponsored link:

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The plot congeals:

Prof. Ed Greenstein, an expert on the language of the Bible and ancient Semitic languages, also at Tel Aviv University is convinced that the tablet is a forgery. He found three anachronisms in the wording of the tablet:

bulletHe criticized the use of the phrase "bedek bayit." Whoever created the inscription did not understand what it meant in biblical Hebrew. He explained: "In the language of the Bible, 'bedek' is the cracks in the building. You reinforce the 'bedek habayit.' ... If you do 'bedek bayit' you are making a crack in the building and ruining it. 'Bedek habayit,' in the language of the Bible, is the problem that must be repaired. Someone who understands biblical Hebrew would not have used the later expression [in modern Hebrew, it means making repairs] that was derived from this expression."
bulletHe continued: "vehaya hayom hazeh le'edut" [and may this day be testimony] makes strange use of the word 'edut.' "The word 'edut' doesn't exist in ancient biblical Hebrew, i.e. during the First Temple period, except in the meaning of 'brit' [covenant], as in the 'aron ha'edut' [the Ark of the Covenant]." The expression used during that period for the word 'edut' in its present meaning is 'ed' [which today means witness]. This issue, too, in my opinion, proves that it's a forgery."
bulletGreenstein concludes: "There is no such thing in biblical Hebrew as 'titzlah hamelakha' [may the work succeed]. In ancient speech, people succeed, and not the work they do. This expression that the forger used is apparently based on a later text from the Second Temple period, as for example from Chapter 1 in Psalms, where it says, 'vekhol asher ya'aseh yatzliah' [and anything he does will succeed]." 9

Prof. Avi Hurvitz, an expert on the historical development of the Hebrew language, said that a 20th century individual "...may have seen the Mesha Stele, forged the inscription according to the style of the Mesha stone, and even made sure to suit its contents to what is written in the Tanakh [The Hebrew Scriptures]. I have to say in their favor that the similarity to the Mesha Stele is in fact suspicious." The Mesha Stele is a stone column which contains an inscription commemorating the victory of the king of Moab over the kings of Israel, Judea and Edom. Hurvitz suggests that the final say on the tablet will be made by geologists. 9

Another academic, Joseph Naveh, has declared it to be fake. He found that most of letter shapes are of 9th-century BC Hebrew, but that others are typical of 7th-century Aramaic and Phoenician. 10

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Is it a fake?

A Live Vote by MSNBC found that most of the visitors to its web site were convinced that the "tablet truly came from Solomon's Temple." Poll results were:

bullet57% believe that the tablet came from the Solomon's Temple.
bullet29% were undecided.
bullet8% believe it to be a fake.
bullet6% believe that it is authentic, but not from the Temple. 4

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Recent developments:

The stone was accidentally broken during shipment to an Israeli police station, even though it was protected by two layers of bubble wrap and placed inside a box. Osnat Guez, spokeswoman for the Antiquities Authority, said that the damage to the stone could be helpful, because it would enable scientists to study the inner layers of the stone to determine its age.

An antiquities collector who turned in the stone, Oded Golan, has refused to say where he obtained the tablet. He says that he does not own it himself. 11

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Decision by international investigating committees:

The Associated Press announced on 2003-MAR-5 that Israel's Antiquities Authority had created two separate commissions of archaeologists, conservators, geologists and language experts. One committee studied "the scientific aspects in the writing and style" of two items: the inscriptions on the tablet and the James ossuary which some believe once held the bones of James, the brother of Jesus. 12 . The other committee studied "the originality of the patina in the engraving and the ossuary itself." The patina is a calcium-carbonate crust that builds up over time on soft limestone. 14  On 2003-JUN-17, the 14 scientists involved in the study announced their unanimous conclusions. The tablet and ossuary are ancient. That is, they were each finished from pieces of rock in ancient times. However, the inscriptions on both items are a modern forgery.

Avigdor Horowitz, a biblical language professor who served on one of the investigating committees said that not one of the many inscribed passages on the tablet was without a linguistic mistake. "The person who wrote the inscription was a person who thinks in modern Hebrew. A person thinking in biblical Hebrew would see it as ridiculous."

This will probably be the most definitive answer that the world will ever have about the nature of the ossuary and tablet.

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Arrest on charges of forgery:

Oden Golan is the current owner of the James ossuary, and was the individual who introduced the Yehoash inscription to the world. He was arrested on 2003-JUL-22 by Israeli police on suspicion of forging and dealing in fake antiquities. 15 "In court, police unveiled equipment they said was found in Golan's home, including stencils, stones and partly completed forgeries." 16 Golan has denied that he is a forger. "Despite the findings, Golan insisted that the artifacts were authentic. He was unavailable for comment because he was in police custody." 15

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Related menus on this site:

bulletJames' ossuary?
bulletArchaeology and Judeo-Christianity

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References:

  1. Debbie Berman, "Archaeologists skeptical on authenticity of Temple tablet," IsraelInsider,  2003-JAN-17, at: http://web.israelinsider.com/
  2. Sources differ on the number of lines in the inscription.
  3. "Old tablet from King Solomon's Temple?," Associated Press, 2003-JAN-14, at: http://www.cnn.com/2003/
  4. "Ancient tablet echoes Bible passage: Scientists trying to authenticate find, which has murky origins," MSNBC, 2003-JAN-13, at: http://www.msnbc.com/
  5. "The Rabbi And The Yehoash Tablet," IsraelNationalNews.com, 2003-JAN-13, at: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/
  6. Paul Benware, "Survey of the Old Testament," Moody Press, (1993), Page 106.
  7. J.D. Douglas, Ed., "Old Testament volume: New commentary on the whole Bible," Tyndale House, (1990), Page 431.
  8. Charles Laymon, "The interpreter's one-volume commentary on the Bible," Abingon Press, (1971), Page 181.
  9. Nadav Shragai, "There is nothing else like it," Ha'aretz.com, 2003-JAN-19, at: http://www.haaretz.com/
  10. Stephen Farrell, "Scientists excited by stone record of Solomon's wisdom," TimesOnLine, 2003-JAN-18, at: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/
  11. "Ancient tablet broken in transit: Israeli police receive stone slab with biblical inscription ó then break it," MSNBC News, 2003-MAR-17, at: http://www.msnbc.com/news/886672.asp
  12. Ted Olsen, "Weblog: Israel Inspects James Ossuary, But Joash Tablet Has Disappeared," Christianity Today, 2003-MAR-6, at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/
  13. Mitch Potter, "Coffin linked to Jesus is a fraud, experts rule," Toronto Star, 2003-JUN-19, Page A3
  14. James Adams, "Experts dispute ossuary findings," The Globe and Mail, Toronto, ON, 2003-JUN-19, Page R1.
  15. "Dealer arrested in Jesus relic forgery," CNN.com, 2003-JUL-24, at: http://www.cnn.com/2003/
  16. " 'James ossuary' dealer suspected of forgery," 2003-JUL-24, The Toronto Star, Page A22.

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Copyright © 2003 and 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-JAN-19
Latest update: 2008-MAY-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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