Sensation or forgery? Researchers hail dramatic First Temple period finding

Ha’Aretz (Israel), Jan. 13, 2003
By Nadav Shragai

An inscription attributed to Jehoash, the king of Judea who ruled in Jerusalem at the end of the ninth century B.C.E., has been authenticated by experts from the National Infrastructure Ministry’s Geological Survey of Israel following months of examination. The 10-line fragment, which was apparently found on the Temple Mount, is written in the first person on a black stone tablet in ancient Phoenician script. The inscription’s description of Temple “house repairs” ordered by King Jehoash strongly resembles passages in the Second Book of Kings, chapter 12.

Dr. Gabriel Barkai, a leading Israeli archaeologist from Bar Ilan University’s Land of Israel Studies Department, says that if the inscription proves to be authentic, the finding is a “sensation” of the greatest import. It could be, he says, the most significant archaeological finding yet in Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. It would be a first-of-its kind piece of physical evidence describing events in a manner that adheres to the narrative in the Bible.

According to Dr. Barkai, such a finding, which appears to furnish proof of the existence of the Temple, must be made available for examination by scholars, and can not be kept a virtual secret.

Detailed research findings about the inscription are to be disclosed in a collection of articles published by the Geology Survey of Israel, a government research institute. Research studies have been prepared by Dr. Shimon Ilani, Dr. Amnon Rosenfeld and Michael Dvorchik, the institute’s chief technician who carried out electronic microscope tests of the inscription that, the three say, were largely responsible for the finding’s authentication.

Apart from noting that the discovery was made in Jerusalem, the researchers do not disclose where the inscription was found. But sources have indicated that the writing surfaced in the Temple Mount area as a result of widescale excavation work done in recent years in the area by Muslims, and that Palestinians relayed the fragment to a major collector of antiquities in Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem collector is represented by attorney Isaac Herzog, a former cabinet secretary and currently a Knesset candidate on Labor’s list.

The collector offered to sell the inscription to the Israel Museum, but museum curators who examined the fragment cast doubt on its authenticity, though they did not state categorically that the writing was a forgery.

Ilani and Rosenfeld refused yesterday to discuss the Israel Museum’s response with Ha’aretz. But officials from the Geology Survey said that results of the battery of examinations that were carried out must be taken as conclusive: It’s inconceivable that such extensive testing would fail to reveal a forgery, they said. The inscription is authentic, they insisted, and the finding is an archaeological sensation that could have global repercussions and that effectively vindicates Jewish claims to the Temple Mount.

The inscription lauds repairs carried out by King Jehoash in ways reminiscent of the description in the Second Book of Kings. It includes the king’s request that priests collect public money to be used for the repair of the First Temple; and there are references to the purchase of timber and quarried stones for the carrying out of repairs on the Temple.

The inscription contains fragments from 2 Kings 12:15: “And they did not ask an accounting from the men into whose hands they delivered the money to pay out to the workmen; for they dealt honestly.”

The researchers believe that the sandstone used for the inscription was brought from southern Jordan, or the Dead Sea region. Materials that covered the inscription over the years date from 200-400 B.C.E., they suggest.

Ilani and Rosenfeld speculate that during this period, the inscription began to be covered up as a buried object. Should this hypothesis be correct, it would mean that the inscription was exposed to the elements for hundreds of years, before being buried some 500-600 years after it was written.

In his conversation with Ha’aretz, Dr. Barkai noted that “the problem here is that circumstances of the finding are not clear… We should wait for the official scientific publication, at which time we will be able to probe this finding carefully. Right now, of course, we can’t rule out any possibility. It’s too bad that a matter of this sort was kept under wraps, apparently due to business concerns.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday January 14, 2003.
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