Associated Press, Mar 17, 2003
By LAURIE COPANS, Associated Press
JERUSALEM – An ancient stone tablet some experts believe may date to the 9th century B.C., providing rare confirmation of biblical narrative,
A piece of the broken stone tablet is seen during a press conference at the Education Ministry in Jerusalem on Monday.’, HAUTO, VAUTO, SNAPX, ‘5’)” onMouseOut=”nd()”>broke in half while being moved to an Israeli police station, officials said Monday.
An antiquities collector turned in the shoebox-sized tablet in Tel Aviv on Monday morning. Police bringing it to Israel’s Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem broke it even though it was wrapped in two layers of bubble wrap and inside a box, said Amir Ganor, the head of the authorities’ anti-theft division.
Officials didn’t say how the break occurred, but a spokeswoman for the Antiquities Authority, Osnat Guez, said it could actually help scientists studying the tablet, since they will be able to check the inner layers to determine how old the stone is.
The authority will form a commission to study the tablet, which has fifteen lines of ancient Hebrew inscription that resemble passages from the Book of Kings.
Experts at Israel’s Geological Institute, which studied the stone at the request of the collector, believe it is authentic and dates back to the 9th century B.C. Microscopic flecks of gold burned into the stone could mean it was located together with gold objects in a building that burned – possibly the First Temple, which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., officials at the institute said.
But experts on ancient script at the Israel Museum, who also studied the tablet, believe the Hebrew inscription, which resembles passages of Kings II, 12:1-6, 11-17, could be fake.
The tablet was shown to the public for the first time at a news conference at the Ministry of Education and Culture on Monday. Its existence was first reported in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz six months ago.
The collector, Oded Golan, has refused to say where he got the tablet. He has denied he owns it, but is suspected of trying to circumvent Israeli antiquities laws for waiting so long to report its existence.
Ganor said the tablet was probably found by Muslims digging under the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City last year. Jews believe the mosques sit on the ruins of the first and second Jewish Temples, and revere as their holiest site a nearby wall believed to have surrounded the sanctuaries. Muslims say nothing existed on the hill before the mosques.
If the tablet is found to be authentic, it “would prove the existence of the temple,” said Education and Culture Minister Limor Livnat.
Hershel Shanks, editor of the Washington-based Biblical Archaeology Review, said the tablet, if authentic, would be “visual, tactical evidence that reaches across 2,800 years.”
The inscription on the tablet details renovations of the Jewish Temple called for by King Joash in the Old Testament.
The king tells priests to take “holy money … to buy quarry stones and timber and copper and labor to carry out the duty with faith.” If the work is completed well, “the Lord will protect his people with blessing,” the last line of the inscription reads.
The tablet would have been placed in the temple as proof that work was carried out as instructed in the Old Testament, Guez said.
Muslim authorities have denied the tablet was found during the construction of an underground mosque there. Israeli archaeologists contend the work there destroyed artifacts when truckloads of earth were dumped nearby.
The case mirrors that of a stone box, or ossuary, believed to have contained the bones of the biblical figure James, who some Christians believe was Jesus’ brother. The box, whose existence was made known in November, was owned by Golan, and cracked when it was shipped to a museum in Toronto, Canada. The Antiquities Authority is studying it to determine if it is authentic.