First Temple period finding?
- HA'ARETZ English ed.
Tuesday, January 14, 2003
Sensation or forgery? Researchers hail dramatic
First Temple period finding
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
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
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
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
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
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."
Wieland Willker, Bremen, Germany