Bible and archaeology news
This morning, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the 15-line Jehoash Inscription be returned to collector Oded Golan in the latest twist in the “forgery trial of the century” saga. Golan was acquitted of all forgery charges after the Israel Antiquities Authority charged him with forging the inscription (which, if authentic, would be the first and only royal Israelite inscription) as well as several other prominent artifacts, including the James Ossuary. After the acquittal, the state petitioned to keep the Jehoash tablet, describing it as an antiquity, despite the decade-long campaign to label it a forgery. Earlier today, a panel of three Supreme Court justices ruled in a two to one decision that the tablet be returned to Golan.
The March 2012 verdict did not rule on the artifacts’ authenticity, but instead that the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they are forgeries. The Jehoash Tablet is a 15-line inscription on a black stone plaque, the text of which parallels a similar Biblical description of repairs to Solomon’s Temple in the 9th century B.C.E. The authenticity of the tablet is still heavily debated; what is certain is that if the tablet is authentic, it is “enormously important—for the history of the Biblical text, for understanding the development of the Hebrew language, for Hebrew epigraphy, etc., to say nothing of the fact that it would also be the only known example of a royal Israelite (actually Judahite) inscription.” *
In his post Verdict: Not Guilty, BAR Editor Hershel Shanks reviews evidence for the tablet’s authenticity:
“The plaque had a deep crack running through four lines of the inscription. After the police confiscated the plaque, it (accidentally) broke in two along the crack. The crack could then be seen from the side. Part of the crack had ancient patina in it, proving that the crack was ancient. Would a forger choose to work with a stone that had a crack in it, where a slip of his engraving tool might break the stone in two, ruining all his careful work? Hardly. But even if he decided to take the chance, how did he manage to engrave four lines across the ancient crack? In addition, the patina on the inscription contains minute globules of gold. Was the plaque once plated with gold? These gold globules are so small (one or two millionths of a meter) that they are not available on the market. They can be created, however, in an intense fire such as might have occurred in the conflagration that accompanied the destruction of the Temple—the First Temple in the 6th century B.C.E. or the Second Temple in 70 C.E. All this is explained in a peer-reviewed journal, the Journal of Archaeological Science, authored by five experts from Israel and the United States who defend the authenticity of the inscription.”
The debate on the authenticity of the Jehoash Inscription and other artifacts labeled forgeries will no doubt continue for years to come. After being labeled a forgery and then an antiquity by the IAA, the Jehoash Tablet will now be returned to collector Oded Golan—if the IAA does not initiate another proceeding to continue to withhold it from Golan.
* Hershel Shanks, “First Person: Authentic or Forged? What to Do When Experts Disagree.” Biblical Archaeology Review, Nov/Dec 2012
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