About the Author
Neil Brodie is Director of Cultural Heritage Resource, Stanford University Archaeology Center
The Jehoash Tablet comprises 15 lines of Hebrew text inscribed on a piece of tabular black stone. It records building repairs to the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem conducted by King Jehoash, who lived a century after Solomon himself had died. According to the Bible, Solomon built the temple in the 10th century BC and it was destroyed in 586 BC by an invading Babylonian army under the command of Nebuchadnezzar. Before the appearance of the Jehoash Tablet, the temple had been known only from the Bible, but the repairs recorded by the inscription are described in the Bible, and thus the tablet is the first material evidence of the temple and of the truth of the Biblical account.
The Jehoash Tablet first appeared in 2001, when a private investigator acting on behalf of Israeli collector Oded Golan asked the Geological Survey of Israel to determine its authenticity. The Geological Survey analyzed the patina coating the tablet and its inscription, concluding that it was 2,300 years old, and that therefore the inscription must be authentic. In 2003, the tablet was offered for acquisition to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, but the museum wanted to know its full provenance and place of discovery. The tablet subsequently vanished from view. By then, however, Golan was under suspicion of faking another prominent Biblical artifact, the so-called James Ossuary. Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) agents arrested Golan in 2003 and recovered the Jehoash Tablet from his possession. They later raided Golan’s house and seized the James Ossuary.
Golan’s possession of the tablet caused its authenticity to be called into question once more. The IAA convened two committees of experts (one comprising material scientists, the other epigraphers and philologists) to examine the Jehoash Tablet, together with the inscription on the James Ossuary. Many (though not all) epigraphers claimed the Jehoash inscription to be fake, arguing that some of the terms used in the inscription are anachronistic -- modern, not ancient Hebrew. Geoarchaeologist Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University was a member of the scientific committee and re-examined the patina. He discovered several anomalies, including most tellingly the presence of small marine microfossils, called foraminifera. He argued that it would have been impossible for marine fossils to have become trapped in the patina if it had formed naturally in the dry inland environment of Jerusalem. The foraminifera could only have derived from sedimentary calcium carbonate artificially ground to produce the patina. The patina, and therefore the inscription, must be fabricated. Scientists at the Geological Survey stand by their initial authentication, however, arguing from the evidence of microcolonial fungi in the patina that it must have formed slowly and naturally over a prolonged period of time.
BBC. “King Solomon’s tablet of stone.” Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/tvradio/programmes/horizon/solomon_prog_summary.shtml.
Accessed March 3, 2009.
Burleigh, Nina. 2008. Unholy Business. New York: HarperCollins.