First Person: Gold from the Temple?
Hershel Shanks’s First Person in the July/August 2014 issue of BAR
Hershel Shanks • 07/15/2014
In mid-2012 we reported that the Harvard Theological Review (HTR) had decided to withdraw from its publication schedule a paper by Professor Karen King of Harvard Divinity School that reported on an ancient papyrus fragment, the size of a business card, in which Jesus refers to “my wife.”a King, of course, had considered in her paper the possibility that it was a forgery. She had consulted several experts (including her own expertise), but in view of the sensitivity of the subject, HTR decided to reverse itself and withhold publication until additional testing was undertaken, even though in her paper King had emphasized that this text provided no evidence that Jesus was married, only that some early Christians may have thought so.1
Harvard University/Karen L. King
An ancient papyrus fragment in which Jesus refers to “my wife.”
Now after more than 18 months, scientists from Columbia, Harvard and MIT have reported that, in the words of the New York Times (the fragment has received much more publicity than it would have if HTR had simply printed the paper when King submitted it), “The ink and papyrus are very likely ancient and not a modern forgery.”
But that’s not the point I want to raise. Even this does not satisfy some scholars—what I’m going to report now is not about some crank without academic credentials, but a distinguished professor at Brown University: Professor Leo Depuydt.
In response to a journalist from the New York Times, Depuydt said that testing the papyrus fragment was “irrelevant … He saw no need to inspect [the fragment]. He said he decided based on the first newspaper photograph that the fragment was forged because it contained ‘gross grammatical errors.’”
In a paper published in the same issue of HTR as Karen King’s article, Leo Depuydt states that he “has not the slightest doubt that the document is a forgery and not a very good one at that … [He does] not want to belabor something that seems abundantly obvious to [him] … [He] experience[s] a certain incredulity pertaining to how something that is at first sight so patently fake could be so totally blown out of proportion … [He is] 100 percent certain that the Wife of Jesus Fragment is a forgery … [The text is] designed to put a certain spin on delicate modern issues of theology … [I]t cannot be excluded that the presumed modern author of the text thought of his or her effort as some kind of a clever joke … [I]t seems eminently possible to me that the forger wanted to put his or her own spin on modern theological issues … [The] grammar is completely botched.”2
Read more about the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” papyrus fragment and how the scholarly community has responded to new tests conducted to determine its authenticity.
Geological Survey of Israel
This brings to mind the 15–16-line Hebrew inscription on stone known as the Jehoash Inscription (JI) in English—or Yehoash Inscription in Hebrew (YI)—which was charged as a forgery in the recently concluded five-year “forgery trial of the century.” At the end of the trial, the judge issued his verdict: Not guilty. The state had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the JI was a forgery.
This of course doesn’t mean that it is authentic. As a matter of fact, you can never prove that it is authentic: There is always another test that you may not have tried (or even known about) that theoretically could prove the inscription is a forgery. Recognizing this limitation, however, a team of scientists from Israel, Germany and the United States went about as far as you could go in demonstrating that the JI is very likely authentic.b They concluded, “Our analyses strongly support the authenticity of the Jehoash tablet and its inscription.”3
Nevertheless some language specialists continue to believe that—like Professor Depuydt’s view of the “Jesus Wife” fragment—the JI is a forgery (although other respected scholars contest their analysis).
The JI describes repairs to the Jerusalem Temple and closely tracks the description of the same repairs in the Biblical text (2 Kings 12:1–16; 2 Chronicles 24:4–14). If it is authentic, it would be the first and only royal Israelite inscription!
One aspect of the JI intrigued me: The patina on the JI contains gold globules between 1 and 2 micrometers in diameter. A micrometer is one millionth of a meter. Gold globules this small are not available commercially. If the JI is a forgery, how did the forgers get them or make them?
Courtesy Amnon Rosenfeld
A gold globule between 1 and 2 micrometers in diameter.
None of the international team of specialists that had studied the JI and concluded that it was very probably authentic was a gold specialist, so I decided to try to find one. I finally located him—at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen. His name is Ernst Pernicka. He is professor of archaeometry and archaeometallurgy and director of the Curt-Engelhorn-Center for Archaeometry in Mannheim, Germany.
Gold melts at 1,064 degrees centigrade and boils at 2,970 degrees centigrade, Pernicka wrote me. But upon melting, gold tends to coagulate into larger droplets. In a subsequent conversation, Pernicka tried to puzzle it out: He didn’t know how a forger would create globules of this extraordinarily small size—or why. Why would a forger go to all the trouble to create an almost invisible gold content that could not be seen? Not only has no one suggested how a forger could have created gold globules a millionth of a meter in diameter, but it remains a mystery as to why, since globules of this size would be—for all practical purposes—invisible.
On the other hand, how did these gold globules get in the patina? From the outset the question arose as to whether the source of the gold was decoration in the Temple that was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.
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The problem is not only that they are so small but that they are round globules. The supposition is that the original molten gold in the ground somehow formed these globules when it interacted with the other substances of the patina. (At least seven other substances were found in the patina.)
In the course of his consideration of the question, Pernicka was able to tell me that he agreed with the international team of scholars, whose analyses “strongly support” the authenticity of the JI inscription.
This interesting scientific analysis fits nicely with some less scientific, but possibly accurate, speculation. The talk on the street is that the JI was discovered near the eastern wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where there is an old Muslim cemetery. The JI would originally have been displayed on or near the Temple. When the Temple was destroyed, the JI fell to the ground and was consumed in the flames. In this intense conflagration, the golden decorations of the Temple were turned molten. In this form, they combined with the other substances that make up the patina, creating the infinitesimal globules that survived. In recent years, several Palestinian “martyrs,” people who had been killed in suicide attacks on Israelis, were buried in this cemetery. In preparing the burials, the JI was discovered.
There are a number of other reasons to conclude that the JI is authentic. For example, it had a deep crack in it when it was inscribed. Even assuming a forger could successfully inscribe across the crack, would any forger take the chance of cracking the tablet and destroying his work when he could start with an easily available tablet without a crack?
In fact, when in the possession of the police, the tablet broke in two along the crack, revealing a patina deep in the crack—proving the inscription preceded the creation of the patina.
While it can never be proved with absolute certainty that the JI is authentic, the case is certainly highly likely. We should treasure the JI as very probably an authentic inscription of an Israelite (or rather Judahite) king.
Let the Public See It!
The Yehoash inscription in court
Hershel Shanks • 08/01/2013
The Yehoash inscription.
A strange turn of the screw occurred in the Israel Supreme Court last Wednesday. For 10 years the Israel Antiquities Authority has been charging Israeli antiquities collector Oded Golan with forging a 15-line inscription which, if authentic, would be the first and only royal Israelite inscription. It is generally referred to as the Yehoash (Jehoash) inscription. The government eventually charged Golan criminally. A five-year trial ensued in which Golan was charged with forging the Yehoash inscription and numerous other artifacts (including the famous ossuary inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”).
At the end of the trial, the judge wrote a lengthy opinion acquitting Golan on all forgery charges.
Nevertheless, the government refuses to return Golan’s antiquities collection—more specifically, the Yehoash inscription—to him, which was confiscated for purposes of the trial.
The reason for the government’s refusal is an astounding volte-face: The government now argues that the Yehoash inscription is an antiquity. Therefore the government is entitled to it!
How this will play out is unclear. The Supreme Court has not yet rendered a decision. At the hearing, it suggested that the parties get together and reach some sort of compromise, perhaps giving the government only the Yehoash inscription. (The government has made no claim to the James ossuary; apparently it intends to return this to Golan.) I have spoken to Golan and it seems clear that, after 10 years of making his life a living hell by charging him as a forger and trying him criminally, he will never agree to the settlement the court suggested.
From their remarks from the bench, it seems clear that the judges are sympathetic to the government’s claim, although they obviously find it difficult to reach this conclusion based on legal reasoning.
Whether or not the Yehoash inscription is a forgery is beside the point of the suggestion I would like to make. I would like to make a claim on behalf of the public: ALLOW US TO SEE IT!
All the items confiscated from Oded Golan should be displayed in a museum, such as Jerusalem’s Bible Lands Museum. Golan told me he would agree to this. Will the Israel Antiquities Authority?
If you agree with this suggestion, click here to contact the IAA. -H.S.
As we have seen time and time again in the current study, the bible rarely strays very far from the actual truth and there is often a cryptic and easily overlooked clue at hand. So we are justified in asking whether the true location of Solomon's Temple is not hinted at somewhere in the description of events surrounding the breakup of the United Monarchy.And Rehoboam went to Shechem; for all of Israel were come to Shechem to make him king. And it came to pass, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it―for he was yet in Egypt, whither he had fled from the presence of king Solomon, and Jeroboam dwelt in Egypt, and they sent and called him―that Jeroboam and all the congregation of Israel came, and spoke unto Rehoboam ...."
Now Shechem was a seminal location in the lives of the forerunners of Solomon. Abraham built an altar there. It was, according to some, the place where he stopped upon entering Canaan and it was the place where Yahweh himself gave Abraham the future land of Israel. Joseph is supposed to be buried there, though we have already seen that his mummy remains in Egypt. Jacob's sons are purported to have massacred the population at one point. It is mentioned in the Amarna letters found at Akhnaton's short-lived capital of Akhetaton, its ruler Labayu having hired mercenaries from among the Habiru, associated by some with the early Hebrews. Joshua assembled the tribes there for the purpose of making a covenant with them after his conquest of Canaan, and it later became the religious capital of the Samaritans. According to the article on the Samaritans in the Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1890, the Samaritansclaim to possess the orthodox religion of Moses .... But they regard the Jewish temple and priesthood as schismatical, and declare that the true sanctuary of God's choice is not Zion but Mt. Gerizim, overhanging Shechem ....
The city had a Bronze Age temple of Baal-berith, "Baal of the covenant," or El-berith, (El of the covenant?) and was conquered and rebuilt by the Israelites in the 10th century after having been destroyed in the 11th, possibly by Abimelech. This was the first tripartite temple in Palestine and in this regard resembled Solomon's missing Temple. Shechem was the first capital of the Northern Kingdom, so that it appears that Rehoboam did not just lose the fealty of the ten tribes of Israel, he was summarily ejected from his own capital, so angry were they at his presumptuousness―or as a direct result of his association with the harsh conditions that followed the catastrophe of circa 934 (see Chapter , hinted at but never described in First Kings, where the people of Israel say to him:Thy father made our yoke grievous; now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee.
How did Jerusalem come to be identified with Solomon? Ahmed Osman, in Jesus in the House of the Pharaohs, points out that many scholars derive the name Jerusalem, Urusalim in the Akkadian of the Tell el Amarna letters, from the words yarah meaning "to found" and Shalim or Shulmanu, the latter of whom we have already had the pleasure of meeting in the very person of "Solomon" as presented in the Song of Songs. So Jerusalem was "founded by [the god] Shulmanu," not a terribly long etymological distance from the concept of its foundation by King Solomon. The problem with the biblical account is that the city was built in the name of Shulmanu long before the rise of the Jewish kingdom in the area and even before the first Shalmaneser ruled Assyria. Osman disputes the translation, but it is clear that the area of Jerusalem must have been a major cultic center of Shulmanu long before the decay had set in that left the city itself virtually nonexistent by the 10th century BC.
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