NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A Southern Baptist seminary professor voiced caution Jan. 15 amid news reports highlighting what could be, as one account put it, “the most significant archaeological finding yet in Jerusalem and the land of Israel.”
If authenticated, a sandstone tablet apparently discovered on the Temple Mount would become the first piece of physical evidence confirming a biblical text.
The tablet is about the size of a legal pad and has a 10-line inscription in ancient Phoenician that corresponds with a passage in 2 Kings 12 calling for temple repairs.
According to an Associated Press report, experts at Israel’s Geological Institute have studied the tablet over the past year, and their findings show it is authentic. Researchers at the institute found microscopic flecks of gold that could have been burnt into the stone when a building containing both the tablet and gold objects was destroyed, the AP reported Jan. 14.
Amos Bean, director of the institute, said in the AP report that the evidence could indicate that the tablet was part of Solomon’s Temple, which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.
“These specks of gold are not natural material, but a sign of human activity,” Bean said. “They could be from gold-plated objects in the home of a very rich man, or a temple. … It’s hard to believe that anyone would know how to do these things to make it look real.”
But Steven M. Ortiz, assistant professor of archaeology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press that the tablet could be a forgery.
“Unlike the James ossuary inscription,” Ortiz said, referencing an ancient bone box with a reference to Jesus that recently surfaced in Israel, “this new inscription has not been authenticated by epigraphers.
“Based on the initial response by scholars on academic discussion lists,” Ortiz said, “this new inscription is a hoax by someone who knows modern Hebrew and makes some basic mistakes in writing a Hebrew phrase found in 2 Kings 12.
“I suspect that the initial sensationalism of this find will quickly subside as it is subject to scrutiny by the academic community,” Ortiz said.
The unclear origin of the tablet also makes establishing authenticity difficult. According to the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz, sources have indicated that the tablet surfaced in the Temple Mount area as a result of wide-scale excavation work done in recent years in the area by Muslims, and that Palestinians relayed the tablet to a major collector of antiquities in Jerusalem.
Ha’aretz also reported that detailed research findings about the tablet are expected to be disclosed in a collection of articles published by the Geology Survey of Israel, a government research institute. Officials from the Geology Survey said results of the many examinations they carried out indicate that it’s inconceivable that such extensive testing would fail to reveal a forgery.
The Phoenician script inscription describes King Jehoash’s orders “to buy quarry stones and timber and copper and labor to carry out the duty with the faith” in repairing the first temple. Ha’aretz said researchers believe the sandstone used for the inscription was brought from the Dead Sea region.
The discovery, if authentic, could not only serve to confirm the biblical text but also to increase tension between Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem. Muslims insist that no Jewish shrine ever stood at the Temple Mount, and that claim has contributed to failed negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians over control of the ancient landmark in Jerusalem.