The Joash Stone

Sep 16, 2021 | Diggings Online | 0 comments

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Following the interest roused by the James Ossuary, news comes from Israel of another – and potentially even more exciting – find made under mysterious circumstances. According to reports in Israeli newspapers, a piece of stone about the size of an A4 sheet of paper and containing 15 lines of ancient Hebrew, is a decree given by King Joash concerning the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.

Whereas the debate over the James Ossuary is between Christians, who are only too happy to accept evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ, and sceptics, who prefer to believe that He is nothing more than a myth, with scholars somewhere in the middle, evidence for the temple has political implications. The Muslim authorities who control the Haram es-Sharif – and, therefore, the Palestinians generally – categorically deny that the Jewish temple ever existed or, if it did, that it was on the site of the Muslim holy places. This remarkably obtuse position leaves the massive stone walls of the temple platform unexplained and flies in the face of considerable literary evidence, but relies on the fact that no physical remains of the temple have been discovered.

This stone, if genuine, would overturn their argument and therefore strengthen Jewish claims to some say in what goes on in the temple mount.

Ironically, it may be the Muslim authorities themselves who were responsible for bringing the stone to light. For the past half-dozen years the Waqf has been undertaking large-scale building works in the area known as King Solomon’s Stables. To the dismay of many Israelis, for whom archaeology is a national passion, huge truck loads of earth and debris have been carted off to dumps in the Kidron Valley. Curiously, the Israeli Antiquities Department, which conceivably could have stepped in to prevent the work, has not only made no comment but has intervened to prevent any investigation of the dumps. Politics are probably responsible for this unusually supine attitude.

We have joined others in condemning the vandalism of the Muslim authorities. If, as they assert, there was no temple, proper excavations would support their claim. If, on the other hand, there was a temple – as everyone else in the world believes – they merely confirm the low opinion of Muslims held by so many in the West by preferring ignorance to truth.

It is claimed that the stone in question came from one of these dumps, no doubt picked over by kids from Silwan, and sold by various underhand means to a collector in Jerusalem who, like the owner of the James Ossuary, demands anonymity. One wonders why he bothers: as we reported elsewhere, the James Ossuary is now known to belong to a certain Mr Oded Golan of Tel Aviv.

According to Gabriel Barkai, an Israeli archaeologist, the collector submitted the object to the Israel Museum for examination and was told that the museum experts could not rule out the possibility of forgery. He then submitted it to the Geological Institute, where it has been studied for the last year. Shimon Ilani of the Geological Institute made an interesting discovery: the outer layer of the stone contains tiny flecks of gold.

Now the stone is sandstone from the Dead Sea area and is not known to be a source of gold. Amos Bean, director of the Geological Institute, says, “These specks of gold are not natural material. They are a sign of human activity. They could be from gold-plated objects in th home of a very rich man or in a temple.” He claims that the only way such specks of gold could have got into the stone was by heat, in other words, that both stone and gold objects were in a fire – and he points out that the temple was destroyed by fire. “It is hard to believe,” Mr Bean declares, “that anyone would know how to do these things to make it look real.”

The inscription, which is claimed to mirror II Kings 12:1-17, orders someone to “take holy money and buy quarry stones and timber and copper. Work to carry out the duty with faith.” In the last line of the inscription the author, believed to be a royal figure, declares that if the work is well done, “the Lord will protect His people with blessing.”

I have not seen any pictures of the stone: it would be interesting to see whether the last line contains the words “the Lord” or the more usual “YHWH” – rabbinic scruples about using the name of God were unknown in 9th century BC. The expression, “carry out the duty with faith”, also seems a trifle curious, without parallel in the Hebrew Scriptures but occurring frequently in the New Testament.

Although we have, as yet, very little information about this find, I must admit that my initial reaction is sceptical. There seems no obvious reason why the stone should have been submitted to geological investigation if the authenticity of the inscription was doubted. It seems doubtful that Joash would have recorded his instructions regarding the repair of the temple on stone, nor that the stone should have been placed in a storeroom along with golden vessels. The language seems stilted and anachronistic – though in fairness, this may just be the translation. Finally, its discovery at this time seems unduly opportune from the political point of view.

On the other hand, we certainly welcome anything that confirms the Biblical records and if this stone is genuine it will make a valuable contribution to the history of Jerusalem.

For a report on the discovery of this stone and an analysis of its authenticity, read the article by our Jerusalem correspondent, Daniel Herman, in our April/May issue of “Archaeological Diggings”. The magazine also carries an editorial comment about the discovery.

April 2003

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