Was it too good to be true? In recent months, the world learned of an inscribed tablet apparently written by Jehoash, the ninth-century B.C.E. king of Judah. But almost immediately, questions were raised about its authenticity.
After examining the text of The Jehoash Inscription, Frank Moore Cross, professor emeritus at Harvard and America’s leading expert in ancient Semitic inscriptions, to cite one notable example, has concluded that the inscription itself “leaves little doubt that we are dealing with a forgery, and that, fortunately, it is a rather poor forgery.”
In a manuscript submitted to the Israel Exploration Journal, published for scholars in the field, Cross explains in highly technical language why he has reached this conclusion.
The Jehoash Inscription describes the collection of money for the repair of the First Temple in Jerusalem. It closely parallels the descriptions of the same event in 2 Kings 12:5–17 and 2 Chronicles 24:4–14. We print in the sidebar “Jehoash Inscription” Cross’s most recent transcription and translation of the inscription and, in the sidebars “2 Kings 12:5–17” and “2 Chronicles 24:4–14”, the parallel texts from Kings and Chronicles.a Cross finds that “the forger is heavily dependent” on these Biblical passages.
The purported forger is certainly very clever—and knowledgeable: He (if he is a man) broke off the first line of the inscription, presumably containing Jehoash’s name and the first letter of his father’s name. According to Cross, “The forger presumed the decipherer of the inscription would be forced to restore the name of Jehoash who, of course, in scripture was the one who repaired the Temple.”
Cross then examines the inscription line by line. In lines 3–4, he finds that the expression nml’h ndbt lb ‘s (meaning “generosity”) includes a post-Biblical usage. It is a “curious composition,” Cross tells us. The last two words, lb ‘s, appear to have been inspired by lb ‘ys, as found in 2 Kings 12:5. “Clearly we are not dealing in these instances with ninth-century [B.C.E.] Hebrew.”
In Line 8, the forger refers to “Edomite copper [or bronze—the same Hebrew word],” one of the materials purchased with the sacred donations to repair the Temple. The passage in Kings mentions wood and stone, but not copper. In Chronicles, however, copper (or bronze) is among the purchases. The forger took this detail from Chronicles. However, he also identified the copper as being Edomite copper. Cross concludes, “The mine smelters of Edom were a chief source of copper in Biblical antiquity, and the forger is sufficiently knowledgeable to know this.”
In Line 10, the forger uses the word bdq to mean “repair,” its meaning in modern Hebrew. But “in ancient/Biblical language… [it] refers to something damaged or broken,”1 just the opposite of the meaning intended by the forger. Cross calls this error “a howler.”
In Line 12, the word Cross translates as “spiral staircases” is spelled lwlm. Biblical Hebrew (like modern Hebrew) is written without vowels. Early on, however, a few consonants did double duty as rudimentary vowels. One of these was the letter vav, indicated by a w in the scholarly practice Cross uses. As a vowel, a so-called mater lectionis or “mother of reading”—a vowel serving as a consonant—the vav here represents the vowel u. However, the use of consonants as vowels within words, especially in a one-syllable word, did not develop as early as the ninth century B.C.E. As Cross says, “In the eighth and seventh century there are rare cases in which an internal mater lectionis is used in a one-syllable word.” Hence, the vav within the word is an anachronism, exposing the forger.
In the final line of the inscription, the forger misspells the word for “his people.” Before the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. it would have been spelled ‘mh—with a heh as the final letter. After the Babylonian Exile, it would have been spelled 028‘mw—with a vav as the final letter. In this supposedly pre-Exilic inscription, the forger uses a post-Exilic spelling. Cross calls this “an astonishing mistake.”
Finally, the forger has attempted, but failed, to use script (the shape and form of the letters) that was characteristic at the end of the ninth century B.C.E. “The forger’s script stands closer to the Phoenician script of the early ninth century [Cross here cites such an inscription], but cannot even be called ‘Phoenician.’ Certain letters, notably taw, do not have Phoenician forms.” Cross says the forger used some very famous pre-Exilic inscriptions—the Tel Dan inscriptionb and the Mesha Stele (also called the Moabite Stone)c—as models for his script. As a result, “The script is a mixture and does not exhibit the elongated forms that mark the separation of Hebrew from its Phoenician ancestor as early as the tenth century [B.C.E.].” For a tenth-century inscription, Cross cites the Gezer Calendar.
Cross’s conclusion: “Demonstrably a forgery.”
Was it too good to be true? In recent months, the world learned of an inscribed tablet apparently written by Jehoash, the ninth-century B.C.E. king of Judah. But almost immediately, questions were raised about its authenticity. After examining the text of The Jehoash Inscription, Frank Moore Cross, professor emeritus at Harvard and America’s leading expert in ancient Semitic inscriptions, to cite one notable example, has concluded that the inscription itself “leaves little doubt that we are dealing with a forgery, and that, fortunately, it is a rather poor forgery.” In a manuscript submitted to the Israel Exploration Journal, published […]
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