Five years ago, BAR published an extraordinary artifact—an ivory pomegranate less than 2 inches high (1.68 inches, to be exact) that was probably used in the Temple of Solomon, the only artifact from Solomon’s Temple ever discovered (“Probable Head of Priestly Scepter From Solomon’s Temple Surfaces in Jerusalem,” BAR 10:01, by André Lemaire).
The clue suggesting that the pomegranate was the head of a scepter or standard is a small hole in its base into which a thin rod could have been inserted. A similar scepter is pictured in the hands of the Assyrian monarch Sennacherib in reliefs carved on the walls of his palace in Assyria. Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem in the late eighth century B.C. Similar scepters with pomegranate heads have also been found from the Late Bronze Age. Other possibilities, however, are that the pomegranate served as an ornament in the Temple, as a decoration on an altar or as a finial on a throne or cultic box.
What inevitably connects it with the Temple, however, is an inscription around the shoulder of the pomegranate, just below the neck. Unfortunately, part of the pomegranate’s grenade (the central ball) was damaged in antiquity, so the inscription is incomplete. The letters that survived, however, are clear:
lby³[xxx]hù qdsû khnm
There is room for about four or five letters (or spaces) in the area of the shoulder that has broken off; hence, the four x’s in the brackets as printed above.
The last two words of the inscription,
The first two words,
Thus the complete inscription would read: “Belonging to the Temple of Yahweh, holy to the priests.”
The pomegranate has been dated paleographically, that is, by the shape of the Old Hebrew letters (used until the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile in the late sixth century B.C.). Old Hebrew letters gradually changed shape over time, and scholars have been able to create a chronological typology based on these changes. André Lemaire, the author of the BAR article, dated the inscription to the late eighth century B.C. Another world-renowned expert, Frank Cross of Harvard University, dated it about 50 years earlier.
Lemaire first saw the pomegranate in 1979 in the shop of a dealer in Jerusalem. Tragically, there seemed no way to find out where the pomegranate had been found or where it had been illegally excavated. The dealer himself claimed not to know who owned it. He dealt only with middlemen. Nevertheless, when BAR wanted to do an article on the pomegranate, the dealer was able to retrieve the pomegranate temporarily so that it could be photographed in color for the BAR article.
The name of the owner of the pomegranate remained unknown.
In a “Plea for Owner of Solomon’s Temple Relic to Identify Himself,”
Now, five years later, the pomegranate has been purchased by the Israel Museum for $550,000! An anonymous donor provided the money.
The pomegranate was apparently smuggled out of the country illegally. It was acquired in Switzerland from an unknown seller and then flown back to Israel.
The original asking price was $600,000. After brief negotiations, a price of $550,000 was agreed upon.
The pomegranate first received widespread attention in the pages of BAR. Without this coverage, the object would have commanded a far lower price. Indeed, the owner undoubtedly made the pomegranate available for BAR’s beautiful color pictures precisely for this purpose—to enhance the value of the artifact by giving it public attention and scholarly confirmation.
The person who originally obtained the pomegranate from the peasant who accidentally found it (or illegally excavated it) could have been a hero. His name would have gone down in the history books. Instead, although his name will be unknown, he will be remembered as a crook and a thief.
Unfortunately, we are unlikely ever to know where the object was found. This is the even larger tragedy. What else could we learn about the pomegranate if we knew where it came from? What else might be found there in a scientific excavation?
BAR participated in this process—at least to the extent of substantially increasing the value of the pomegranate on the illegal antiquities market—by publicizing the find. Yet the alternative was to refrain from telling the world about it. Were we right? Or were we wrong?
Five years ago, BAR published an extraordinary artifact—an ivory pomegranate less than 2 inches high (1.68 inches, to be exact) that was probably used in the Temple of Solomon, the only artifact from Solomon’s Temple ever discovered (“Probable Head of Priestly Scepter From Solomon’s Temple Surfaces in Jerusalem,” BAR 10:01, by André Lemaire). The clue suggesting that the pomegranate was the head of a scepter or standard is a small hole in its base into which a thin rod could have been inserted. A similar scepter is pictured in the hands of the Assyrian monarch Sennacherib in reliefs carved […]