The provocative pomegranate. Fashioned from ivory in the shape of a pomegranate, a popular ancient symbol of fertility because of its many seeds, this tiny artifact—only 1.68 inches high—bears an inscription around its shoulder. Unfortunately, a piece is broken off rendering the inscription incomplete and subject to different readings. The late, eminent archaeologist Nahman Avigad proposed to restore the missing letters to form the name of the Hebrew God Yahweh. His proposed reading is “Sacred donation for the priests of the Temple of Yahweh.”

Recently, however, archaeologist Aharon Kempinski challenged Avigad’s restoration and interpretation of the inscription. Both agree that the first missing letter completes the word for “temple,” but the disagree on how to restore the next three letters needed to fill the gap. Avigad says they should be restored to read “[Yahwe]h,” while Kempinski argues that they could be restored as “[Ashera]h,” the Canaanite fertility goddess. When written in paleo-Hebrew both names contain four letters: the three missing letters followed by the partially visible h.

Biblical scholar Baruch Halpern offers yet another interpretation, arguing that the word translated as “temple” really means “lineage” in the context of this inscription, and therefore refers to a priestly family with a surname ending in h.The accompanying article details the historical and grammatical arguments for each interpretation.