FROM REVUE BIBLIQUE 66 (1959), PLATE XIV; COURTESY OF ÉCOLE BIBLIQUE ET ARCHÉOLOGIQUE FRANÇAISE DE JÉRUSALEM
The Ezekiel plaques—and their relationship to the now-lost Massekhet Kelim plaques—are something of a mystery, as is their provenance. According to the original story, which goes back to the 1940s, the tablets were found more than a century ago at the traditional tomb of Ezekiel in Al-Kifl, Iraq, and thought to be anywhere between 300 and 2,000 years old.1
However, a recent study by Yoli Schwartz has revealed the Ezekiel plaques to be modern forgeries, crafted in Syria in the early 20th century.2 They only appeared to be ancient. It seems likely that the very similar Massekhet Kelim plaques, though now lost, were forgeries as well. The plaques may have been created to feed the growing public appetite in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for biblical antiquities. Ancient-seeming tablets, engraved with clues as to the resting place of the Temple treasures, would have suited the fascination of the time perfectly.
The forged plaques arrived in Jerusalem in 1957 or 1958, ending up at the Ben-Zvi Institute, where they continue to be displayed today, now with clear reference to their intriguing though problematic provenance and history.
J.T. Milik, the only scholar to work with the two lost Massekhet Kelim tablets, is our sole source of information that they were once part of the collection of Ezekiel plaques. The picture Milik published of the first of the two plaques (seen here) does show some visual similarity in layout and script to the Ezekiel plaques on display, but such parallelism is not conclusive.
From Milik’s published transcription (albeit incomplete), we can see that the text of Massekhet Kelim on the plaques has been modified to better suit its location next to the Book of Ezekiel. It begins “and he said to me,” where the “he” can only be Ezekiel. This small addition may be consequential, as it might transform Massekhet Kelim (or, at least, its prologue, which appears only on the plaques) into a revelation purportedly imparted by Ezekiel himself!
What happened to the plaques after Milik’s brief inspection? Their ascription to a major biblical prophet, their monumental appearance, and the tantalizing subject matter of lost Temple treasures may have made the Massekhet Kelim plaques all too tempting for a private collector. It is plausible that a collection of purported biblical antiquities moving across the newly formed border of the State of Israel might have lost a few component parts on the journey. And so, the answers to some questions about this version of Massekhet Kelim must remain hidden, unless the stones resurface.