In a surprising turn of events, Israeli officials who tried for 10 years to have a stone Hebrew inscription declared a forgery have now filed suit to keep it because it is an “antiquity.”
The artifact, known as the “Jehoash Inscription,” is a dark sandstone tablet inscribed with ancient Hebrew characters that describe repairs to the temple made in the time of King Jehoash — an account that closely parallels part of 2 Kings 12.
The inscription is owned by Israeli antiquities collector Oded Golan, who is also the owner of the famed “James Ossuary,” argued to be the bone box of Jesus’ brother James. Oded was also accused of forging the James Ossuary, but was recently acquitted as the government failed to prove its case.
Golan says that he purchased the Jehoash Inscription from someone who claimed to have found it near the temple mount, where some suspect it could have come to light after the excavations were done there to build a new underground mosque.
If the inscription is genuine, it would be a fabulous, invaluable find — the oldest extensive Hebrew inscription known, and important extra-biblical corroboration to the story found in 2 Kings 12.
The problem is that inscriptions like this are so rare that they are exceedingly valuable, and a some disreputable collectors have been known to carve inscriptions into ancient objects to make them more valuable, concocting various means for covering their work with a coating designed to mimic the patina one would find over a truly ancient inscription.
Experts who have examined the tablet have reached differing conclusions about its authenticity. After 10 years of effort, the Israeli Antiquities Authority could not prove that the Jehoash Inscription is a forgery, but neither could anyone prove that it’s authentic. So, on the chance that it might one day be shown to be real, the Israeli government wants to take possession of the artifact and leave Golan in the cold.
Golan has offered to loan the tablet to the Israeli museum and allow scholars to study it, but doesn’t want to give away an artifact that could be worth millions of dollars. Meanwhile, the government also continues to hold hundreds of other artifacts confiscated from Golan’s collection.
I’ve never seen the tablet in person (few people have) and am certainly not qualified to make any judgment about its authenticity. I have no sympathy for forgers, but one would hope for a compromise in which the tablet will become available for further studies, and Golan either retains ownership or gets appropriate compensation if the inscription proves to be genuine.