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The Jehoash Inscription: An Evaluative Summary

The strength of the forgery position is the cumulative weight of all the objections that have been raised rather than any single objection taken alone.

By Stuart A. Irvine and Charles David Isbell
Jewish Studies
Louisiana State University
July 2005

INTRODUCTION

The Jehoash Inscription receives its name from the fact that it is attributed to the late ninth-century BCE King Jehoash of Judah. [1] Like most finds of this kind, it is not in perfect condition, but has lost a triangular portion across its top, requiring almost complete restoration of the opening line and partial restoration of the next three lines, especially at the left side or end of each line. However, though not perfect, the sixteen- line inscription is remarkably well preserved, and many of the missing letters in the small gaps that do exist may be reasonably restored.

As might be expected, the inscription is composed in the first person, as if it derives directly from the king himself narrating a description of the royal repairs that were made to the Temple of Jerusalem. When the inscription first came to broad public attention in 2003, its authenticity was immediately called into question because it belongs to a private antiquities collection and its provenance cannot be proven. The Israel Antiquities Authority rejects the inscription as a forgery because of external criteria, noting especially the peculiarities of the patina that covers the Hebrew letters and the surface of the inscription. In addition, several prominent experts have also concluded that the inscription is a forgery, basing their opinions on the paleography, orthography, and language of the text itself. [2]

Despite this general skepticism, other eminent scholars caution against haste in rejecting the Jehoash Inscription as a fake. [3] Professor D. N. Freedman makes the methodological point that we know too little about ninth-century Hebrew to say decisively which spellings, lexica, and other expressions in the inscription deviate from genuine ninth-century Hebrew. The Bible provides an incomplete exemplar of early Hebrew vocabulary, grammar, and syntax, and we possess no other royal inscription from monarchical Israel and Judah. Moreover, authenticated non-royal Hebrew inscriptions often present linguistic features unknown from biblical language or differing from biblical usage, and the anomalies force us to revise our understanding of the language. We cannot simply reject out of hand any linguistic pattern not known already from the limited biblical corpus. In short, if orthographic, lexical, and syntactical peculiarities occur in genuine and fake inscriptions alike, those in the Jehoash Inscription are not ipso facto proof of forgery.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE INSCRIPTION

The gist of the inscription is simple. When Judeans donated silver for the purchase of building materials, the king used the money to make several repairs on the Temple. Accounts of the same event are found in 2 Kings 12:5-16 and 2 Chronicles 24:4-14, although these texts do not present the same information contained in the inscription. The two biblical reports say little about the actual repairs, focusing on the system devised for the collection and handling of funds, while the Jehoash Inscription lists in some detail the repairs that were made with the money.

While this list of repaired structures adds little of importance to the historical picture of Jehoash, the relevance of the inscription is linked to the broader question about the existence of early inscriptional accounts that may have served as sources for the biblical histories of monarchical Israel and Judah. Scholars have long believed that, although the biblical writers and editors may have lived long after the pre-exilic events they narrate, they were able to use sources that were contemporary (or nearly so) with the events themselves. [4] The availability and use of such early sources would add greatly to the basic reliability of the books of Kings and (to a lesser extent) Chronicles. As readers of this site are well aware, this view has been challenged vigorously in recent years by a small group of prominent historians, [5] who contend that, far from resting on extensive source material, the biblical histories are largely the fictional creations of post-exilic writers seeking to advance their own political, social, and religious agendas. The Jehoash Inscription, if genuine, would form a central element in this historical debate. It would also impact the political debate inaugurated by the late Yassir Arafat, who, presumably attempting to counter the historical basis of the right of Israel to control the city of Jerusalem, claimed that no Solomonic Temple had ever existed. An authentic ninth-century inscription listing detailed repairs on just such an edifice would soundly refute such a claim.

THE ARGUMENTS AGAINST AUTHENTICITY

A. Orthography

(1) In line 13, the noun whlwlm appears to be the plural of lwl ("spiral staircase") with the definite article and VAV copulative. Early Hebrew typically uses vowel letters only at the end of words, leading Frank Cross to conclude that the correct spelling of the noun in an authentic ninth-century inscription would be ll rather than lwl. [6] However, as Cross himself notes, medial vowel markers, although rare, are not entirely unknown in early Hebrew, and the presence of a medial w in this single word might not be conclusive.

(2) In line 16, the w in mw ("his people") is the third person masculine singular possessive pronoun. Cross objects that pre-exilic Hebrew uses the final letter h to signal this pronoun. [7]

B. Lexica and Expressions

(1) In lines 4-5, the expression nmlh.ndbt.lb is considered suspect. [8] In the Hebrew Bible, the noun ndbh ("voluntary offering") never occurs with the verb ml ("to be full"). The bound form ndbt.lb does occur in medieval texts meaning "generosity [from] the heart," and is still used that way in modern Hebrew, but this particular expression is unattested in biblical Hebrew. In combination with ndbt.lb, the Niphal form of ml appears to have a stative meaning, "be full." Cross objects that in classical biblical Hebrew, this sense is conveyed by the Qal conjugation, while the Niphal means "to be filled." [9]

(2) Line 9 refers to the nht.dm, "copper of/from Edom." The locution, "copper of GN," never occurs in the Hebrew Bible, where the place of origin is given only when precious metals are listed; e.g., "gold of Ophir" (1 Chronicles 29:4). [10] With material as common and cheap as copper, ancient authors did not ordinarily specify its provenance (but see further below). The account of the repairs of Jehoash in 2 Kings 12 does not mention copper; 2 Chronicles 24:12 mentions copper, but does not specify its origin. Either the author of the inscription knew that Edom was an ancient source of copper or he inferred it from the well known incident of the copper/bronze snake encountered in the region of Edom (see Numbers 21:4-8). Alternately, he may have intended to write nht rm, "copper/bronze of Aram," a place indicated by 2 Samuel 8:8 to be the source of "a very large amount of copper" (and see also 1 Chronicles 18:8, 10). [11]

(3) In lines 10-11, the expression, ws.t.bdq.hbyt ("I made the repair of the temple"] is modern Hebrew. [12] In the Bible, the noun bedeq means "fissure, crack, damage," but not "repair." It occurs eight times, and as an accusative always combines with the verb קזח in the Piel or Hiphil with the meaning of "strengthen" or "fortify." [13] The six instances in 2 Kings 12 and 22 speak specifically of "strengthening the fissure/damage" of the Temple. To convey the idea of Temple repair, a ninth-century inscription should say something like whzq.t.bdq.hbyt, "I fortified the damage of the Temple."

(4) The noun lwl in line 13 is not a genuine word. [14] It has no known Semitic cognates and cannot be derived from any known root. The term is related to the rare form, blwlym, in 1 Kings 6:8. But blwlym is the plural of blwl derived from the root bll ("mingle, mix"), and it functions in 6:8 as an accusative of means: "and by spiral staircases they would ascend." The author of the inscription apparently misunderstood the b in blwlym as a preposition rather than as part of the root word.

(5) The word dt at the beginning of line 15 presumably is to be vocalized as edut. The context requires the meaning of "testimony, witness," but the noun never has this sense in biblical Hebrew. When the biblical writers speak of a "testimony" and express its content, they do not write edut ky, but d ky (as in Joshua 24:22 and 1 Samuel 12:5) or dh ky (as in Genesis 21:30 and Joshua 24:27).

In biblical Hebrew, the usual word for "testimony" or "witness" is ed. Thus this is the term one would expect in an authentic ninth-century inscription. The noun edut becomes a synonym for ed only in the second century BCE book of ben Sira 31[34]:23; 33[36]20, and then assumes this meaning regularly in standard rabbinic Hebrew. [15]

(6) Line 15 also contains the phrase ky.tslh.hmlkh, "[an edut] that the work will succeed." Early biblical Hebrew speaks of a person succeeding in an action or a work, and only late texts, such as Psalm 1:3b, describe the action or work itself as succeeding. [16]

(7) The inscription concludes in line 16 with the following expression: ysw.yhwh.t.mw.bbrkh, "May YHWH command His people with blessing." The syntax of the sentence is impossible. In biblical Hebrew, the direct object of the verb הוצ would be the blessing, not the person who is blessed. For example, Leviticus 25:21 reads: wswty t brkty lkm, "I [YHWH] will command My blessing for you." Likewise, Deuteronomy 28:8 states: ysw yhwh tk t hbrk, "YHWH will command blessing upon you." The statement of the inscription that the deity should "command" people "with blessing" is otherwise unknown in Hebrew and makes poor sense. [17]

C. Space Requirements and Literary Genre

(1) Royal Semitic inscriptions typically begin with a nominal sentence identifying the author/actor, i.e., the king whose activities the inscription describes. A standard opening might be: "I am PN1, son of PN2, king of GN." In this genre, we should expect the Jehoash Inscription to begin similarly: [nky.yhw.bn.]/hzyhw.m[lk.y]/hdh.ws.t. hb[yt.hz] "I [am Jehoash, son of A]hazyahu, k[ing of J]/udah, and I repaired [this Tem]ple." However, this restoration fails to complete the allowable space in line 2. The length of the line allows as many as 12-13 letters, while the proposed restoration requires only nine letters. Surely this betrays an author who was careless about space requirements. [18]

An alternate restoration of the text would yield a total of twelve letters in line 2: hzyhw.m[lk.rs.y]/hdh, "[A]haziah k[ing of the land of J]/udah." The problem with such a restoration is that the royal title, "king of the land of Judah," is unattested in the Hebrew Bible. A possible parallel may be sought in Jeremiah 37:1, which describes Zedekiah, "whom Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylonia made king in the land of Judah" (aer himlikh beerets yehudah). But, although they are similar, the two locutions are not an exact match by any means.

A third restoration is suggested by ws in line 3. The verb is an imperfect consecutive that is used in narrative Hebrew almost exclusively following a perfect verb form. Thus the lacuna in line 2 might be restored with m[lkty.l.y]/hdh, "I became k[ing over J]udah." Such a restoration yields a line of thirteen letters, which fits with the space available. However, as noted above, the introduction of a royal inscription typically indicates the royal status of the author with a title like "king of GN," rather than a verbal sentence. To date, no proposed restoration satisfies the requirements of both line space and genre in the opening two lines of the inscription. [19]

(2) The statement in lines 14-15 appears to be concerned to establish a holiday on which the renovation of the Temple should be commemorated. The periodic celebration of the repair of a temple or even its initial construction is unknown in the ancient Near East. [20]

(3) Line 16 appears intended as a blessing on the people of YHWH. However, royal inscriptions in the ANE typically bless the king rather than the land or the people. One exception is the building inscription of Achish from Eqron (Tell Miqne), which concludes with a blessing that includes the land of the king: "May she [the goddess] bless him [King Achish], guard him, lengthen his days, and bless his land." Even here the main focus of the blessing is the future welfare of the king. The author of the Jehoash Inscription may have been influenced by the narrative of the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem found in 1 Kings 8:55, which comments that Solomon "blessed the entire assembly of Israel." [21]

D. Miscellaneous Considerations

(1) The statement about "this day" in lines 14-15 makes poor overall sense. [22] The imperfect verb חלצת appears to describe the future progress of the repair work, yet the preceding lines have reported the renovation of the Temple as though it were already finished. [23] If the completion of the work lies in the future, the "this day" that will serve as a "testimony" cannot be yet ascertained. Further, to speak of a particular day that will serve as a "testimony" is virtually nonsensical. Only something tangible and permanent, perhaps the inscription itself or the renovated Temple, could serve as a witness for the future. Two biblical accounts furnish examples of such a tangible object. In Genesis 31:43-50, Laban and Jacob erect an upright slab of stone to mark the boundary between them and to remind all parties of the pact of mutual non-aggression between them. In Joshua 24:27, a similar stone is erected by Joshua to serve as evidence that YHWH had spoken to Israel on the occasion of the ratification of their covenant with Him.

(2) The main body of the inscription (lines 4-14) appears to be a mosaic of words and phrases drawn primarily from 2 Kings 12:4-16 and 2 Chronicles 24:4-14. But there are also echoes of the description of the initial construction of the Temple in 1 Kings 6-7 and the account of the repair work on the Temple done under Josiah (late seventh century BCE) in 2 Kings 22:4-7 and 2 Chronicles 34:8-13. The pattern of shared words is significant: each occurs in the inscription and only one of the biblical texts. Such evidence is explained more plausibly by regarding the inscription as a late creation that borrows eclectically from the biblical accounts rather than viewing the inscription as a possible source for the biblical accounts. [24]

(3) The hand of a forger appears to be especially evident in two instances where he seems to have misunderstood the biblical passages from which he borrowed. [25] First, the statement in lines 5-6 of the inscription suggests that some of the silver for the Temple repairs was collected "in the desert," a phrase derived from 2 Chronicles 24:9. However, while the biblical text is describing a tax levied by Moses on Israelites "in the desert," the author of the inscription construes this ancient tax as revenue collected during the reign of Jehoash. Second, in lines 9-10, the inscription speaks of performing the repair work "faithfully" (bmnh), i.e., diligently and persistently. In contrast, the parallel passage in 2 Kings 12:16 states that the overseers who paid the workers dealt so "faithfully" that they were not even asked to furnish an accounting of the funds they received and distributed. Here the phrase bmnh obviously refers to fiscal honesty rather than diligence in performing the work of repair. The account in 2 Kings 22:7 of the repair work done much later under Josiah describes honest overseers in a fashion similar to the depiction of the overseers in 2 Kings 12:16. It is the later parallel account in 2 Chronicles 34:12 that furnishes the idea expressed in the Jehoash Inscription, of laborers who "did the work faithfully" (bmwnh).

(4) The argument that the pattern of the sharing of words between the inscription and 2 Kings 12, 2 Chronicles 24, and 1 Kings 6-7 is best construed as evidence of the dependence of the inscription upon the biblical texts may be buttressed by an additional consideration. Scholars agree that 2 Chronicles 24:4-14 is a late rewriting of 2 Kings 12:5-16. The account of the Chronicler differs significantly from the report in 2 Kings, but the deviations can be explained by the special themes and interests of the Chronicler and his work in its entirety. [26] To cite only one example, 2 Chronicles 24:8 links the collected funds for Temple repair to "the tax imposed on Israel by Moses, the servant of God, in the desert." This detail reflects the broader concern of the Chronicler to establish parallels between the Jerusalem Temple and the tabernacle constructed in the Mosaic era, described in Exodus 30. If the Jehoash Inscription knows this and other distinctive details of 2 Chronicles 24, the implication is that the inscription is the product of borrowing.

 

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