Skip to: Site Menu | Main content

Report on the Temple Tablet

The Temple tablet was announced in a manner disturbingly reminiscent of the initial yellow journalism that accompanied the fake "James" ossuary -- right on down to the "unknown" owner, partial photograph, dubious provenance, and authentication of certain aspects by the Geological Service of Israel (GSI).

By Dr. Rochelle I. Altman
February 2003


    Publishing this report occasions a moral dilemma. Intellectual honesty impels one to report the truth. Yet when one publishes an itemized list of the visual tests required to authenticate an ancient document, that same publication unfortunately can be used as a veritable "instruction manual" by forgers.

    The dilemma is real. Two of the author's articles published in 1999 contain many details that could effectively be used to create a passable fake.1  These articles do not contain all of the requirements. This report demands that all the details must be presented.

    Further, the author supports the position of the Archaeological Institute of America: it will not accept primary publications of privately owned finds in its journal. Secondary publications that explain the techniques employed on objects like the "James" ossuary and this Temple tablet are of a different nature.

    The Temple tablet was announced in a manner disturbingly reminiscent of the initial yellow journalism that accompanied the fake "James" ossuary -- right on down to the "unknown" owner, partial photograph, dubious provenance, and authentication of certain aspects by the Geological Service of Israel (GSI).

    The first press release on the Temple tablet contained obvious impossibilities. While the size reported was correct in the Israelite hierarchies for a document issued by a governing power in antiquity, little else reported was at all supportive.

    First, partial or not, the photograph displayed 7th-century BCE Aramaic and Phoenician graphs on a supposedly 9th-century BCE text. Next, one could also see that the script consisted of mixed cursive and monumental fonts in one word, something a professional stone scribe would never do.2 As the scripts alone showed that the inscription clearly was a forgery, the statement: "Carbon dating confirms the writing goes back to the 9th century"3 was less than convincing. One cannot carbon date inorganic materials such as carbon, gold, or stone. The question is what was carbon dated?

    The next series of press releases were a bit more enlightening, although there were still problematic assertions:

During a Scanning Electron Microscope test performed by Ilani and Rosenfeld, specks of carbon and microscopic globules of gold were discovered in the patina overlaying the inscription. A subsequent analysis was done by a laboratory in Florida.

"From a scientific point of view, it's almost impossible to forge such a thing," said Rosenfeld of the tests.4

    Numerous museum web sites have articles on the manufacture and detection of fake patinas.5 From a scientific point of view, it is quite possible to forge such things. All the forgers need do is start with an authentic artifact, inscribe whatever text wished, and then add a fake aged-over patina.6  If the authentic artifact happens to contain microscopic globules of gold, they will be under the new "old" patina.

   Outside of archaeologists and other professionals who work with ancient documents, few people are aware of the relative ease with which one can take a genuine piece of ancient stone, skin, papyrus, or what have you and write an inscription on it. Unless the manufacturer of the faked item uses modern inks or tools on ancient stone, for example, the artifact will obviously, when subjected to most geological tests, show the age of the authentic ancient base. This happens all the time with Egyptian, Greek, and Roman artifacts. We should not be surprised that this type of destruction of genuine antiquities also occurs with Biblical and Mesopotamian artifacts. This is an important point: the ossuary itself was an authentic turn of the Common Era bone box; the first half of the inscription was genuine as well.7  The gold globules under the fake patina tell us that the tablet itself, like the ossuary, is an authentic artifact; the inscription is a modern forgery that fails to pass the first crucial analysis in any investigation of an ancient document.

    The essential first step in authenticating an antiquity with text on it is always a forensic analysis of the visual aspects by an expert in the field before deciding whether the find is worth further investigation. Passing all points in such an analysis does not a priori set the seal of authenticity. We can only say that an artifact passes the first crucial examination and is worth the time, effort, and money involved in further study. Failure of even one of the tests already casts doubt; failure of three or more is prima facie evidence of forgery. This first step appeared to have been by-passed.

    The entire sensationalized scenario underwent a drastic change when Dr. Joseph Naveh, arguably the top expert on ancient Hebrew scripts, revealed that he had seen the tablet in 2001.8  The tablet understandably failed to pass Dr. Naveh's inspection of the script.

    Coupled with this announcement, the author was informed by correspondents that the data in the author's article and lecture seemed to have been misused by the forgers to manufacture the inscription on the tablet. Curiosity compelled the procurement of a very clear photograph of the entire tablet.9  Every element of the tablet is clear; one neither requires a transcription to read the text nor needs other equipment to examine the tablet. The technical term for a forgery that can be seen by the eye without special equipment is "blatant." As with the ossuary, certain aspects of the tablet indicate that the artifact itself is authentic; like the second inscription on the "James" ossuary, the inscription on the Temple tablet is a "blatant" forgery.


   In antiquity, everything on a document had meaning: size, shape, script, format, orientation, the limit system, the punctuation system, the orthographic system, whether a text is written dynamically or statically, color, stripes on a garment -- everything. All of these elements are subsystems in a culture's writing system.


    Writing systems are systems in the precise dictionary meaning of the word: "A set or assemblage of things connected, associated, or interdependent, so as to form a complex unity; a whole composed of parts in an orderly arrangement according to some scheme or plan." The interconnectedness of a writing system means that when we examine only a script system or a spelling system or a content system, we are creating boxes, separating the parts from the whole. Although it is much easier to examine small pieces, we must remember to put the pieces back into their appropriate places or we lose three-quarters of the information.10

    Each subsystem in a writing system is balanced and designed to work with the others.... We can list those of a writing system in one short paragraph. These subsystems are a finite symbol set, prescribed graphic symbols (script), writing limits, direction of writing, format..., size, punctuation, comprehension (white space), orthographic, shape, and content systems.11

   The content is important. Content establishes which script, size, and format system should be used. Content itself is determined by other factors: the current ruling powers, whether sacred or secular.... It still is.

    One term on the list of subsystems may appear odd; nevertheless, "prescribed" is correct. Scripts are tightly bound to a culture's identity.12 Scripts were a people's visual statement of independence and identity, the ancient equivalent of our modern national flags.13  Because script equals identity, paleographers and epigraphers can classify scripts and divide and subdivide them -- the distinctions are already there for them to see.

    From the very beginning of the technology we call writing, peoples have had their identifying scripts. For the content of a document to be accepted as official, the script had to be correct or the document was not the "voice of authority." As a script is bound to identity, a change of official script follows every time there is a change of power structure. The Sumerians had their own script design; when Sargon I conquered Sumer and created the combined Kingdom of Sumer and Akkad, a new official script appears. Likewise, when Akkad was conquered in turn, we find another new official script.14  This change of script with change of power remained true down the centuries, long after the printing press came on the scene. At no period in the history of writing would a King of X use the script of the King of Y in a document issued in his voice. 15  Script equals identity.

    The entire writing system is just as tightly bound to cultural identity; hence, writing systems are extremely conservative and resistant to change. As each culture had its own hierarchies within each of these subsystems in a writing system, the specific choice of which component of a subsystem was used identifies a culture. To this day, a culture can be identified by its writing system.16 Because each component is culture specific, it becomes a simple procedure to test each component through visual forensic analysis.



    Scripts do not simply develop, nor are they merely collections of various available forms. Only when viewed from a distance of millennia can scripts be said to develop. Development implies a continuum; it suggests that one letter form changes here, another there, until finally a totally new script arrives.

   A script is composed of a finite number of graphic symbols designed to work together within the constraints of a system design. This holds true whether referring to 24th-century cuneiform, 9th-century BCE Phoenician, 3rd-century BCE Hebrew, 4th-century CE monumental Greek, 8th-century Official Latin, or modern computer fonts.

    Methods develop; scripts do not develop -- they mutate. There may be an unfinished quality to random shards, but ancient formal or official inscriptions and tablets display fully formed graphic symbol sets (scripts) designed to work within their respective writing systems.18  Because scripts mutate, there must be a class model for a new design to mutate from. There are, in fact, only four script class models in Western Writing systems: Roman Capitals, African half-uncial, African Rustic Capitals, and Roman half-uncial. All other scripts in use in the West are mutations of these four class models; hence, mutations are referred to as "fonts" to distinguish them from the script, the class model. Similarly, there are only two script class models for Hebrew fonts: Hebraeo-Phoenician (called"Paleo-Hebraic") and Square Script.

    Greek and Latin script systems display a large number of territorial fonts, each easily identifiable from the distinctions among their script designs. The same is true of the Phoenician script systems. Malto-Phoenician dates to the 12th-11th centuries, Amurro-Phoenician to the 12th-11th, Sardo-Phoenician to the 10th, Etruro-Phoenician dates to ca. the 10th-9th, as does Arameo-Phoenician. Moabeo-Phoenician and Hebraeo-Phoenician fall somewhere within this time frame.

    While all mutations of the Phoenician class model use the same symbol set (what we call "letters"), a symbol set must not be conflated with a script or font design. Perhaps this concept can be clarified by example. There are 26 lowercase letters in our modern English alphabet; this is the lowercase symbol set. Nobody would confuse a serif font, such as Times Roman, with a sans serif font, such as Universe: these are two different font designs.19 Likewise, each of these territorial fonts is a distinct script design – a mutation of the class model.

    Script equals identity; it always has -- from Sumer on down. No king of Israel would use the identifying script of a king of Moab on a document any more than a king of Moab would use the identifying script of a king of Israel or a king of Amurru (Amor?). The inclusion of graphs from Moabite or Amurrite or Aramite designs on an inscription purporting to be written by a king of Israel is prima facie evidence of forgery.20


    A script system is a closed system designed as a coherent whole to function within the complete writing system. It is a grievous error to assume that one may use a graph from this font and a graph from that font within one word on any ancient document. Such a script is the equivalent of writing, for example, "hour" using Ariel for the "h," italics for the "o," Roman Capitals for the "u," and a Greek "rho” for the "r." The technical name for such a mass of unrelated graph designs is "conglomerate script."

    No professional scribe would ever write a conglomerate script. The moment the word "scribe" is mentioned, people associate the term with a scribe drudging away in a monastery or a poor underpaid clerk in a nineteenth-century office. The reality is far different. Scribes were highly trained professionals in a powerful position: they had charge of the written word. Scribes were in a position of trust; for obvious reasons, penalties for violating that trust were severe. The inclusion of graphs from different sources would be to change the voice of the author. For a scribe to use such a mess of mixed graphs to record the words of a king is treason with the concomitant penalty. The appearance of a conglomerate script in a document purporting to be the words of a king is prima facie evidence of forgery.21


    Xenograph means foreign graph. This is the use of graphs from script design B in a text written in script design A. Xenographic exchange is not to be confused with a conglomerate script. The exchange technique, in fact, depends upon scripts as closed, self-contained systems. Xenographic exchange is the use of another script for a specific item, followed immediately by a return to the script used for the rest of the text. The technique dates back to Akkad and is still in use today. A modern example is the use of italics to identify, for example, the title of a book.

    From Akkad down through the 16th century CE, xenographic exchange was used to distinguish the sacred realm from the profane realm. As the god of Israel had no name, the tetragrammaton (yhvh) was a way to refer to god and was *written in the same script as the body of the text.* In the Israelite-Judean writing tradition, the appearance of "yhvh" using xenographic exchange or other Babylonian practices, such as replacing the four graphs with dots, dates a document to the 3rd century BCE at the earliest.22

    In the Israelite tradition, there is one other singularity in the use of the tetragrammaton. In antiquity, covenants were issued/sworn in the name of X [god]. A typical closing formula was along the lines of:

be it commanded before X [name of a god] that Y [whatever is contracted] will be/was fulfilled.

    As the god of the Israelites had no name, covenants were assumed to be issued under "yhvh" and the tetragrammaton is not written in the text. If a covenant purporting to be from an Israelite king contains the tetragrammaton, this is prima facie evidence of forgery.23


   A symbol set comprises the basic "letters" used in a writing system. The Modern English symbol set is made up of 52 symbols: 26 lowercase and 26 uppercase symbols. Ugarit, an early Phoenician city-state, is famous for its design of an alphabetic cuneiform symbol set system for wet surface writing. Included within the Ugaritic symbol set are three distinct symbols for an aleph to record three distinct consonant-plus-vowel phones.24


    The Phoenician writing system is the Ugaritic writing system with a new symbol set chosen from existing models and designed for dry surface writing. Otherwise the Ugaritic writing system was carried forward unchanged. The new Phoenician symbol set consisted of 22 symbols plus variant forms of a basic symbol to record different consonant-plus-vowel phones. The complete symbol set included three forms of aleph, three of heh, two of vav (vocalic and consonantal), two of bet (bet/vet) and two of shin (shin/sin).25

    As with all other components of a script system, the variant forms are an integral part of the script design. Each font system has its own versions of the variant forms. Round designs have rounded variant forms; pointed designs have pointed variant forms. Unless a word is written entirely in another font and specifically used in xenographic exchange, the inclusion of variant forms from another font design is prima facie evidence of forgery.

    In addition, the inclusion of only a few of these variant forms and none of the others on an inscription is prima facie evidence of forgery.


    The limit system is the framework of a writing system. Ancient writing systems are written using either bilinear or trilinear limits. Bilinear limit systems are static; trilinear limit systems are dynamic. Egyptian hieroglyphic writing systems used bilinear limits; Sumerian, Akkadian, and all of its descendant North-West Semitic writing systems used trilinear limits.

    In trilinear systems, the graphs are hung from an upper outer limit, which may or may not be inscribed. The graphs in trilinear limit systems move up and down and from side to side within the central writing zone and between the upper outer and the lower outer limit. Trilinear systems record stress and durational notation, that is, speech as spoken; the text is written in "sound bites."26


    In trilinear limit systems, stress is indicated by movement up and down on the "x-axis." The upper inner limit serves as the marker for standard speech. In the Phoenician territorial systems, the amount of stress on a graph, a consonant-plus-vowel, is indicated by how much the symbol drops from the upper outer limit. The amount of drop is constrained by the lower outer limit of the internal writing zone.27

    Duration in these trilinear systems is indicated on the "y-axis" by an increase in the width of a graph or by extensions added to a graph. The amount of increase, either by extension or by an increase in width, records the length of time a phone should be held.28

    In authentic ancient inscriptions, duration and stress are marked throughout the text, as on the Yadi or Bar Rekub stelae or the Bar Haddad votive inscription. Inclusion of stress and durational notation on only part of an inscription is prima facie evidence of forgery.


    The punctuation system used in the Ugaritic writing system consisted of a bar (/ or \ -- depending upon direction of writing) to indicate the end of a sentence and a "dot" to separate words. The "dot" in cuneiform resembles a straight apostrophe ('). Evidence that the Phoenician writing system originally retained the Ugaritic bar and dot punctuation system can be seen, for example, in inscriptions dated to the 9th century BCE. As has already been mentioned, writing systems are unbelievably conservative. The bar and dot punctuation system was still in use in Roman documents dated to the first century CE.29

    Sometime around 1100 BCE, a new punctuation system was designed. This punctuation system uses three points: high, low, and medial dots. The position of the dots has grammatical significance.30 Whereas a missing dot has little significance, whether or not a dot is used depends entirely on the spoken context; haphazard placement of the dots on an inscription is evidence of forgery.


    Whether a document is written "landscape," that is width greater than height, or "portrait," that is, height greater than width, depends entirely on a culture's writing system.

    After the division of the territories conquered by Alexander the Great, the orientation of documents written in Greek is wholly dependent upon whether the document is Seleucid, Ptolemaic, or mainland Greek. Mainland Greek and Seleucid documents retain the portrait orientation of the North-West Semitic tradition; Ptolemaic documents are rotated 90 degrees, thus, landscape.

    The use of a landscape orientation on a document claimed to be the words of an Israelite or Judean king is evidence of forgery.


    The shape of a document is equally significant. Each writing system had its own hierarchies of shape; the shapes in use in one area cannot be assumed to be the same as that used in another. We can only know what shapes were used in which culture from a careful examination of the origins of each type and the tracking of the different shapes down the millennia.

    Every time someone forces a change on a culture's writing system, something has been lost; something has been chipped away. Hence, as has already been noted, writing systems are almost unbelievably conservative; continuity is normal.

    The Israelite and Judean writing systems are directly from the Phoenician. The hierarchies of shape used in these writing systems are direct descendants of those used back at Sumer and Akkad. The Sumerians were methodical; there was a place for everything and everything was in its place.31

    Real property transactions, for example, are narrow and rectangular in all the writing systems descended from the Sumerian-Akkadian-Ugaritic-Phoenician systems, whether the orientation is portrait or landscape.32 Receipts are narrow; in fact, if it were not for the materials, we would be hard pressed to distinguish a modern cash register receipt from an ancient cuneiform receipt tablet. Covenants are rectangular and in a broad column format.33  There is one special shape for law codes that identify them on sight as coming from "The" highest ruling power. This shape is a stele or tablet topped by an arch.

    Available architectural and writing materials play a major role in the formation of a culture's hierarchy of shape. "Vaulting," that is, the arch and curved roof, had symbolic meaning on both sides of the Ancient Near East (ANE). The symbolism, though, differed substantially.

    On the western side, although architecturally the Egyptians were familiar with "vaulting," the curve of an arch was usually cut out of a piece of stone and, from its shape, symbolizes the roofs of ancient reed houses.34  On the eastern side of the ANE, in the 4th millennia at Ur, vaulting was used for tombs, water drains, gateways, and large doors.35  While these uses suggest a religious purpose, by the third millennia the connection of the arch with religion becomes clearer.36  By the time of Hammurabi, the connection between shape and size and "The" law is firmly established; Hammurabi's law code is written on a stele nearly eight feet in height topped by the same high rounded arch that we still see in use today. Hence, in Pharaonic Egypt, the arch had a very different meaning and purpose from the arch on the Eastern side of the ANE.37

    The shape of "The" law is found throughout the North-Semitic writing systems. An arch always tops these types of tablets and stelae. The shape of the stele and the arch is very much tied to cultural choice and varies in interpretation of the shape on tablet and stele (and later, on scroll and codex) among North-Central and North-West Semitic systems. The Mesha stele, for example, has a broad flattened arch combined with the shape of Hammurabi's law stele. The broad flattened arch topping a rectangle of the much later Yehaw-milk stele (ca. 5th-4th centuries BCE) is the same as that of the so-called "Stone of Israel" stele from Egypt and inscribed in hieroglyphics. The shape of the Ptolemaic Greek-Aramaic stele found at Armazi is a stylized version of the "cloud-shaped" arch on the Akkadian Victory Stele of Naram-Sin (24th-23rd BCE). Displaying the tenacious conservatism of writing systems, this ancient "cloud-shaped" arch is the form used in Syriac gospels.38

    Yet another cultural interpretation of the arch is that of the Western Phoenicians. Their stelae exhibit a pointed "arch," either integral or cut as a separate piece and placed atop the narrow rectangular stele. Examples of this type of pointed arch appear on Phoenician inscriptions from Cyprus (ca. 735) and Tunisia and show up in the Sinai as well.

    Originally associated only with religious "laws," the arch, in whatever manifestation, extended to indicate "The" ruling power in an area in the North-West Semitic cultures. The shape always retains its symbolic meaning that the document is issued under the authority of a people's god.

    In the Israelite-Judean tradition, ample evidence from post-exilic and later Christian sources shows that the narrow column in combination with the high Hammurabi arch was associated with religious law – specifically the Torah (the Pentateuch) and, later, the Gospels. (This specific use and shape is employed in Latin and Gothic translations of the Masoretic and Old Greek texts.) Indeed, illustrations of Moses holding the tablets upon which are written the Ten Commandments have this shape to this day. If a tablet in this shape purports to be in the Israelite tradition and does not carry a book of the Torah, this is evidence of forgery.39


    In all western writing systems descended from the North-West Semitic systems, the largest sized documents are those issued by the authoritative ruling power, whether secular or sacred. Size is dependent upon the social status of the originator, the characteristics of a local pattern, and the content of a document.40  To this day we associate size with authority. As with every aspect of a writing system, this association dates back to Sumer and Akkad.

    On archival clay tablets, the size of the law is 14"-15" in height by 8"-9" in width. When inscribed on stone for public display, the law ranges from monumental stelae (such as that of Hammurabi) to individual tablets from around 16" in height to 30" in height depending upon the culture. These tablets would have been placed side by side to form a monumental wall display.

    In the Israelite-Judean tradition, the size of the Torah is held above the size of secular law.41  All other documents in the Israelite hierarchy of sizes are stepped down in size from that of the Torah. A wall tablet containing a legal decree or law issued by the secular ruling power will be around 14 inches in height.42

    If a tablet 16 or more inches in height and purporting to be Israelite in origin is not inscribed with a book of the Torah, we have reason to suspect that the text is a forgery.


    Today what we call justified text descends directly from the ancient "block" format used in antiquity -- as an anti-fraud measure. Tablets, whether clay or stone, were filled from side to side and from top to bottom to ensure that words not part of the original text could not be inserted into the text. In bi-ethnic inscriptions, opening words were frequently centered as a "language" divider; the remainder of the text was written in a block format.

    This block format requirement, in fact, is why we find so many documents with part of a word on one line and the continuation on the next. Indented text is also in a block format with equal amounts of space to either side. The sole exception to this requirement is poetry and/or song where the end of a line is self evident-- though this particular refinement is quite late and first shows up around the last centuries BCE.

    If an ancient document, and this includes receipts, does not fill the writing area from side to side and does not have a clear and obvious end of text marker, 43 this is prima facie evidence of forgery.

Results of the Visual Forensic Analysis of The Temple Tablet


Conglomerate script: a mixture of round-cursive and pointed-monumental graph designs from both the North-West Semitic and North-Central Semitic territorial traditions. Models are from different royal seals, stelae, and other inscribed artifacts from both North-West and North-Central models.44

The appearance of a conglomerate script in a document is prima facie evidence of forgery.


Two forms; one round-cursive modeled on the design on  the  Stele of Zakir, King of Hamath and La'sh; one pointed-monumental resembling the Mesha and Yadi aleph. The pointed form is not used as a variant form in a rounded script design. (See the Zakir inscription.) On this tablet, the three variant forms of aleph are confined solely to the pointed form and follow exactly the three variant forms on the Yadi stele as illustrated in the "Some Aspects" article.


Monumental pointed lobe instead of cursive round-lobe; No variant form to distinguish bet/vet.

gimel –

Monumental pointed dalet, instead of round-cursive dalet.


Identical to the heh on the Seal of Hananyahu, son of 'Akhbor of the Royal family of Amurru. No variant forms, when there should be three. (See Zakir inscription; Yadi Stele.)


Three forms:

1) same design as on the Zakir Stele
2) same design as on the Bar Haddad, King of Aram votive inscription;
3) one example of the Gezer vav.

The forms are used at random in a clear attempt to guess at what would be used as the variant form of vav.


Not a marker; similar in all font designs.


Identical to the chet on the Seal of Hananyahu, son of 'Akhbor of the royal family of Amurru.

tet -

Round-cursive, as on the Zakir inscription.


Rounded, same design family as that on the Bar-Rekub, King of Samal stele.


Two forms:

1) The very rounded-base design of North-Central Royal Aramaic inscriptions.
2) Variations of the straight-line base design used in North-West Semitic designs.

The designs are not similar. On the tablet, the lameds on line 4, the second one on line 5 and the lamed on line 6 are all North-Central. The first lamed on line 5 and the lameds on lines 7 and 8 are North-West. On line 12, the first is North-Central; the second is North-West. On line 13, it is back to the North-West form, and on line 14, we once again find the North-Central form. The North-Central form is well executed and consistent, and clearly the form is more practiced. The same cannot be said of the execution of the North-West lamed -- which varies significantly from line to line.

The North-Central round-base lamed on this tablet bears a striking similarity to the lamed on the "Temple Receipt" ostracon reported in 1997 (and of questionable authenticity).


The rounded lower extension on the mem is found in North-West Semitic designs. (North Central designs have a straight lower extension.) The mem on the tablet, though, appears to be a composite graph with the upper part from the Siloam inscription and the decided wide swing of the lower extension from rapid cursives on ostraca such as the "Temple Receipt."


Cannot identify model.


Samech with separated cross-bars is North-West Semitic; however, like the zayin, we cannot determine the script model.


Very round, not flattened. The ayin is the mensural base and changes little from design to design. The very round circle design is a mark of North-West Semitic scripts and fonts; the flattened circle is a mark of North-Central designs.




Pointed-monumental. Similar to Mesha and Yadi.


Like the ayin, the major difference between the North-West Semitic and the North-Central Semitic design is the flattening of the circle. The qoph on the tablet is flattened, hence, from a North-Central model, not a North-West Semitic model.


Pointed-monumental instead of rounded-cursive.


Pointed "w" form. Same design as Zakir inscription; it also appears on numerous Royal Aramaic seals and is identical to the shin on the "Temple Receipt." No variant form.

The taf is the "y" form of North-West Semitic. The form used in North-Central designs is the tilted "t” form.



"yhvh" written as just another word.> Conditional Pass. The text of this document is covenantal. Inclusion of the tetragrammaton on a covenant purporting to be from a king of Israel is prima facie evidence of forgery.



Two alephs instead of three; three vavs instead of two. No variant forms of heh, bet, or shin. The inclusion of only a few of the variant forms and none of the others on an inscription is prima facie evidence of forgery.

Both alephs from two different North-Central Semitic designs; Two of the vav's from North-Central Semitic designs.

Unless used in an entire word as xenographic exchange, inclusion of variant forms from another script design is prima facie evidence of forgery.



Stress and durational notation is extremely variable and irregular on the tablet. The notation clearly is random.

Both notations are marked on lines 3, 5, 6 and 7. Neither is marked on lines 8, 9, and 11. No duration notation is marked on lines 10 and 12, but stress notation is marked on both lines. Stress notation is marked on line 15, but only on "yhvh," the tetragrammaton. The stress notation on "yhvh" follows precisely the model shown of the fragment of Exodus 6:5-6 from Wadi Murabba'at which is discussed and shown in "Some Aspects," Part II.

Inclusion of stress and durational notation on only part of an inscription is prima facie evidence of forgery.



The point (or dot) is used as a word divider. The placement of the points -- low, medial, and high points -- is haphazard and bears little relation to the grammatical structures.

The haphazard placement of the dots on an inscription is evidence of forgery.



As the tablet itself is genuine, the orientation is correctly portrait.



The tablet is shaped. It is not a rectangle. It is the shape of Hammurabi's stele -- wide at the base and slowly decreasing in width towards the top. The top is missing; from the existing shape it would have finished with the Hammurabi-type narrow rounded arch.

The shape indicates that the tablet should contain some kind of law code issued by a ruling power. The shape does not accord with the content of this tablet, which is covenantal.

If a tablet in this shape does not contain some kind of law code or equivalent, this is evidence of forgery.



The size of this tablet was somewhat of a mystery. Reported first as around that of a legal pad (14" x 8-1/2"), it has also been reported as 31 cms x 24 cms x 7 cms (12-1/4" x 9-1/2" x 2-3/4") and 12" x 24" by 3" (30cms x 61 cms 8 cms). At latest report, it seems to have settled at 12-1/4" in height. As the graphs are quite large, including the space necessary between lines of text, the missing top section (estimated at five lines) would add another five to six inches to the height of the tablet excluding the frame. Whether the smallest reported size or not, the missing portion would bring the original size up to a minimum of 17 plus inches. This is the size of a tablet reserved for religious laws in the Israelite-Judean tradition. Any other type of document on this size tablet is evidence of forgery.



The text fills the tablet.



    The inscription fails seven of the tests for authenticity. Failure of even one of the tests already casts doubt; failure of three or more is evidence of forgery. Although the inscription on the tablet fails the forensic examination, the tablet itself is worth further testing because of its size and its shape.

    This forgery purports to be a temple tablet, yet we have proved the inscription to be a forgery. Given that this forgery has already been associated with the temple, this implies recognition that the object may well have been used in the temple. Such ambitious forgers would not have chosen, in this case, a piece completely incompatible with what is known of documents issued by a ruling power in antiquity or with ancient public wall displays.

    The forgers did not have a scanning electron microscope and could not have known that those globules were there.45 Unlike tests on the surface patina, which is regrettably easy to fake, the test as to when the gold melted into globules really is impossible to fake.46 Indeed, this is the only possible technique by which the GSI could date the tablet so accurately to 587 BCE. The evidence of these microscopic globules of gold beneath the fake patina tells us that the tablet itself is undoubtedly authentic.

    Given that the tablet itself is undoubtedly authentic, we cannot preclude the possibility that the tablet itself (minus the fake inscription) was indeed used in the temple setting. With this knowledge and given the size and shape specifications, we likewise *cannot* preclude that this tablet may well have contained a book of the Torah; it certainly held some type of law code.

    After thousands of years of weathering and abrasion by mud and gravel, the inscription would have been unreadable to the naked eye – nearly a "blank slate" -- yet parts of it could have been read through modern micro-imaging techniques. 47 Now the original text is gone forever.

    Like the second inscription on the ossuary of "James," the "Joash" tablet inscription fails to pass the crucial first forensic examination. In both cases, however, an authentic antiquity was deliberately destroyed by the addition of fraudulent text. In the case of the ossuary, we have the desecration of a grave and no rest for the bones of poor Ya'akov bar Yosef. In the case of the "Joash" tablet, we have the possibility that a genuine artifact from the first temple has been used as a mere "surface" for a faked inscription.

    The forgers did not know what they had; all they knew was this was an old wall tablet. If this were indeed a book of the Torah, the fakery at hand reaches new heights of vandalism. In their ignorance and greed, the forgers may have destroyed a priceless artifact. Perhaps the greatest irony is that, by the very act of forging that inscription, they reduced the value of the tablet substantially. Now, all that is left is an authentic Wall Tablet; First Temple period; original content, possibly one of the books of the Torah; at the very least some kind of law code. We shall never know, not now.

    Publishing this report occasions a moral dilemma. Intellectual honesty impels one to report the truth. Yet when one publishes an itemized list of the visual tests required to authenticate an ancient document, that same publication unfortunately can be used as a veritable "instruction manual" by forgers

    It seems reasonable that, if forgers can misuse the works of scholars, such as Altman and Neeman, to create fakes, in turn, the public should be able to apply these legitimate tests to be able to recognize the productions of forgers. The destruction of authentic artifacts in the name of greed must stop.

[1] There is ample evidence that these two publications, meant for the use of the scholarly community, were misused by the criminals to create the forged inscription on the tablet. The two publications are 1999, "Some Aspects of Older Writing Systems: With Focus on the DSS." Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Jerusalem. and 1999, "Writing Systems and Manuscripts." Guest Lecture: St. Mary's School of Divinity, University of St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland. Between them, most, but not all, of the visual aspects are mentioned. It is impossible to know how many times the "Some Aspects" article was accessed; the ORION site does not have a counter on individual articles and the document is also linked to numerous web sites as well. The former has a counter: a lecture for a graduate seminar and discussion group -- perhaps 150 people -- it has been accessed more than 5,000 times.

[2] Stone scribe was a special and elite specialty in what was already an elite profession: professional scribe. As inscriptions were written on the stone in ink, the scribe had to be extremely accurate in execution. The ink sinks into the stone and mistakes cannot be erased. As the inscription had to reflect the exact words as spoken and be executed in the correct hierarchies, no professional scribe would make such egregious errors as to mix monumental and cursive fonts in the same inscription, let alone in one word. This point about mixed fonts is not discussed in any article or lecture that has already been published.

[3] The same press release, word for word, and issued by Associated Press showed up in numerous newspapers and their web sites, for example, www.cbsnews. com/stories/2003/01/13/world/main536330.shtml.

[4] "The Jehoash inscription: Relic or forgery?" www.religioustolerance. org/chr_joash.htm

[5] Patinas.

[6] Modern technology has advanced even with forgeries: today they add the coating (electro-plating is one way) and then bake it with microwaves -- which is a superior method to arrive at an "authentic" age range. The technique, luckily, cannot emulate the "worm" holes of natural biovermiculation.

[7] See Altman, "The Official Report on the James Ossuary" at www. bibleinterp. com.


[9] Geological testing needs be performed on the artifact itself. All a professional paleographer or epigrapher needs to examine any writing or script system is a good, clear photograph. This is the standard practice. In fact, a great deal of effort and money is spent on providing facsimiles for paleographers and textual examination. Entire MSS are photographed and published for just this purpose. Still, people are sometimes surprised to learn that paleographers and epigraphers normally work from photographs. The vast majority of the works studied are scattered in museums and libraries throughout the world or, not all that infrequently, located at inaccessible sites. It is not at all unusual for one fragment of, for instance, a papyrus document to be found in a collection in Germany while another fragment of the same document turns up in a university collection in the United States; thus, they are thousands of miles apart. Workers in the field can and do take special trips to view specific originals, but this would be prohibitively expensive and time consuming to do on a regular basis.

[10] R. I. Altman, Absent Voices: The Story of Writing Systems in West. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll, forthcoming 2003, 7.

[11] Script systems and the content itself have been examined for centuries, with script systems and orthographic systems erroneously referred to as writing systems. Over the past 40 years, however, researchers in a number of disciplines have found that the script, format, and size of a document have meaning beyond that of the written word. Among these newer studies are "word" spacing in Anglo-Saxon; suprasegmentals in Linguistics; phonetic orthography and format in Medieval Studies; territorial range and chironomic semiology in Early Music; punctuation in Classics; size in Papyrology, and scripts as cultural identity in Anthropology. There have also been some studies on the pointed arch shape of Western Phoenician stelae in Biblical Archaeology.

[12] See Jack Goody, 1987 (1982) The interface between the written and the oral. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, for a discussion on the tight bond between a script and a culture.

[13] Altman, Absent Voices, 11.

[14] The change in script designs of cuneiform scripts are documented and illustrated on a table in Absent Voices, 27. A discussion of these scripts and their mutations, the fonts, is on 26-29.

[15] Script is so tightly bound to cultural identity that one can distinguish, for instance, Syriac parties from one another by glancing at the script. Similarly, while the uncial script practically held a monopoly on documents produced by the Roman factions from the 4th through the 9th centuries CE, paleographers can instantly say that this MS was produced in England and that one was produced in Italy -- merely from the script. See also Altman, "Writing Systems and Manuscripts" for illustrations of the distinctions among Greek Biblical fonts. These distinctions apply equally to Phoenician territorial fonts.

[16] Printing press or no, it is very easy to distinguish a book printed in England from one printed in the United States without examining the spelling systems. Aside from different preferences in design of serif fonts, which is something that requires an expert to distinguish, the British prefer very tight kerning (the amount of overhang of a serif, hence the amount of white space between graphs). Anyone can perform the following simple experiment and see this for him- or herself. Scan a paragraph in a book printed by, for instance, the Oxford University Press and one paragraph in a book printed by an American university, for example, Princeton. Run the scans through an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) application. The kerning in the Oxford book is so tight that the OCR will be unable to read the characters one by one.

[17] The tablet was reported to be written in a script similar to that of the Mesha or Hazael stelae, which immediately eliminates the inscription as authentic. Any expert would know this. Nor was it reassuring to learn that a reputed manufacturer of antiquities is a dab-hand at imitating Mesha-type scripts. Activities of this sort are clandestine by nature and make it very difficult to catch someone in the act of manufacture. When we are faced with the existence of an individual with a penchant for Mesha-script imitation, we must suspect that any item in this script design could well be this individual's work. This individual has ideographs, that is, special little tricks of writing certain graphs that identify his hand as much as if he had signed his name. In this case, there is little question. This individual's ideographs appear on the tablet.

[18] Altman, Absent Voices, 24.

[19] For an excellent acccessible discussion on these aspects of a script system, see Douglas R. Hofstadter, 1985. "Metafont, Metathematics, and Metaphysics," in Metamagic Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern. New York: Basic Books, Inc.

[20] The point that royal scripts are not interchangeable is not mentioned in the articles.

[21] Conglomerate scripts are neither mentioned nor described in either article or lecture. The role of a scribe and his training are discussed in Altman, 1999, "Some Aspects." Conglomerate scripts are discussed in Altman, 2003, Absent Voices.

[22] For "yhvh” in the Exodus fragments, see Altman, 1999, "Some Aspects," Part II. The point about the tetragrammaton is specifically indirectly mentioned in the discussion of the Exodus fragments from Wadi Muraba'at where the tetragrammaton is correctly written in the same script as the rest of the text.

[23] For fakes and forgeries, see: or Both sites have discussions and articles on the techniques to make and to detect forgeries, frauds, fake patinas, etc.

[24] Ibid. Part I. For a full discussion, see Absent Voices, Chapter 2.

[25] Only the three alephs were illustrated by examples from the Yadi stele. The variant forms of heh and vav were mentioned, but not illustrated. None of the other variant forms were mentioned in this discussion. See Altman, 1999, "Some Aspects," Part I.

[26] The basics of the trilinear system are explained in Altman, 1999, "Some Aspects." A full discussion of limit systems may be found in Chapter 2 of Absent Voices. Illustrated discussions of the limit systems in use may be found in Absent Voices, Chapters 6, 8, 10, and 11.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid. On the "James" ossuary, "Ya'acov bar Yosef" is written in sound bites and marks stress and durational notation. The forged part, "brother of yeshua," is written in a continuous stream and has neither stress nor durational notation.

[29] See Altman, "The Size of the Law: Document Dimensions and their significance in the Imperial Administration," in Linda Jones Hall, Confrontation in Late Antiquity: Imperial Presentation and Regional Adaptation. Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: Orchard Academic Press, forthcoming 2003. For a detailed discussion, see Absent Voices, Chapter 3.

[30] Altman, 1999,"Some Aspects," Part I. This is the same three-point system that is later called "distinctiones" in Donatus' punctuation system. For Donatus' system, see Malcolm Parkes, 1992. Pause and Effect: An Introduction to the History of Punctuation in the West. Aldershot, Hants: Scolar Press.

[31] The royal archives at Ur were stored in baskets. Each basket was carefully indexed as to contents; each basket contained tablets of precisely the same size and shape. The connection of shape to content begins at Sumer.

[32] The narrow shape of real property transaction date back to Sumer when such documents were enclosed in clay envelopes. See Altman, "The Size," also Absent Voices, Chapter 2.

[33] Many ancient tablets are covenants: oaths, vows, treaties, contracts, and so on. It should be noted that 45 years ago, the estimate was that around 500,000 tablets were extant. Recent cataloging of the tablets from numerous collections has changed this figure dramatically. The latest estimates are in the vicinity of 5,000,000 tablets. Still, one does not need to examine all 5,000,000 tablets to sort out the formats, shapes, and sizes to classify them. The ancients were pigeon-holers par excellence. If ancient legalese be formulaic and rigid, the relationships of size, shape, format, and script to the content of a document is equally rigid and formulaic.

[34] The primary building materials in Egypt were mud and reed. Support posts were formed by binding reeds together; reed matting placed between the posts and daubed with mud formed the walls. The roofs were made of matting and mud; the weight of the mud forced the projecting ends of the matting into a curve. Adobe brick structures and eventually stone under the Pharaohs imitated the features of the earlier mud and reed structures carved in stone. For an overview of the techniques, see Lloyd Seton and Hans Wolfgang Muller, 1986. Ancient Architecture. New York: Electa/Rizzoli. (Includes Bibliography: 187-192.)

[35] Wood was scarce in Mesopotamia. Again, the primary building materials were mud brick, reeds, and clay plaster. This lack of wood resulted in two distinctive elements in the architecture of the region: narrow rooms, with exceptionally thick walls centered around a court, and the vault. There were two types of standard religious structures in Mesopotamia: the high place (ziggurat) and the house of god. Temple compounds (house-of-god-type structures) were built on the same plan as the normal house, only far more regularized and with a large doorway leading to the central court, which doorway would have an arch. (See Seton and Muller, 1986.)

[36] A fine example of the relevance of size and shape to the ruling power and to religion can be seen on the Victory Stele of Naram-Sin (ca. 2371-ca. 2255). This is a picture "essay" nearly two meters in height. The stele combines the ziggurat of the high place with the arched doorway of the house of god in the form of "clouds" at the top [in the Louvre].

[37] The arch-topped stele is not a practice for Egyptian inscriptions meant for Egyptians. As the purposes of the arch were different on the two sides of the ANE, the use of the arch on the so-called "Stone of Israel" almost certainly is to put the "law" into the shape recognized by the Israelites. This type of making the shape of a stele or tablet fit the intended audience remained in use in Ptolemaic and in Roman practice as well. The Ptolemaic landscape orientation of the wall tablet that marked the "Court of the Gentiles" at the Herodian Temple is another example of this practice.

[38] The stylized cloud arch can be seen on, for example, Laurentian Library, Florence, Cod Plu. I.56 and MS 16, in the Chester Beatty Library.

[39] See Altman, 2003, Absent Voices, Chapter 2, 33-35 for a discussion of the "Shape of the Law." The specific descriptions and divisions by cultures are not mentioned in any work outside of the forthcoming book. If the tablet had ended in the Phoenician pointed arch, it would be a squared-off rectangle; it is not. This tablet is in the shape of the decreasing width of the Hammurabi stele.

[40] Papyrologists have known for quite a while that wide margins indicate a status document. Recently, it has also been noted that documents issuing from a provincial government are normally, to quote Worp, "impressively large" as well. (K. Worp, 1995, Greek Papyri from Kellis I. Oxford: OUP, 79-81.)

[41] For a discussion of the hierarchies of size, see Altman, 2003, "The Size." See also Altman, 2001, "The Writing World of the Dead Sea Scrolls" which includes a table listing the most common sizes and formats used in the Judean and Greco-Roman traditions. For an illustrated discussion, see Altman, 2003, Absent Voices, Chapter 4.

[42] A subject brings with it its own vocabulary. The "different" vocabulary used in Kings 12 is covenantal. The text on the Tablet is not a law code; it is a covenant. The subject of covenants has an immense literature. For a concise introduction to the material, see: David Noel Freedman, ed., 1992. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday. Vol. I, 1179-1202. For some relevant individual studies, see Tony W. Cartledge, 1992. Vows in the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East. Sheffield, England: JSOT Press; Jacques Berlinerblau, 1996. The vow and the "popular religious groups" of ancient Israel: a philological and sociological inquiry. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Press.

Professor Nadav Neeman finds the text suspiciously similar to the theory he presented in an article of his, published in 1998 in a Dutch periodical. Neeman is presently only suspicious because "The `Jehoash inscription' is too similar to the theory I explained in my study." He came to the conclusion that "either I hit the nail on the head, and my theory was confirmed fantastically, or the forger read my theory and decided to confirm it." ("Sensation or forgery? The mystery of King Jehoash's black stone inscription," January 13, 2003.

ID=2&subContrassID=11&sbSubContrassID= 0&listSrc=Y).

[43] The extended final-peh in the name "Yosef” on the first part of the inscription on the "James" ossuary is not an end of word marker; it is an end of text marker and reinforces the first part of the inscription as an authentic stand-alone original.

[44] For the standard work on seals, see Nahman Avigad, Corpus of West Semitic stamp seals; revised and completed by Benjamin Sass. Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities: Israel Exploration Society: Institute of Archaeology, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1997. For a catalogue of more than 200 Hebrew, Ammonite, Moabite, Edomite, Phoeneician, and Aramaic seals, see Andr‚ Lemaire and Robert Deutsch, 2000, Biblical period personal seals in the Shlomo Moussaieff collection. Tel-Aviv: Private Publication; Archaeological Center. For examples of Royal inscriptions on arrowheads and other artifacts, see, Anonymous, 1996. Forty New Ancient West Semitic Inscriptions. Tel-Aviv: Private Publication; Archaeological Center. For an editorial on the last book with two reviews and an extensive discussion on the Amurru royal family, see Hershel Shanks, "In Private Hands"; Shanks, "Fingerprint of Jeremiah's Scribe," and P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., "Pieces of the Puzzle," Biblical Archeological Review, March/April, 1996.

[45] Scanning electron microscopes are not in the usual way of equipment used by the manufacturers of fakes; they are large, very expensive, require training to use properly, and not every Institute has one, either. From the inept execution on both the ossuary and this tablet, these forgers are not "high-tech": electro-plating a patina and baking with microwaves seems to be as far as they have progressed.

[46] Gold does not spatter in "microflecks" when melted; if overheated it spatters in globules. Sufficient heat to spatter gold in globules would have shattered the tablet if it had been inside the Temple. If, however, the tablet were on an outside wall display leading up to the temple, this would be compatible with the tablet surviving more or less in one piece. The original date given by the GSI of 587 BCE would be based on this heat test. The tablet is undoubtedly authentic.

[47] The carving on the tablet is much too fresh, too evenly incised, and too unweathered to be original. The tablet also should be covered with the "worm" holes of natural biovermiculation whose lack immediately exposed the fake patina on the "James Ossuary."

    My thanks to J. I. Ransom and N. Appelbaum for comments and suggestions. Thanks also to Yuval Goren for his comments. Any errors that remain are my own.

    Any errors that remain are my own.