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Opinion concerning the authenticity of the "Yehoash Inscription" and the ossuary of "Yaaqov son of Yosef brother of Yeshua"

By Prof. Shmuel Ahituv
April 24 2003

A. The "Yehoash inscription"

    The following opinion rests on my personal impression, as well as on two articles submitted to the editorial board of the Israel Exploration Journal by Prof. Israel Eph'al (The Hebrew University) and Prof. Frank Cross (Harvard University).

    Of the first line of the inscription, only the lower part of the stem of a letter and probably part of its body survive. It seems most appropriate to restore here an aleph, and if so, to restore the whole line, according to the suggestion of Cross: "אנכי. יהואש. בן. א" (I, Yehoash son of A). The number of letters in the line (12) is the same as in line 4, which is very sparse.

    In line 2, after restoration, one naturally reads "חזיהו. מ[לך.י]" (haziyahu king [of] Y). According to the beginning of line 3 it is clear that "יהדה", that is 'יהודה' is to be read. But so the line will hold only nine letters. Moreover, in the missing part there is room for eight letters, while according to the natural restoration we only have three; therefore a suggestion has been put forward to read "מ[לכתי בארץ י]" that is, 'I was king over the land of Judah' or a similar phrase. This reading depends on ostracon No. 88 from 'Arad: "אנכי מלכתי בכ[ל הארץ]" (I was king over all the land), or similar phrase. But this is not a fitting opening for a royal inscription, and indeed it has no parallels among the inscriptions of the Near East, which usually open with the formula "I, so-and-so, son of so-and-so, king of"; compare to the Mesha inscription: "אנך מישע בן כמש[ית] מלך מאב הדיבני" I, Mesha son of Kamshit, king of Moab from Dibon" and likewise the inscriptions of YHWMLKH, TKNT, KLMW, ZTWD, PNMW and KRRKB.

    Line 3: At the end of the line there remains the angular stem of the letter bet, and thus it should read "ואעש את הב[ית הזה]" (I made this house). The line holds 14 letters in all.

    It should be remarked that the phrase "עש"ה בית" 'to make a house' is not the accepted one found in the Bible for building a house. It occurs in the Bible only six times. Of these, twice it refers not to a real house but to a dynasty, and specifically to the house of David: "עשה יעשה ה' לאדני בית נאמן" (1Sam. 25.28); "כי בית יעשה לך ה'" (2Sam. 7.11). The third occurrence is difficult and has not been satisfactorily explained. It deals with the Hebrew midwives in Egypt, who did not carry out the orders of Pharaoh and let the newborn live: "ויהי כי יראו המילד˙ת את האלהים ויעש להם בתים" (Exodus 1.21), and apparently here the meaning is of a dynasty as well, and not of a house made of stones and wood.

    The passage in 1Kings 12.31: "ויעש את בית במות" is among the later writings that malign Jeroboam son of Nebat. Also late is the passage on the construction of the Temple of Solomon: "ויעש את בית קדש הקדשים" (2Chron. 3.8). This passage has no exact parallel in Kings, where the description of the construction of the temple always uses the root בנ"ה (BNH).

    There remains a single occurrence that uses "עש"ה" (SH) instead of "בנ"ה" (BNH), in the story of the house that Solomon built for the daughter of Pharaoh: "ובית יעשה לבת פרעה" (1Kings 7.8). The root עש"ה (SH) serves also for the construction of parts of Solomon's palace: the colonnade and the hall of justice (1Kings 7.67). It may be that the house of Pharaoh's daughter was considered part of the complex of Solomon's house, and therefore the rootעש"ה was used there as well.

    In a royal inscription one is to expect a high language throughout, and in a First Temple period inscription there is certainly no room for the usage of late linguistic forms. The usage of the root עש"ה is suspicious.

    Lines 45: The sentence "כאשר נמלאה נדבת לב אש" raises some difficulties. The usage of nifal to indicate a state (to become full) is not standard in classical Biblical Hebrew; it uses the form qal e.g. "כי מלאה הארץ דעה את ה'" (Is. 11. 9), "ידיכם דמים מלאו" (Is. 1.15). The form nifal is used to indicate a change of state, e.g. "והנחל ההוא ימלא מים" (2Kings 3.17), "ותמלא ארצו כסף וזהב.. ותמלא ארצו סוסים" (Is. 2.7). In late Biblical usage these distinctions became blurred; cf. "שראשי נמלא טל" (Song of Songs 5.2).

    A 'full heart' is found only in late Biblical language. Ester 7.5: "אשר מלאו לבו לעשות כן" (but with a different meaning than here); Eccl. 8.11: "מלא לב האדם בהם". The combination in the present inscription imitates what is written in the description of the service in the Tabernacle in Exodus 35.35: "מלא אתם חכמת לב". God filled Bezalel and Oholiab with wisdom, wisdom of the heart, because the heart is the seat of wisdom. Our inscription means to say that that the heart is full of generosity. The construct "נדבת לב", generosity of the heart, is a post-Biblical form of the Middle-Ages (according to Ben Yehuda it is first documented in Alharizi, Tahkemoni 46), and is today an accepted form. The closest Biblical phrase is "נדיב לב" (Exodus 35.22; 2Chron. 29.31) and all other combinations of לב+ נד"ב are from the later strata of the Bible: "מאת כל איש אשר ידבנו לבו" (Exodus 25.2), "אשר נדב לבם להביא אתם" (Exodus 35.29), "כי בלב שלם התנדבו לה'" (1Chron. 29.9), "בישר לבבי התנדבתי כל אלה" (verse 17).

    Lines 56: "בארץ ובמדבר ובכל ערי יהדה". According to the description in 2Kings 12, money was collected only in Jerusalem, from those coming to the Temple: "בבוא איש בית ה' ונתנו שמה (בארון) הכהנים שמרי הסף את כל הכסף המובא בית ה'" (verse 10). But according to the author of Chronicles (24.5), the priests went out to collect the money: "ויקבץ (יהואש) את הכהנים והלויים ויאמר להם צאו לערי יהודה וקבצו מכל ישראל כסף". Only after the priests and Levites failed was a chest prepared at the Temple: "ויתנו קול ביהודה ובירושלים להביא לה' משאת משה עבד האלהים על ישראל במדבר" (verse 9). But the author of the present text did not understand the verse in Chron. 24.9, where "משאת משה במדבר" refers to the donation made in the desert in the time of Moses, while he thought that the desert dwellers in the time of Yehoash were meant.

    Line 7: the clause "לתת כסף הקדשים לרב" is made up of the passages in 2Kings 12.5: "ויאמר יהואש אל הכהנים כל הכסף הקדשים אשר יובא בית ה'" and 2Chron. 24.11: "ויאספו כסף לרב"

    Lines 8-9: "לקנת אבן מחצב וברשם ונחשת אדם" is taken from 2kings 12.13: "ולקנות עצים ואבני מחצב" and to it is added the word "וברשם" from the description of Solomon's Temple in 1Kings 5.22, 24; 6.15, and the copper "נחשת" is taken from the repair story of the Temple in 2Chron. 24.12: "וגם לחרשי ברזל ונחשת"

    "נחשת אדם" is copper from Edom,, following the famous ostracon from Tel Qasileh ("זהב אפר") and Mousaieff's (forged) ostracon which mentions "כסף תרשש". But while there is reason to mention the source of precious gold and silver, why mention the source of copper?

    Lines 910: "לעשת במלאכה באמנה" follows 2Kings 12.16: "ולא יחשבו את האנשים אשר יתנו את הכסף על ידם לתת לעשי המלאכה כי באמנה הם עשים" (the same form recurs in the description of the repairs to the Temple by Josiah in 2Kings 22.7). While the Biblical passage explains that the people did not require accounting because they were honest "כי באמנה הם עשים", here the author followed the passage on the repairs by Josiah in 2Chron. 34.12: "והאנשים עשים באמונה במלאכה" where the meaning is that of workers doing their job well, as in the popular proverb 'לעשות במלאכה באמונה'.

    Lines 1011: "ואעש את בדק הבית". This is the crudest mistake in the inscription. 'BDQ' is a crack, split etc. The root exists in Akkadian as well: batāku, and recurs in this form in Ezekiel "ורגמו אותך באבן ובתקוך בחרבותם" (16.40). The 'BDQ BYT', i.e. the damage, needs to be repaired. Yehoash confronts the priests with "מדוע אינכם מחזקים את בדק הבית" (2Kings 12.8). The priests agree to "לבלתי קחת כסף מאת העם ולבלתי חזק את בדק הבית" (verse 9). They give money to the artisans and for the acquisition of needed materials that are needed for "לחזק את בדק הבית" (verse 13), "כי לעשי המלאכה יתנהו וחזקו בו את בדק הבית" (verse 15). Similar language is used in the story of the repairs in the time of Josiah: "לחזק את בדק הבית...לחזק את הבית" (2Kings 22.57). Ezekiel too, when speaking of the 'Tyrian ship' speaks of "מחזיקי בדקך" (27.27).

    The author of Chronicles seldom uses the form 'BDQ HBYT' and uses instead: "לחזק את בית אלהיכם" (2Chron. 24.5), "לחדש בית ה'... לחזק את בית ה'" (verse 12), but in the story of Josiah's repairs he created a verb "לבדוק ולחזק את הבית" (2Chron. 34.10). That 'BDQ' is indeed a break is clarified by the author of Chronicles who explains the need for the repair: "כי עתליהו המרשעת (ו)בניה פרצו את בית ה'" (2Chron. 24.7).

    The author of the present inscription was led astray by the modern usage in Hebrew of 'bedeq' in the sense of renovation and restoration.

    Lines 1112: "והקרת סבב" What walls are referred to? The author here clearly follows 1Kings 6.5: "ויבן על קיר הבית יציע סביב את הקירות הבית סביב להיכל ולדביר ויעש צלעות סביב". While the scripture describes the outside walls of the Temple that surround the hall and inner sanctuary, here the phrase 'the walls around' is meaningless.

    Lines 1213: "והשבכם והלולם" returns to the building of Solomon. There it is explained how one got to the galleries: "ובלולים יעלו על התיכנה ומן התכנה אל השלשים" (1Kings 6.8). It is clear that in First Temple period writing, especially in the ninth century BCE, the letter vav 'W' cannot stand as mater lectionis in 'WHLWLM'. Since Qimron's argument that 'BLWLYM' in the Bible is of the root BLL is apparently correct, the 'W' is even more out of place. The word "השבכם" also take us back to Solomon's Temple, but there only two capitals have latticework, Yakhin and Boaz: "שבכים מעשה שבכה גדלים מעשה שרשרות לכתרות אשר על ראשי העמודים שבעה לכתרת האחת ושבעה לכתרת השנית" (1Kings 7.17, 18, 20). These lattices are ajour work. It is possible that the author thought that there were balustrades in the Temple, lattices of the sort that we find in the story of Ahaziah king of Israel about whom we hear that "ויפל אחזיה בעד השבכה בעליתו אשר בשמרון" (2Kings 1.2), or perhaps thought of dovecotes (shovakhim) and chicken coops (lulim)?

Line 13: "והגרעות". These are the recesses mentioned in Solomon's Temple, in the description of how the galleries were connected to the walls of the house: "כי מגרעות נתן לבית סביב חוצה לבלתי אחז בקירות הבית" (1Kings 6.6). If we understand what the recesses are, it is not clear what needed to be done to them, as they were the least susceptible to damage of all parts of the house. It seems to me that the form 'GRT' is simply a mistake; the 'M' was overlooked.

    Lines 1314: "והדלתת" is also taken from Solomon's Temple: "שתי דלתות עצי ברושים" (1Kings 6.34).

    Lines 1415: "והיה הים הזה לעדת" In Biblical language DWT is a covenant and all the obligations and duties resulting from it. 'ארון העדות' is the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 16.34 and many more). The tablets are "שני לחת העדת" (Exodus 31.18). Moses descended from Mt. Sinai carrying the two tablets of the covenant: "ושני לחת העדת בידו" (Exodus 32.15). In some instances, the form DWT is in the sense of an instruction or command. See Psalms 81.6: "עדות ביהוסף שמו בצאתו על ארץ מצרים"; Psalms 122.4: "ששם עלו שבטים שבטי-יה עדות לישראל להדת לשם ה'". Alongside the form edut is the form edot in the sense of obligations and commandments. This form is seen in passages such as Deut. 6.17: "עדתיו וחקיו". This meaning is commonly found in Psalms, e.g. 119.168: "שמרתי פיקודיך ועדתיך". Whoever composed the present inscription, used the meaning in modern Hebrew today, edut, testimony of a witness. This use, which is not that of the Bible, is first found in Ben Sirah: "טוב על לחם תברך שפה עדות טובו נאמנה" (31.40, ed. Segal, p.196) and is commonly used by the sages. In Biblical language this should have been 'והיה היום הזה לעד' 'this day is witness'. Even so the day cannot be a witness, since it passes. The witness is in fact the tablet into which the inscription is cut. Cf. Gen. 31.52: "עד הגל הזה ועדה המצבה". Had he known Biblical language, he would have written 'והיה הספר הזה לעד'.

    There is here a following of usages like "העידתי בכם היום" (Deut. 4.26; 8.19; 30.19); "הנה אנכי מעיד בכם הים" (Deut. 32.46); "כי העידתי בכם היום" (Jer. 42.19) para-biblical writings, as well as "והיה היום הזה לכם לזכרון" (Exodus 12.14), which deals with the Passover festivities that return every year.

    The meaning of edut in connection with the crowning of Yehoash as king is not clear; "ויתן עליו את הנזר ואת העדות" (2Kings 11.12 = 2Chronicles 23.11), but neither is it of relevance here.

    Line 15: "כי תצלח המלאכה". The form 'כי צלחה המלאכה' would have been more appropriate, because it was finished, and not an imperfect form. It is not like "ותשלם כל המלאכה" (1Kings 7.51), where the form "WTSLM" appears with the 'vav' of continuity.

    Line 16: "יצו ה' את עמו בברכה". Not only have we not found an inscription where the owner asks God to bless someone else without even mentioning himself (as for example in the 'Eqron dedication: "תברכ ותשמ[ר] ותארך ימה ותברך ארצה") but the language is impossible. He is carried away by the construct of "ה' יברך את עמו בשלום" (Psalms 29.11). Had he known the language of the Bible, he would have written 'יצו ה' את עמו את הברכה', cf. Lev. 25.21: "וצויתי את ברכתי לכם" and Deut. 28.8: "יצו ה' אתך את הברכה באסמיך ובכל משלח ידך". I suspect that the author was carried after the common usage of the word!

    The spelling "עמו" (MW) with W instead of H (MH) is incorrect, and no proof should be sought in the form "רעו" (RW) in the Siloam inscription, which derives from 'רעהו' (RHW). Moreover, the Siloam inscription is dated c. 700 BCE.

The frame:

    The inscription has a sunken frame. I do not know of a single ancient inscription with a sunken frame. If an inscription has a frame at all, it is raised. Cf. the Mesha stele and see ANEP, Nos. 127, 274, 280, 281, 294, 309, 335, 427, 428, 442, 443, 447, 453, 460, 471, 473, 477.


    Here one can rely on the analysis of Dr. Ada Yardeni, who points to the anomaly in some of the letters of the inscription, and its similarity on one hand to the Mesha stele and the Dan inscription, and on the other to the ancient inscription from Cyprus. The similarity to the Cyprus is noted also by Prof. Cross. The anomaly is most striking in the letters gimel (G) and shin (S). The tav (T) does not resemble that on the Cypriote inscription but rather those on the ancient Hebrew inscriptions (Gezer and Mesha). It should be noted that there is some measure of inconsistency in the size of the letters and their shape in the inscription itself; cf. for example the letter zayn (Z) in line 2 to the same letter at the end of line 14.

    There is a difference in the density of letters at the beginning of the inscription and at its end, where they are more crowded. This could be interpreted as the result of the concern of the engraver that the space would not be sufficient for the text he had in front of him. He succeeded in cramming the text exactly!


    The inscription was written by a speaker of Modern Hebrew who loaned parts of verses from the Bible and composed a text that appeared to him Biblical. He failed wherever he turned. If the anomalies of paleography and the sunken frame can somehow be explained away, the stylistic and grammatical mistakes can not. The Hebrew is simply awful. Even if the patina should be found to be authentic and relevant C14 dating would fit the period (which does not seem to be the case following the recent analyses of the GSI), I will not accept that the inscription is not a forgery.

B. The Ossuary

    It seems to me that on paleographic grounds alone the authenticity or otherwise of the ossuary inscription cannot be proven. But I do not see myself qualified to decide in this area of Second Temple period paleography. The conclusions should come from the colleagues engaged in the physical aspects of the inscription: patina in the letters etc.