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The Jehoash Inscription: An Evaluative Summary


The case against the authenticity of the Jehoash Inscription is impressive, as the survey above indicates. However, it must be noted that the individual arguments vary in strength. Some appear inconclusive on closer examination, while others may perhaps gain force with elaboration.

(1) The form mw in line 16 is troublesome, as it is indeed the case that final w is not the normal orthography found in early Hebrew inscriptions to indicate the third person masculine singular possessive pronominal suffix. However, D. N. Freedman notes the occurrence of rw ("his fellow") in the eighth-century Siloam Inscription (line 3). The w there is likely a contraction of the suffix hw, evident from the fact that the spelling rhw is common in the Hebrew Bible. [27] The form mw in the Jehoash Inscription may be explained in the same way, although the uncontracted form mhw is otherwise unattested. However, the objection to final w must not be taken in an absolute sense. Biblical Hebrew, early and later, uses either final h or final w as the third person singular pronominal suffix. The w occurs regularly when it receives the accent or stress, while final h is used in the toneless position, i.e., when a pre-final syllable is accented. It is correct to note that the earliest inscriptional attestation to final w for this suffix in the archaeological record derives from the era between the sixth- and third-centuries BCE, and becomes common only with the documents from Qumran, the oldest of which are from the third-second centuries BCE. But since final h as the suffix form is also attested in the eighth-century Siloam Tunnel Inscription, even this single occurrence demonstrates the inadvisability of stating dogmatically that final h could never have been a ninth- century form.

(2) The argument about the spelling of whlwlm in line 13 is also inconclusive. Internal vowel letters are increasingly attested in late eighth- and seventh-century Hebrew inscriptions. [28] This is especially the case for the use of w to indicate either a long u-vowel or a long o-vowel, [29] and at least one early eighth-century instance of the practice may be represented by kwr in Samaria Ostracon 49:4. Scholars generally deny the use of vowel letters in the ninth and tenth centuries, but the inscriptional evidence for these periods is too meager to sustain their view as an absolute orthographic rule. S. Godel states the matter judiciously and well: "Until further texts are discovered, the question of the first introduction of internal m.l. [matres lectionis, or consonants like w, y, and h used as vowel markers] into epigraphic Hebrew will remain unanswered. Research awaits new material dating to the ninth and tenth centuries in order that a more balanced picture of the use of m.l., internal and external, may be presented." [30] For the moment, then, the spelling of whlwlm in the Jehoash Inscription cannot be ruled out as a genuine older spelling simply because of its use of w as an internal vowel marker.

This conclusion may be supported by a broader look at the orthography of the inscription. Israel Ephal has highlighted words and phrases that the supposed forger borrowed from 2 Kings 12, 2 Chronicles 24, and 1 Kings 6-7. [31] Several have internal vowel letters in the biblical text that are absent in the Jehoash Inscription. Thus the presumed forger was careful to change biblical yhwdh to yhdh ("Judah"), y to ("man"), hqdym to hqdm ("sacred donations"), lqnwt to lqnt ("to buy"), sbyb to sbb ("enclosing"), and so forth. The internal w in lwlm would seem to be the only internal vowel that the forger missed. A slip of this kind might be expected in a longer text, but in a short inscription of only sixteen lines it comes as a surprise. It is all the more surprising since the supposed forger paid at least some attention to the "proper" spelling of lwlm, carefully omitting the internal vowel marker y that is part of the plural ending in 1 Kings 6. In short, it is difficult to imagine that a forger simply overlooked a single w after carefully removing so many other internal markers, and one might reasonably wonder if his spelling is one that is genuine and ancient, albeit not broadly attested in the small number of extant early inscriptions.

Chaim Cohen offers a different defense of the spelling lwlm. [32] He suggests that the w should be a consonant rather than a vowel marker, but argues that the word in its present form should be pronounced lulim, ("winding stairs, spiral staircases"). Victor Hurowitz responds that there is "no indication that this was a plural form of לול," but his objection carries little force since the noun is attested only once, in 1 Kings 6:8. Yet another possibility may be that because it was a rare word even for the Massoretes, they may have incorrectly construed the internal w as a vowel marker and thus pronounced the plural noun lulim.

(3) The expression in lines 10-11, ws.t.bdq/hbyt, is certainly not biblical, but it may not be quite the "howler" that Cross and others assert. [33] As Freedman has noted, bdq here does mean "fissure" or "crack," in accordance with good biblical usage, and the verb השע means "repair." Hurowitz argues that the whole expression is anachronistic, and notes that, "we do not find in the Bible a single example of השע applying to damage or ruin or breakage or anything else with the meaning of repair." [34] On the other hand, Freedman, while conceding it as an unusual sense for the verb, sees an approximation of the meaning of "attending to, putting in order, fixing up," in Deuteronomy 21:12 (describing a female "doing" her nails) and 2 Samuel 19:25 (describing Mephibosheth "doing" his feet and his moustache). [35] To this it might be added simply that the Hebrew verb השע serves a very broad referential field in biblical Hebrew. One of its uses is to describe the "making" of a boat (Genesis 8:6), an altar (Genesis 13:4, etc.), idols (Judges 18:24, etc.), or even of God "making" in the sense of creating (in both J and P passim). In particular, we note that an idol maker "remakes" wood into a deity (Isaiah 44:17), or refashions gold and silver into an image of Baal (Hosea 2:10 [Eng. 2:8]).

As a further response to the objection of Hurowitz, the use of the verb השע in the ninth-century Mesha Inscription may be noted. In lines 26-27, the Moabite king states, "I rebuilt (bnty) Aroer and I repaired (sty) the highway through Arnon. I rebuilt (bnty) Beth-bamoth, for it was destroyed, and I rebuilt (bnty) Bezer, for it was in ruins." This is a clear example of השע used in a closely related language in a context of reconstruction and rebuilding. Its semantic partner, the root ינב, can mean both "build" and "rebuild," providing evidence from the Moabite text that השע also can mean both "do, make" and "redo, remake," i.e., "repair."

(4) "Copper of Edom" is not the only possible translation of in line 9. Ronnie Reich proposes to render the Hebrew phrase, "copper from Adam," a town on the east side of the Jordan River in the vicinity of Zarethan according to Joshua 3:16. 1 Kings 7:45-46 also indicates that the area was a center for mining and smelting copper ore. As Reich observes correctly, a modern forger is unlikely to have known this information. However, the fact remains that the stipulation of the origin of a common metal like bronze/copper, whether it be Edom or Adam, is anomalous. [36]

(5) The argument about the phrase, "the work will succeed," in line 15 merits closer scrutiny. Several biblical passages attest the use of the root חלצ as an intransitive verb in sentences that describe a person "succeeding" in some work or action. [37] Only three such texts (Psalm 45:5; 1 Kings 22:20; Jeremiah 22:20) have any claim to a pre-exilic date, and they are an insufficient basis for the claim that early Hebrew, i.e., what we expect in a ninth-century inscription, can speak only of a person succeeding in work, never of the work itself being successful or succeeding.

In fact, several biblical texts attest חלצ as an intransitive verb in sentences that speak of work or action succeeding. Daniel 11:27 states that two kings, "shall speak a lie, but it will not succeed." In Numbers 14:41b, Moses declares, "That will not succeed," referring either to the transgression by the people of the commandment of YHWH (v. 41a) or, more likely, to the ascent of the people into the land (v. 40b). In Judges 18:5, five Danites inquire of God to learn, "whether our way will succeed," [38] referring to their assigned task to "spy out the land and explore it" (v. 2). Jeremiah 12:1b poses the question, "Why does the way of the wicked prosper?" and then continues, "[Why] do all who commit treachery thrive?" The writer thus speaks in the same breath of the actions of a person succeeding and of a person succeeding in his actions. Of these four examples, all except Daniel 11:27 have some claim to a pre-exilic date, especially Numbers 14:41 from the Yahwist. Even one early example is sufficient to undermine the argument that a ninth-century inscription could never speak of work or actions succeeding.

Two additional biblical examples may be adduced of חלצ as a transitive verb in the Hiphil with an accusative to designate the work or action that is made to prosper or succeed. First, Genesis 39:3 reads: "and all that he [Joseph] was doing YHWH would make successful in his hand." The writer here could easily have used different phrasing, such as ותא הוהי חילצמ השע רשא לכבו - "And in all that he was doing, YHWH would make him prosper." But he does not, and in fact expresses the same idea with his own expression in essentially the same way in 39:23: "Whatever he did, YHWH made successful." Second, Genesis 24:40 quotes Abraham as having told his servant that his mission to Mesopotamia seeking a proper wife for Isaac would accomplish its purpose because, "he [the messenger of YHWH] will make your journey successful." Even though the Hiphil or causative form of חלצ is not used in the Jehoash Inscription, these two biblical narratives both attest the idea that the mission or actions of an individual might be said to succeed.

(6) Objections to the phrase in lines 4-5 are partly valid. On the one hand, the phrase ("generosity of heart") is unattested in the Bible. The closest biblical locution is the phrase בל בידנ ("[one who is] generous/willing of heart," i.e., sincere or deeply committed), attested in Exodus 35:5 and 22. In Exodus 25:2; 35:21, 29, the simple (Qal) form of the verbal root בדנ combines with the subject בל to refer to people whose "hearts impelled" (or motivated) them. All of these passages in Exodus belong to the "P" literary source recounting the contributions for the construction and furnishing of the tabernacle. Most scholars would regard them as late, normally seventh or sixth-century. If these dates are accepted, they provide little support for the genuine character of the phrase in a ninth-century inscription.

On the other hand, in response to the objection of Cross and others that in classical biblical Hebrew, the sense "be full" is conveyed by the Qal conjugation of אלמ, while the Niphal means only "to be filled," [39] it may be argued that they are asking our knowledge of a limited number of biblical examples to carry too fine a distinction. There may in fact be a few instances in pre-exilic Hebrew where the Niphal of אלמ means "be full" (e.g., 1 Kings 7:14 and Isaiah 2:6-8). We may also note that in English, the distinction between "be full" and "be filled" is one of Aktionsart (type of action) rather than lexical meaning. To argue that such a construction does not occur in the Bible is not the same as concluding that such a construction can not ever have occurred in ninth century Hebrew! In late biblical texts like Song of Songs 5:2, the distinction upon which Cross insists has disappeared, but again this does not mean that the convergence of Qal and Niphal ml happens in such passages for the first time, only that it is attested in the limited biblical materials for the first time.

(7) The phrase ("testimony that ") in line 15 is also problematic. In the 59 instances of edut in the Hebrew Bible, not once does the word unambiguously mean "testimony" or "witness." In the books of Exodus and Numbers, the Priestly writers use edut as an apparent synonym of berit, "covenant." This yields distinctly parallel structures. [a] luhot haedut ("the tablets of the Testimony") in Exodus 31:18; 32:15; 34:29 with luhot habberit in Deuteronomy 9:9 and 11. [b] aron haedut ("the ark of the Testimony") in Exodus 25:22; 26:33; 30:6) with aron berit-yhwh in Deuteronomy 10:8. [40] Outside of the Pentateuch, edut often is parallel to words like torah, hoq, mispat, piqqud, mitzvah, with a meaning close to "commandment, decree, instruction, warning." [41] In this regard, it must be noted that 2 Kings 11:12 speaks of the edut given to Jehoash at the time of his enthronement along with his crown. But this reference is highly cryptic, as indicated both by the Jewish Publication Society translation of the word as "insignia" (physical items that testified to his royal status?) and by its note admitting that the "meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain."

(8) Regardless of the orthography of lwlm ("spiral staircases") in line 13, if the noun is not a genuine word, it would seriously undermine the authenticity of the Jehoash Inscription. The argument against the word depends on the fact that it appears as blwlym in the most reliable manuscripts of the Mishnah, pointing to the true root as bll, upon which the correct form blwlym found in 1 Kings 6:8 is based. [42]

(9) The combination of incorrect syntax and poor meaning in line 16 of the inscription is perhaps the strongest indication of forgery. The blunder may have resulted from a misunderstanding of Deuteronomy 28:8: הכרבה תא ךתא הוהי וצי, "YHWH will ordain [command] the blessing for you." The writer of the inscription perhaps confused the preposition ךתא and the accusative marker תא, transposing them to produce the meaning, "YHWH will command you with blessing." It is this transposed sentence that the writer imitated with what he thought was a genuine-sounding biblical blessing.

But even this argument is not without its weakness. The phrase cited from Deuteronomy is such a simple grammatical construction that it is hard to believe a writer familiar with Hebrew even at the most basic level could have misunderstood it. It is more plausible to believe that he made a mistake in what he wrote than that he failed to grasp the true significance of Deuteronomy 28:8.


Our survey to this point has examined issues of language: orthography, syntax, lexica, etc. Analysis of two additional factors may shed light on the [in]authenticity of the Jehoash Inscription. The first of these is paleography, the shape that letters of the Hebrew alphabet exhibit throughout differing epochs of development. As might be expected, Professor Cross, a leading exponent of the view that the inscription is a forgery, expresses no doubt about the script employed by the author. "His alphabet is not the Hebrew script in use at the end of the ninth century BCE." [43] Cross goes on to state that the script on the inscription is "closer to the Phoenician script of the early ninth century but cannot even be called Phoenician," [44] pointing to one letter in particular [TAV] that he deems not to be Phoenician. His argument concludes with the opinion that the forger of the inscription employed a hodgepodge of letter forms from the Mesha Stone and perhaps the Tell Dan Stele rather than the Hebrew script one would expect to find in an authentic ninth-century royal inscription. This is a strange argument, especially when it is remembered that our corpus of material for comparison is incredibly small. We must remember in particular that if authenticated, the Jehoash Inscription would be the first royal Judahite inscription ever discovered. Thus to speak of the script we could expect to find on an inscription unlike any other of its kind ever recovered is a circular argument at best.

We must also grasp the physical realities of the inscription under scrutiny. It is a stone into which markings have been scratched by a sharp stylus of some sort. If a line in a letter happened to be scratched a bit too long by accident, it could not be erased and corrected to fit a presumed ninth-century model. Here we enter the world of chirography, the analysis of handwriting. Not only can no two scribes from the same era be expected to reproduce each letter exactly alike, when a single copyist scratches the same letter more than once onto a stone inscription, it is inevitable that slight differences in form will occur. To be fair, Cross believes that several letters are formed improperly. Yet the paradigmatic samples with which he, and all of us, is forced to compare the letters in this one short inscription are so limited as to make dogmatism about paleography as risky a proposition as we have seen it to be with respect to orthography.

Given the evidence presented above, it is surely clear that specialists in matters linguistic, orthographic, paleographic, grammatical, syntactical, etc. have not arrived at unanimity yet, and seem unlikely to do so in the near future. Particularly because epigraphists have no other ninth-century royal inscription with which to compare an inscription like "Jehoash," it is apparently not an impossibility that a modern forger could create an inscription with letters close enough and language appropriate enough to preclude scholarly unanimity and certainty.

This leads naturally to the search for a different criterion of authority or authenticity, and some have assumed that the science of geology can come to the rescue. In fact, a geological analysis of the Jehoash Inscription done by the Geological Survey of Israel convinced them that the patina on the inscription indicated an authentic find. Their results were published in a study authored by Shimon Ilani and Amnon Rosenfeld, who went so far as to aver that they would be happy to meet with any geologist or scientist to discuss their conclusions. [45] Of course, several scholars have stated that patina itself is easy to fake, [46] and even two colleagues of Ilani and Rosenfeld (Meir ben Dov and Ayelet Mazar) have expressed reservations about the authenticity of the Jehoash Inscription. [47] In short, it appears that geological specialists are no more capable of solving the problem definitively than are scholars of linguistics and archaeology.

One final issue demands attention, even though it is unpleasant. Oded Golan, the private collector who became [in]famous for his ownership and stewardship of the "James Ossuary," turned out to be the person who ultimately turned the Jehoash Inscription over to Israeli police, who placed it into the custody of the Israeli Antiquities Authority. [48] Given the troubled history of Golan, scholars on all sides can only regret his involvement with the Jehoash (or any other) Inscription.


In our survey of current opinions about the Jehoash Inscription, it is remarkable that scholars hold such widely different opinions. Some are so certain that the inscription is a forgery as to give away their conclusions in advance by catchy titles with words like "Forgery," "Fake," "Forged." This position essentially calls upon issues of literary genre, syntax, orthography, and the pattern of sharing words with more than one biblical account recalling three different stories about the construction or repair of the Temple under kings Solomon, Jehoash, and Josiah. As we have shown, 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.

Scholars on the opposite side of the question have limited themselves to more cautious terms, exemplified by Freedmans title, "Dont Rush to Judgment: Jehoash Inscription May be Authentic." And they have entertained the possibility of a ninth-century provenance rather than declared its impossibility.

The distance between the two sides of the scholarly debate must be taken seriously as an indication of the ultimate importance of provenanced finds. The truth is that because the recovery of the Jehoash Inscription was not documented by the people who "found" it, whether an authentic and certified archaeological expedition or a modern forger, its true origins can never be known with certainty. The argument is made in some quarters that many other antiquities of significance also came from sources other than an organized dig, and the prime example offered is the Dead Sea Scrolls. But this is scarcely an appropriate comparison. The first DSS did in fact travel by a circuitous route before reaching the scholarly public. But hundreds of scrolls in the same script and in the same location[s] quickly came to light. We can only hope that additional royal inscriptions from the early period of Israelite history will be recovered. Having other examples, found by a certified archaeological expedition with all appropriate and accurate documentation, with which to compare the Jehoash Inscription would be a boon for everyone interested in the history and archaeology of the period. Perhaps only such verifiably genuine finds can allow the kinds of comparison that will prove or disprove the authenticity of the Jehoash Inscription.


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