The Jehoash Inscription: An Evaluative Summary

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


A. Orthography

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

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

B. Lexica and Expressions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C. Space Requirements and Literary Genre

(1) Royal Semitic inscriptions typically begin with a nominal sentence identifying the author/actor, i.e., the king whose activities the inscription describes. A standard opening might be: "I am PN1, son of PN2, king of GN." In this genre, we should expect the Jehoash Inscription to begin similarly: ’[nky.yhw’š.bn.’]/hzyhw.m[lk.y]/hdh.w’‘s.’t. hb[yt.hz] "I [am Jehoash, son of A]hazyahu, k[ing of J]/udah, and I repaired [this Tem]ple." However, this restoration fails to complete the allowable space in line 2. The length of the line allows as many as 12-13 letters, while the proposed restoration requires only nine letters. Surely this betrays an author who was careless about space requirements. [18]

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

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

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

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

D. Miscellaneous Considerations

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

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

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

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


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 r‘w ("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 r‘hw 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 or final w as the third person singular pronominal suffix. The w occurs regularly when it receives the accent or stress, while final 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 Eph‘al 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"), ’ to ’š ("man"), hqdšym to hqdšm ("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 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, w’‘s.’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 nhšt.’dm 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 nml’’š 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 ha‘edut ("the tablets of the Testimony") in Exodus 31:18; 32:15; 34:29 with luhot habberit in Deuteronomy 9:9 and 11. [b] ’aron ha‘edut ("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 Freedman’s title, "Don’t 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.


[1] Among Israeli scholars, it is referred to as the "bedeq bayit" (Temple Repair) inscription.

[2] Note the citations of Frank Cross, Shmuel Ahituv, Joseph Naveh, Victor Horowitz, and Edward Greenstein in the notes below.

[3] Including D. N. Freedman, Chaim Cohen, André Lemaire, and Ronny Reich, cited in the notes below.

[4] Argued most recently by Nadav Neeman, He‘Avar ha-Mekhonen ’et ha-Hoveh [The Past that Shapes the Present] (Jerusalem, 2002). Neeman in fact argued that the narrative now found in the biblical Book of Kings had relied upon two royal inscriptions, one authored by King Ahaz and one written by King Jehoash.

[5] See the various essays on "Minimalism" by Dever, Thompson, Davies, Lemche, Isbell, and others.

[6] F. M. Cross, "Notes on the Forged Plaque Recording Repairs to the Temple," Israel Exploration Journal 53 (2003), 121.

[7] Cross, "Notes," 121.

[8] Cross, "Notes," 120; Shmuel Ahituv, "Opinion Concerning the Authenticity of the ‘Jehoash Inscription’ and the Ossuary of ‘Ya’aqov son of Yosef brother of Yeshua’," in the Israel Antiquities Authority, Summary Report of the Examining Committees for the James Ossuary and Yehoash Inscription, Appendix 6a, 2-3.

[9] Cross, Notes, 120.

[10] Cf. also Tell el Qasile 2:1 or the comparable phrase "silver of Tarshish" (Moussaieff Ostracon 1:3-4).

[11] Israel Eph’al, "The ‘Jehoash Inscription’: A Forgery," IEJ 53 (2003), 126; Victor Hurowitz, "The Jehoash Inscription,"

[12] See especially Hurowitz, "Jehoash Inscription." It should be noted, however, that modern speakers of Hebrew would seldom use the biblical VAV-conversive form שעאו, but would almost universally choose the Perfect verbal form יתישע.

[13] See 2 Kings 12:6, 7, 8, 9, 13; 22:5; Ezek 27:9, 27.

[14] See Hurowitz, "Jehoash Inscription"; Ahituv, "Opinion, 5; and Edward L. Greenstein, "The Linguist: Hebrew Philology Spells Fake," BAR 29/3 (2003), 30.

[15] Ahituv, "Opinion," 5-6; Greenstein, "The Linguist," 29.

[16] See especially Hurowitz, "Jehoash Inscription"; and Greenstein, "The Linguist," 30.

[17] Hurowitz, "Jehoash Inscription"; and Greenstein, "The Linguist," 30.

[18] Cross, "Notes," 120.

[19] See especially Hurowitz, "Jehoash Inscription."

[20] Hurowitz, "Jehoash Inscription."

[21] Hurowitz, "Jehoash Inscription."

[22] Hurowitz, "Jehoash Inscription;" Ahituv, "Opinion," 6.

[23] Note the perfect force of w’‘s ("I made, repaired") in lines 3 and 10.

[24] Eph’al, "Jehoash Inscription," 126-27; Hurowitz, "Jehoash Inscription."

[25] Eph’al, "Jehoash Inscription," 126-27; Hurowitz, "Jehoash Inscription."

[26] H.G. M. Williamson, 1 and 2 Chronicles (NCBC: Grand Rapids/London: Eerdmans/ Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1982) 319.

[27] D. N. Freedman, "Don’t Rush to Judgment: Jehoash Inscription May Be Authentic," BAR 30/2 (2004) 48-51. Commenting on the form r’w, Randall Garr speaks of the w as an "alternate spelling for the third person masc. sing. suffix h" (Dialect Geography of Syria-Palestine, 1000-586 B.C.E. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985, 57; see also 103).

[28] See S. Godel, A Grammar of Epigraphic Hebrew (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1998), 64.

[29] For example, ’rwr in Silwan 2:2 and hwrs in Herr 90.

[30] Godel, Grammar, 74.

[31] Eph’al, "Jehoash Inscription," 124-25.

[32] See the paraphrase of Cohen’s argument, exchanged orally and via the internet, by Hurowitz, "Jehoash Inscription."

[33] Cross, "Notes," 121.

[34] "Jehoash Inscription."

[35] Freedman, "Don’t Rush to Judgment," 48-51.

[36] Ronnie Reich, "An Alternative Reading," BAR 30/4 (2004) 47-48.

[37] See 1 Chronicles 22:11; 2 Chronicles 31:21; 32:30; Daniel 8:12, 24; Jeremiah 22:20; 1 Kings 22:12, 15; Psalm 45:5.

[38] NRSV translates "way" here (Hebrew ךרד) as "mission."

[39] Cross, Notes, 120.

[40] Note also miškan ha‘edut ("the tabernacle of the Testimony") in Exodus 38:21; Numbers 1:50; 10:11 compared with ’ohel ha‘edut ("tent of the Testimony") in Numbers 9:15; 17:22-23; and 18:2.

[41] See e.g., Psalms 78:5; 81:6; 122:4; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 17:15; 22:3; Nehemiah 9:34; 1 Chronicles 29:19 and 2 Chronicles 34:31.

[42] See Elisha Qimron, ‘lwl and blwl," Leshonenu 38 (1974) 225-227.

[43] Cross, "Notes," 121.

[44] Cross, "Notes," 121.

[45] Published as GSI Current Research (Vol. 13, pp. 109-116).

[46] See the citations of those who make such claims by Hershel Shanks, "Create a Fake and Win $10,000," BAR 29/3 (2003) 6, 8, 68.

[47] Cited by Nadav Shragai in "There is Nothing Like It," Ha-’Aretz, January 19, 2003.

[48] Who have promised to appoint two different committees of experts to study the inscription, one composed of biblical and linguistic specialists and a second composed of geological scientists.

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