Ending a 7-year Saga

Court: Israel Must Return Biblical-era 'Jehoash's Tablet' to Owner

State had held onto controversial artifact, despite that the antiquities collector beat charges of faking it and 'James Ossuary.'

An Israeli antiquities collector on Thursday bested the state in a decade-long wrestling match, regaining possession of Jehoash's Tablet, a unique stone inscription dated to 9 BCE that corresponds to biblical account of renovations to the First Temple by Jehoash, King of Judea.

The Supreme Court restored the sandstone artifact which the state had confiscated in 2003, charging collector Oded Golan with forging it and other antiquities, and dealing in them. For him, Thursday's Supreme Court decision was the cherry on the cake of the appellate ruling in August 2013 that the state couldn't prove its contention that the tablet was faked.

Over the course of seven and a half years, the court heard testimony from 130 witnesses, including dozens of Israel’s most prominent experts in geology, chemistry, microbiology and ancient scripts.

Golan has been at the eye of archaeological storms before, and the Jehoash Tablet was not the only antiquity he had been accused of forging. In an unprecedented measure in 2004, the collector was charged with fabricating and trying to sell a number of fake antiquities, any one of which would have rocked the archaeological world had it been found in the course of an accredited excavation – including the "James Ossuary".

The state argued that both had been faked partly due to uncertain provenance. Rumor has it that the Jehoash Tablet had been found at the Temple Mount. If authentic, it is one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, a rare second source to a biblical account.

In 2012 the Jerusalem District Court acquitted Golan of dealing in forged antiquities, ruling that the state had no proof that the tablet and other antiquities were fakes.

Chiseled in ancient Hebrew and dated to the ninth century BCE, the tablet describes renovations of the First Temple – which is said to have been built by King Solomon – ordered by Jehoash. It corresponds to the account in II Kings 12:1-17, in which the king laments the state of the temple and commands that money the priests collect from the people be used to fix it up.

Another stunning artifact Golan owned was the "James Ossuary", which was presented to the world not at an academic conference but via the Discovery Channel and the journal Biblical Archaeology Review in October 2002. The limestone burial box is inscribed in Hebrew with the words "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus". The question is who inscribed them, and when. That remains unanswered.

The court didn't actually rule in 2012 whether the tablet, ossuary and various other artifacts were genuine or not, just that the state hadn't proven that they were fake and therefore, Golan couldn't be charged with dealing in fake antiquities. Despite the court's ruling, the state refused to return the tablet to Golan and petitioned to bring the lawsuit to the Supreme Court, which has now had its say. A panel of three justices today rejected the state's argument, 2-1, and ordered that the tablet be restored to Golan.

A translation of the Jehoash Tablet can be found here.

With writing by Ruth Schuster.

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