Sunday, 22 May 2011

Ezekiel plates

Apparently stone plates containing the complete text of the book of Ezekiel were found about 100 years ago. There are 66 plates about 30 cm square containing the entire book of Ezekiel in paleo-Hebrew script. Though known to the archaeological world they are less prominent than other artifacts. I had not heard of them previously.

They are in the news as they are undergoing dating to establish when they were made. The current range is from 300 to 2000 years old.
The tiles’ authenticity is also open to question because the time and location of the find, as well as its chain of custody, are not as well documented as scholars now demand for wider acceptance. A number of forgeries have infiltrated the field of biblical archeology in recent decades, and thus the standards of proof are being forced upward.

In this case, the tiles were supposedly found over 100 years ago when visitors to the traditional tomb of Ezekiel in the small Iraqi town of Kfar al-Kafil, located about 50 miles south of Baghdad, noticed a stone tile had fallen off the inside of the burial chamber. Oddly, its back side contained an ancient lettering which had been deliberately hidden, facing the wall. Other tiles were removed and similar inscriptions were found on their back sides as well.

The entire set of Ezekiel plates were then taken to Lebanon, where decades later a Christian Arab widow, on the advice of her priest, wanted to place them in Jewish hands before she moved to France. She sold them for a mere two pounds sterling to businessman David Hacohen in 1947.

He smuggled the plates into Israel in 1953, and they were eventually acquired by Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Israel’s second president and a noted historian, who considered them a valuable national treasure.

After Ben-Zvi’s death, the Ezekiel plates became the property of the Institute in Jerusalem set up in his honor, which had them in storage until Zwebner convinced his wife’s parents, Max and Lombi Landau, to sponsor their public display.
I think this is most interesting, both from the perspective of more ancient Old Testament texts and for reviewing the (minor) divergence in the plate text from the Masoretic text. Though the first task is to establish the age. They may be of less linguistic value if they are only a few hundred years old.

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