He was no King David. But biblical King Joash has suddenly been thrust into the international limelight.
Joash, who ruled the Kingdom of Judah for about 40 years (835-793 BCE), is linked to a fascinating debate over the authenticity of a 2,800-year-old stone tablet that bears his name.
The black sandstone tablet would be the most spectacular (and virtually only) archaeological find linked to the First Temple: coming at a time when some Arab Muslim leaders claim the two Jerusalem Temples never existed on the Temple Mount.
The tablet features a 15-line inscription describing Joash’s orders for repairing the First Temple built by his ancestor King Solomon. The inscription is very similar to instructions contained in the Second Book of Kings.
Scientists from the Israel government’s Geological Survey of Israel triggered excitement last week when they announced the tablet was most likely authentic. Their evidence included carbon dating of soot particles on the stone to 300 BCE.
But this week a growing number of Israeli experts declared the tablet a fake.
"It is not just that I have serious doubts about its authenticity, but I believe it is a fake," Hebrew University archeology professor Joseph Naveh told The Jerusalem Post.
Naveh, a noted epigrapher, cited the discrepancy between some letters of the inscription, which are in the shape of ninth-century BCE Hebrew, and others, which are typical of seventh-century BCE Aramaic and Phoenician.
In addition, Tel Aviv language expert Professor Ed Greenstein said the tablet’s word usage is suspect.
"This is a really phenomenal thing," observes Professor Lawrence Schiffman, chairman of New York University’s Judaic studies department. "The scientists are up against the judgment of the scholars."
Schiffman believes "it is more than likely that it is not real" and that the artifact is the handiwork of "tremendously skilled forgers."
Nevertheless he said, "We are going to have to have further scientific study."
The owner of the tablet is unknown. If proven authentic, the stone could be worth millions of dollars.
According to news reports, the tablet was discovered by Palestinians outside the eastern wall of the Temple Mount compound, near a Muslim cemetery.
In the last two years, Jerusalem Muslim leaders have excavated under the Temple Mount: apparently in violation of Israeli law. They have allegedly found, and then secretly dumped, invaluable Jewish relics that could date to the First and Second Temple. Although Israeli archaeologists have publicly complained about the monumental historical loss, successive Israeli governments have failed to take action.
As for Joash, he launched a period of religious renewal in Judah, eliminating rampant idol worship and elevating the Temple’s influence in national life: including his uncle, the High Priest Jehoiada.
Later, Joash was defeated by the Philistines, Edomites and Syrians, giving up land, power and Temple treasures.
Ultimately, he was murdered by his own officials in a court conspiracy.