December 25, 1997
The discovery of an ancient artifact has given scholars reason to believe that a prominent Old Testament site, King Solomon's temple, actually existed.
MARGARET WARNER: Next tonight, an ancient artifact has come to light that scholars believe offers independent confirmation that a prominent Old Testament site, King Solomon's temple, actually existed. I spoke recently with a scholar who has examined the piece, Kyle McCarter, Jr., chairman of the Near Eastern Studies Department at Johns Hopkins University. He began by describing the artifact.
KYLE McCARTER, JR., Johns Hopkins University: (Owings Mills, Maryland) It's a piece of Iron Age pottery that's inscribed with an archaic form of Hebrew writing.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. We're going to put a slide of it up. Tell us what it says. Translate it for us, if you would.
KYLE McCARTER, JR.: It's very brief. It says, "As Ashyahu the King has commanded you, give into the hand of Zacharyahu silver of Tarsheesh for the temple of Yahweh." And then there's an indication of an amount, which seems to be three shekels.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And what do you take that to mean?
KYLE McCARTER, JR.: It seems to be some kind of command, instruction, invoice for payment of silver to the temple through the agency of this man who's called Zacharyahu. And it's royally commanded; that is, it is the instruction to the king that the silver be given.
MARGARET WARNER: And what can you tell about the era or the time that this dates from?
KYLE McCARTER, JR.: The most important indication for the date is the type of writing. And the script seems to me to date to the late 9th century BC.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, the temple of Yahweh or the house of Yahweh is--how do you know that's King Solomon's temple? I mean, what's the relationship there? What's the link there?
KYLE McCARTER, JR.: Well, there could conceivably be more than one temple of Yahweh.
MARGARET WARNER: Which means literally, what, "House of the Lord," or--
KYLE McCARTER, JR.: House of God.
MARGARET WARNER: House of God.
KYLE McCARTER, JR.: It's the biblical name of the temple. But the indications from this document are that it is a king who is the king of the Southern kingdom, Judah, who would then be reigning in Jerusalem. And so the temple of God in Jerusalem would be, in fact, the temple that Solomon had built sometime before this.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And remind us what King Solomon's temple was and its significance or its place in the whole sweep of the Old Testament story.
KYLE McCARTER, JR.: Well, the story is that Solomon built the temple after David's death as a way of establishing the worship of the God of Israel in Jerusalem. The temple was built according to the best standards of the day, with international help.
MARGARET WARNER: And it was built what, in about the 10th century.
KYLE McCARTER, JR.: Built in about the 10th century.
MARGARET WARNER: And how was it destroyed?
KYLE McCARTER, JR.: It was destroyed by the Babylonians when they--when they besieged and attacked Jerusalem in 587.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, is there in the Bible a specific reference to a king needing to repair the temple? I mean, that's what this seems to refer to, that they're commanding someone to pay some money for repair.
KYLE McCARTER, JR.: Well, there are a number of such references. The Bible often mentions the need to repair the temple, kings who did, kings who didn't. The interesting thing here is that this document fits well with the passage in II Kings 12, which describes a project that a king at that time in the late 9th century undertook to repair the temple.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you want to read us just a little bit of that?
KYLE McCARTER, JR.: Well, I'll paraphrase parts of it. In Verses 4 and 5 of that chapter it indicates that this king, whose name by the way was Jehoash, commanded that silver be collected to repair the temple. The indication was the temple was damaged and in need of repair. He instructed that this silver be collected--stipulates some particular types of silver, and then the indication in Verse 5 is that the silver was to be collected through the agency of priests.
MARGARET WARNER: And what is the significance of this discovery?
KYLE McCARTER, JR.: Well, I think that any discovery like this enhances our picture of the material role of the Bible. I mean, we have the Biblical test. We have a sense of the historical outline of the period. But whenever we have an actual artifact from the time, it enhances our understanding; it improves our knowledge of the details and the historical background. This one is especially interesting in that regard because it does mention a king by name. It does mention the temple by name. And it even specifies a type of silver, the silver of Tarsheesh, which is very interesting, it seems to be a kind of fine, imported silver. So there are a number of aspects in this very short document that are very exciting to us.
MARGARET WARNER: And, before this finding, was there other several independent or non-biblical cooperation of the king, of the temple of Solomon?
KYLE McCARTER, JR.: There are other references in pre-Exilic inscriptions. That means, again, before the Babylonian destruction in the 6th century. Other references to a temple of Yahweh--at least one other in another document similar to this but much later--this would be the earliest reference to it.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, where was this piece--this artifact found?
KYLE McCARTER, JR.: We don't know. This artifact is in a private collection. It belongs to a man named Shlomo Mussaif, who is a collector in London. This object came from the antiquities market, as so many things do. So, unfortunately, it wasn't found in a controlled archaeological excavation. So we don't know where exactly it came from. It must have been found in Jerusalem.
MARGARET WARNER: And does he know?
KYLE McCARTER, JR.: I don't think he does.
MARGARET WARNER: I see. And how do you know it's not a forgery?
KYLE McCARTER, JR.: Because it mentions a king by name, because it mentions the temple by name, and so on, we have to wonder, and for that reason, it has been subjected to a number of laboratory tests in Europe and in the United States. None of those tests has cast any doubt on its authenticity. My own opinion from the analysis of the document, itself, and its language, the writing, and a number of subtle indications in the text, it seems to me that it would be almost impossible for a forger to have the subtlety and the scholarship to have produced this document.
MARGARET WARNER: And finally, how unusual is it to find this kind of corroboration of the Bible? In other words, just that? Is it rare, or is a lot of the Bible, either Old or New Testament, independently corroborated?
KYLE McCARTER, JR.: Well, a lot of it is actually. Many parts of the Bible are historical in the fairly strict sense. And so when we have archaeologically recovered materials from the period in which the Bible was being written, or the Bible--about which the Bible is talking--we often have corroboration, so to speak. That is, we have a coordination material from the ancient record that fits with things that we see in the Bible. It is unusual to have something that is this dramatically close to a specific historical situation that's described as this one in II Kings 12 is. That's unusual.
MARGARET WARNER: I see. Well, thank you very much, Professor McCarter.
KYLE McCARTER, JR.: Thank you.