Biblical Archaeology Review 23:6, November/December 1997

Three Shekels for the Lord

Ancient inscription records gift to Solomon’s Temple

By Hershel Shanks

Two extremely important Hebrew inscriptions have recently surfaced on the antiquities market. One appears to be a receipt for a donation of three silver shekels to the Temple of Yahweh, pursuant to an order of the Israelite king. This is the oldest extra-Biblical mention of King Solomon’s Temple ever discovered. The other inscription records the petition of a widow for some portion of her late husband’s property. Both inscriptions, apparently by the same scribe, are written in Old Hebrew, or paleo-Hebrew, the script used before the Babylonian Exile. Both are on pieces of pottery, called ostraca because they bear an inscription.

Only one other extra-Biblical source mentions Solomon’s Temple, destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. But that source may be a century or more later than the ostracon at left, which some scholars have dated as early as the ninth century B.C.

A scientific report on the two inscriptions was recently published in the French journal Semitica1 by three scholars—Pierre Bordreuil of the Centre National Recherche Scientifique, Paris; Felice Israel of the University of Genoa; and Dennis Pardee of the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago. The ostraca belong to London collector Shlomo Moussaieff. No one knows where they were discovered—or at least they’re not talking.

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