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.