In 2001, during a clandestine meeting leading Israeli archaeologists are shown a remarkable artefact. It’s a stone tablet, apparently from 1,000BC. The writing on its face describes repairs to the temple of King Solomon. It is the first archaeological evidence ever found of this legendary building.
The relic caused a sensation. But this was only just the start.
For authentification, the tablet was taken to the Geological Survey of Israel. Here, after a battery of tests, including radiocarbon dating, scientists officially pronounced the stone to be genuine. The tests even revealed microscopic particles of gold in the outer layer of stone. These were apparently the result of the tablet surviving the fire which, according to the bible, destroyed the temple when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem in 586BC.
The stone tablet was offered for sale to the Israel Museum, home to many of Israel’s greatest treasures. Rumours suggested the asking price was as high as $10million.
But the museum needed to know where the stone had come from. Even its owner was a mystery. To make matters more complex, the stone itself had disappeared again. The Israeli Antiquities Authority wanted answers. A nine month search for the mysterious stranger who had first appeared with the stone eventually led them to a private detective who had been hired by a well known antiquities collector, Oded Golan.
Golan insisted he too was just a front man for another collector. But the authorities were suspicious. He was known to be the owner of the James Ossuary, another extraordinary artefact which had appeared a couple of years earlier. This was a burial box with an inscription linking it to Jesus’ brother.
The authorities raided Golan’s apartment and recovered both the ossuary and the elusive stone. It was time to establish once and for all if both were genuine. So they set up a committee of linguists and scientists to examine them.
Looking at the stone, several linguists said ‘fake’. Some of the Hebrew, they claimed, was not ancient. Other experts claimed that so little is known of ancient Hebrew that it’s impossible to be sure.