BAR 29:03, May/Jun 2003
The Three Shekels and Widows Plea Ostraca: Real or Fake?
One of the most astounding inscriptions to surface in recent years records a donation of three shekels to the Temple of the Lord (Beyt Yhwh) in Jerusalem. It is written on a broken piece of pottery (called an ostracon) and dates somewhere between the ninth and seventh centuries B.C.E. Another ostracon, apparently from the same hoard (the handwriting is the same), is a widows petition for part of her deceased husbands estateto which, however, she was not entitled under Biblical law.
Both ostraca surfaced on the antiquities market and are in the private collection of Shlomo Moussaieff of London. Because they are unprovenanced, the question of their authenticity was raised at the outset. The three scholars who originally published the ostraca in a scholarly French journal are convinced that they are genuine.1 In connection with a 1997 BAR article on the two ostraca,a we consulted three more internationally famous paleographers, and they, too, pronounced them authentic.2 As reported in that BAR article, the authenticity of the ostraca was also supported by laboratory tests on the pottery and the ink used for the inscription and on the white patina that had formed on them. (Patina is a microscopic film that builds up on ancient objects.)