Was An Archaeological Forgery Mistakenly Portrayed As Authentic?

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Excerpt During the summer of 2007, Bob Cornuke was a keynote speaker at Promise Keepers events. In one of his presentation he announced the discovery of a stone object that had an inscription that he claimed was translated “Yahweh,” the name of the God of the Israelites. Continue reading

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According to Cornuke, the inscribed stone was found at Jebel al-Lawz in Saudi Arabia, the site he favors as Mount Sinai, and was given to the governor of Mecca. According to another source, the inscribed stone was found in Tabuk by Bedouin tribesmen and given to the governor of Mecca (Jones 2010:17, 109, 146-148). Tabuk is 130 kilometers (80 miles) to the south-east of Jebel al-Lawz. The discrepancy concerning the provenance of the object has not been resolved between these two accounts.

 

Further, a leading Semitic inscriptions scholar, Dr. Michael Macdonald of Oxford, declared, “I am almost certain that the sculpture is a fake.” He has observed that a forger copied the alleged “Yahweh” artifact inscription from the Ancient South Arabian alphabet, mistaking the wrong “h” in “Yahweh” (wrongly using h-dot) so that there is no way the letters could be read as the name “Yahweh.” Macdonald said it was typical of the “very crude carvings … appearing on the market nowadays” that “bear no relation to the types of ancient Arabian sculptures found in scientific archaeological excavations.”

 

After consulting another Semitic language expert as well as an archaeologist working for the Saudi government about this inscription, I agree with these and other experts, that Cornuke’s “Moses Stone” is a modern-day forgery made in southern Saudi Arabia or Yemen. For scholarly details, see: Yahweh Inscription Discovered at Mount Sinai!

 

Further Developments

 

After the above article was posted online, I was informed by Dr. Michael Macdonald [October 24, 2009], that he had corresponded with several associates of Mr. Cornuke about this inscription. The dates for the exchange of their correspondence are very important because they were about five months before the Promise Keepers events. Dr. Macdonald was sent pictures of this stone object with the inscription, labeled as CIMG 1942 and CIMG 1943, at the beginning of February 2007.

 

In an email to those involved on February 3, 2007, Dr. Macdonald stated that “I am rather dubious of the authenticity of this object, though I am not an expert” and questioned “if the object is genuine.” In most cases, these statements would have alerted those involved to the possibility that the object might be a forgery and to dissuade them from publically discussing it until it had been authenticated by a professional archaeologist.

 

For authentication, the object could have been sent to a professional archaeologist or epigrapher, such as Dr. Michael Macdonald at Oxford, Dr. Frank Moore Cross at Harvard University, or Dr. Raymond Tindel and Dr. Robert Biggs, the archaeologists at the University of Chicago with whom they had conversations at the end of January 2007. One or all of these scholars would have been able to examine this object first-hand in order to ascertain, before public exposure, if it was indeed authentic or a modern-day forgery. However, reputable scholars were never consulted and the object is still being promoted as the “Moses Stone.” In addition, Cornuke continues to claim that the word “YHWH” can be found on the artifact (Camp-of-the-Woods, Speculator, NY; August 8, 2012, AM Session).

 

The Involvement of Dr. Miles Jones

 

After my article was posted online, Dr. Miles Jones came forward to take responsibility for translating the name “Yahweh” on the tablet. Jones has a Ph.D. in (modern) foreign language education from the University of Texas at Austin. In Dr. Jones’ biographical information there is no mention of any background or training in Hebrew or any other Semitic languages, especially South Semitic, or Thamudic, the language of the inscribed stone. This language needs to be mastered before one can properly translate this text.

 

Dr. Jones self-published a non-peer reviewed book entitled The Writing of God. In the book Jones attempted to interact with my above-mentioned article. He tried to dismiss the possibility that this inscription was a forgery because: “In Saudi Arabia there is no antiquities market selling artifacts to tourists. There are no tourists in Saudi Arabia” (2010:147). The statement is incorrect on two counts. First, Dr. Macdonald, writing from personal experience, informs me that: “His [Jones’] statement that there are no fakes or forgeries in Saudi Arabia merely displays a complete ignorance of the situation in the Middle East, and he is very naïve if he really believes that because something is against the law in any country (even with draconian punishments) some people will not take the risk of law-breaking for profit” (personal correspondence, October 24, 2009, emphasis added).

 

Second, contrary to Jones’ statement, there are many foreign tourists visiting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia every year. The statistics from 1996 to the last recorded Hajj (2011) state that there were well over one million foreigners each year that made the pilgrimage to Mecca for the Hajj. Interestingly, the owner of the object in question was given the inscribed artifact by the Saudi prince who was the governor of Mecca (2010:147), the same city where the Hajj takes place.

 

Jones further attempts to convince the reader that Macdonald’s and Younger’s identification of the letters and translation of the word YHWH are incorrect. Yet, an understanding of the ancient language in question leads one to the conclusion that the artifact is not genuine. For example, the diacritical marks underneath the letters “wḥẖy” are in the text of the article. But the Semitic letter H with a line under it () and the Semitic letter H with a dot under it () are two different Semitic letters rather than the plain Semitic letter H, like in the word YHWH. So the letters that made up the word on the inscribed object do not spell “YHWH,” whichever direction it is read. Jones also said that “the ‘dot’ under the H is a pit in the stone” (2010:148). However, the diacritical marks underneath the letter “H” are scholarly convention for familiar modern Latin letters to represent Semitic letters and do not appear in the ancient lettering! Further, it has nothing to do with the pit in the stone.

 

Jones also attempts to dismiss the suggestion by Dr. Kahn that the object with the inscription was “recently scultured” [sic] by saying “the patina within the grooves of the engraving is the same color as the rest of the stone, a sign of its age. It is not a newly made gash in the stone” (2010:148). Yet, it is common knowledge among antiquities collectors that a modern forgery can be buried in the ground for a year or more after it is made in order to give it the appearance of age and patina.

 

Line drawing of the “Yahweh Stone.”  The obverse side (right) has the face of Moses or Yahweh with two South Semitic letters on it.  On the reverse (left) there are two more South Semitic letters.  The reverse side was rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise from the position on the video and reduced to the same size as the obverse side.

 

The Need for Scholarly Assessment

 

The issues raised point to the need for scholarly assessment to settle the questions regarding the authenticity of this object. When my critique of the inscribed stone was put up on the Internet, Dr. Miles Jones asked Dr. Bryant Wood for permission to write a rebuttal and post it on the Associates for Biblical Research (ABR) website. Dr. Wood, the director of research for ABR, advised him that what was needed was a scholarly publication of the inscription that included the provenance, proof of authenticity, translation, and proof of date (Phone conversation between Wood and Jones, October 23, 2009). Jones said he would do this. As of September 2012, almost three years later, no scholarly, peer-reviewed article has been published in a reputable scientific or scholarly journal about the stone and its inscription.

 

Further, in 2007 Mr. Cornuke promised on his website that he would write something about this inscription and post it on his website under Investigations / Inscriptions / “The Handwriting of God.” But five years later (September 2012) he is still lecturing about the purported “Moses Stone” and “YHWH” inscription as authentic, without ever securing scientific validation, and has never published anything on the inscription.

 

The Conclusion of the Matter

 

Dr. Macdonald sums it up best when he commented: “I am almost certain that the sculpture is a fake. Quite a lot of these very crude carvings are appearing on the market nowadays but they bear no relation to the types of ancient Arabian sculptures found in scientific archaeological excavations.” Because of significant doubts about the authenticity of this object by reputable scholars, the owner of the artifact should send the item out for proper evaluation by professional archaeologists and epigraphers and issue a report to the general public. Scholarly integrity demands this.

 

For links to other critiques of Cornuke’s ideas, see: How Accurate Are Bob Cornuke's Claims? (off site link)

 

Bibliography

 

Jones, Miles

 

2010 The Writing of God. Secret of the Real Mount Sinai. Dallas, TX: Johnson.

 

About the author

 

Gordon Franz is a Bible teacher who holds an MA in Biblical Studies from Columbia Biblical Seminary, SC. Since 1978, he has engaged in extensive research in Biblical archaeology and has participated in a number of excavations in and around Jerusalem, including Ketef Hinnom and Ramat Rachel; as well as the excavations at Lachish, Jezreel, Hazor, and Tel Zayit. He has taught the geography of the Bible and led field trips in Israel for the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies, the Institute of Holy Land Studies, and the IBEX program of The Master’s College. He also co-teaches the Talbot School of Theology’s Bible Lands Program. Gordon is on the staff of the Associates for Biblical Research.

Comments Comment RSS

9/26/2012 7:54 PM #

A huzzah to Gordon Franz for being so involved in debunking pseudo-archaeological nonsense!

Enopoletus Harding - 9/26/2012 7:54:48 PM

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