Oldest Inscription of the 10 Commandments Up for Auction

In 1913, workers were excavating for a railroad station near Yavneh, in western Israel, when they discovered the two-foot square white stone slab bearing 20 lines of text in Samaritan, an early Hebrew script. More than 100 years later, that same 200-pound slab is set to go up for auction next month. The minimum opening bid is currently $250,000, though experts think that it will likely sell for much ore. The slab, believed to have been carved between 300 and 500 A.D. to adorn an ancient synagogue, the tablet is the earliest known stone inscription of the 10 Commandments.

Discovering Remnants of the Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments are a central part of Jewish and Christian beliefs. According to the Old Testament, God revealed the commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai by carving them into two stone slabs. These instructions include words for God’s people to live by, such as worship only God, and honor thy father and thy mother.

Some Dead Sea Scrolls written in the first century A.D. on parchment or papyrus contain written versions of the 10 commandments. But the earliest known stone inscriptions of biblical law date to several centuries later. They are the so-called “Samaritan Decalogues”, which were created by the Jewish sect that in biblical times lived in Samaria, a mountainous region just north of Jerusalem.

The Samaritan Decalogues

Only four examples of the Samaritan Decalogues are known to exist. Three of them, all fragmentary, currently reside in museum collections or at protected sites in the Middle East. The fourth one will go up for auction on November 16th in Beverly Hills, California. Presented by Heritage Auctions, the tablet is the centerpiece of the Living Torah Museum Auction, a collection of some 50 Bible-related historical artifacts.

“The Living Torah example is among the earliest of these Decalogues, and certainly the most complete,” David Michaels, Director of Antiquities for Heritage Auctions, said in a statement “It is also the only example that can be legally obtained for private ownership.”

Unique Changes To The Commandments on the Tablet

The tablets are believed to have been carved between 300 and 500 AD, during the late Roman and Byzantine era. Experts think that it was used to decorate the entrance to a synagogue located near what is now the city of Yavneh. The Romans, who heavily represented the Samaritans, may have destroyed the synagogue between 400 and 600 AD. Alternatively, it may have fallen victim to Muslims or Crusaders iup to the 12th Century.

The white marble slab, which measured some two feet square, weighs in at around 200 lbs. On it are inscribed 20 lines of characters in Samaritan script, which was derived from both Hebrew and Aramaic. Nine out of the 10 Commandments commonly known from the Book of Exodus appear on the tablet, but it omits “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Instead, the text contains a Samaritan commandment about how worshippers should “raise up a temple” on Mount Gerizim, the holy mountain for the Samaritans, which was located near the West Bank of Nablus.

The Various Owners of the Slab

After the railroad workers discovered the marble slab in 1913 it was used as flooring in a privately-owned courtyard, where foot traffic rubbed out portions of the writing. A man named Y. Kaplan, acquired the slab in 1943, and submitted it to scholars for study. He introduced it to the wider world in an article that he co0wrote in 1947 with Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, an archaeologist specializing in ancient texts. He went on to become the President of Israel between 1952 and 1963.

During the 1990s, antiquities dealer Robert Deutsch bought the stone slab, whch was designated a “National Treasure” of Israel. Despite that distinction, in 2005, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) approved its export to the United States, where it was entrusted to the care of Rabbi Saul Deutsch in the Living Torah Museum.

At the upcoming auction, the tablet will be included among other historically valuable objects from biblical times. Along with the tablet, bidders can hope to purchase a nine-spouted ceramic oil lamp dating to the first century A.D. Some experts believe the lamp is the earliest known Hanukkah menorah.

The Slab Must Be Displayed In a Public Place After Purchased

The opening bid for the 10 Commandments tablet is starting off at $250,000, though experts think it will go for much more. Because it is proclaimed as a national treasure, the buyer of the tablet must agree to display it in a public location, as a condition of ownership. As Michaels put it, “We seek either an institutional buyer or a private one who will agree to exhibit the 10 Commandments Stone so that all can see, enjoy and learn from it.”

Proceeds from the auction will go to expand and upgrade the Living Torah Museum’s facilities in Brooklyn, New York, including the construction of a full-scale replica of the original Tabernacle in Solomon’s temple.