Jerusalem: An Inscribed Pomegranate from the Solomonic Temple a Forgery
(Updated October 11, 2005)
The Israel Museum acquired a thumb-sized ivory pomegranate, 43 mm. high, but after much investigation, the pomegranate was found to be a forgery. Its body is vase-shaped and it has a long neck with six elongated petals. The body is solid with a small, rather deep hole in the base, probably for the insertion of a rod. Around the shoulder of the pomegranate is an incised inscription in paleo-Hebrew script, part of which is missing. It was, however, possible to reconstruct the missing word based on the surviving text and biblical evidence. The inscription reads: sacred donation for the priests of the house of [Yahwe]h.
This pomegranate was thought by scholars to be the the only known relic associated with the Temple built by King Solomon on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem. According to its paleographic style, the inscription was thought to have dated to the mid-8th century BCE. The small pomegranate was believed to be a gift to the Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem the only such temple in the Kingdom of Judah. Scholars had believed the pomegranate was used as the top of a scepter carried by a temple priest.
The pomegranate fruit (rimon in Hebrew), with its abundance of juicy seeds has been regarded as a symbol of fertility for thousands of years. It is frequently mentioned in the Bible and is one of the seven species with which the Land of Israel is blessed (Deuteronomy 8:8). It was also a favorite motif of Jewish art in ancient times: the capitals of two columns in the facade of the Temple in Jerusalem were decorated with pomegranates (1 Kings 7:42) and so were the robes of the High Priest. (Exodus 28: 33-34)
In 2004, several indictments were handed down by investigators who were in the process of breaking up several antiquity forgery rings. Among those indicted was Oded Golan, who owned the ivory pomegranate and another artifact declared to be a forgery, a stone burial chest (ossuary) thought to hold the remains of James, the brother of Jesus. In 2003, Israel's Antiquities Authority said that although the ossurary itself was over 2,000 years old and authentic, its inscription, which carried the words "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," was added in modern times.
Source: Israeli Foreign Ministry, Karen Laub, "Israel Museum, Touted Artifact a Forgery," The Associated Press, (December 27, 2004)