Aset of 66 stone tiles known as the “Ezekiel Plates,” believed to have come from
the prophet Ezekiel’s traditional tomb along the Euphrates River in Iraq, are in
the process of being dated by modern technological methods to finally establish
whether they should be considered on a par with the Isaiah Scroll as among the
oldest existing biblical texts ever found.
Currently on display at the
Yad Ben- Zvi Institute in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem, the Ezekiel
plates have been around a while but have failed to draw visitors like the
impressive parchment containing the complete book of Isaiah, which dates to the
first century and is housed in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel
Part of the problem is that the institute is located on a small
side street in a residential area of the capital that affords very limited
access for the public. The tiles have also failed to convince many in the
archeological community that they date back to antiquity.
question may be settled soon, as two of the tiles were recently handed over to
the Israel Museum to undergo dating tests. Results are expected soon, and the
conclusions may require that the unique collection of stones be moved to a
facility in Jerusalem that can give them more prominent display.
then, the Ezekiel plates are still a marvel – both in the text they contain and
the manner in which they were apparently discovered.
First, each marble
or black basalt tile is about 12 inches square and contains raised lettering on
one side in an ancient Hebraic script, with no spaces between the words.
Examples of such raised lettering are known from the distant past, though most
ancient stone tablets had the words etched or chiseled into the
This particular bas-relief work would have been tedious and
required masterful skills. But David Zwebner, whose parents-in-law provided the
funds to publicly display the tiles at Yad Ben-Zvi, says it may come from an
easier and very precise wax-and-acid method used in ancient times which ate away
at the stone to leave only the raised letters.
In any event, taken
together the series of 66 stone plates contain the entire Book of Ezekiel, with
only a few notable variances in wording compared to today’s accepted Hebrew
text. These do not change the message of the prophet to any extent, but they may
provide hidden clues to Jewish scholars on certain mysteries surrounding the
prophet, Zwebner recently told The Christian Edition.
“The lack of
differences could also highlight the authenticity of this incredible book shared
by Jews and Christians,” he added.
The tiles’ authenticity is also open
to question because the time and location of the find, as well as its chain of
custody, are not as well documented as scholars now demand for wider acceptance.
A number of forgeries have infiltrated the field of biblical archeology in
recent decades, and thus the standards of proof are being forced
In this case, the tiles were supposedly found over 100 years ago
when visitors to the traditional tomb of Ezekiel in the small Iraqi town of Kfar
al-Kafil, located about 50 miles south of Baghdad, noticed a stone tile had
fallen off the inside of the burial chamber. Oddly, its back side contained an
ancient lettering which had been deliberately hidden, facing the wall. Other
tiles were removed and similar inscriptions were found on their back sides as
The entire set of Ezekiel plates were then taken to Lebanon, where
decades later a Christian Arab widow, on the advice of her priest, wanted to
place them in Jewish hands before she moved to France. She sold them for a mere
two pounds sterling to businessman David Hacohen in 1947.
He smuggled the
plates into Israel in 1953, and they were eventually acquired by Yitzhak
Ben-Zvi, Israel’s second president and a noted historian, who considered them a
valuable national treasure.
After Ben-Zvi’s death, the Ezekiel plates
became the property of the Institute in Jerusalem set up in his honor, which had
them in storage until Zwebner convinced his wife’s parents, Max and Lombi
Landau, to sponsor their public display.
Yet they have still lived in
relative obscurity, drawing few crowds and even less scholarly attention. That
may be about to change, however, if the tests date them back around the first
Until now, estimates of their age have varied widely. According
to the British Museum, the plates could be anywhere between 300 to 2000 years
Veteran Israeli archeologist Dan Bahat of Bar-Ilan University, while
cautioning that artifacts from Mesopotamia are outside his field of expertise,
told The Christian Edition that the script is similar to ones he has seen from
the 7th or 8th century CE.
Dr. Stephen Pfann, head of the University of
the Holy Land and a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, also suggested that studying the
style of the script – a discipline known as paleography – is probably a better
method of dating for such stone objects than carbon dating and other
Yet there is an old Talmudic tradition that Israel’s prophets and
other great sages were often buried with copies of their writings. One such
Talmudic legend held that the original book of Ezekiel was buried with the
prophet in his tomb and was left there to be revealed in the last
Whether or not that legend turns out to be true, Ezekiel remains
the most mysterious of the Hebrew prophets and his writings – with their
accounts of strange flying objects and other rare “visions of God” – are
reserved by strictly observant Jews only for the most learned.
the tomb of Ezekiel has gone from being a major pilgrimage site for Jews and
Christians to a neglected shrine, after the mass Jewish exodus from Iraq in
Amid the turmoil and conflict that followed the US-led invasion of
Iraq in 2003, Jewish leaders began voicing concerns about acts of desecration at
the site. But Iraqi authorities have recently given assurances about preserving