Earliest 10 Commandments Tablet Slated For Heritage Auctions

BEVERLY HILLS - The world’s earliest-known stone inscription of the 10 Commandments  - one of the most important documents in history, and a “national treasure” of Israel  - will be offered Nov. 16, 2016 by Heritage Auctions in the Properties of the Living Torah Museum Auction in Beverly Hills, California. The tablet is the centerpiece of an offering of Bible-related historical artifacts, all thoroughly researched and authenticated, owned by the Living Torah Museum in Brooklyn, New York. The tablet has an opening bid of $250,000.

“There is nothing more fundamental to our shared heritage than the 10 Commandments,” said David Michaels, Director of Antiquities for Heritage Auctions, “and Heritage Auctions is honored and privileged to be entrusted with the sale of this remarkable piece of Biblical history. We thank the Living Torah Museum and its creator, Rabbi Saul Deutsch, for this opportunity.”

The two-foot-square marble slab, inscribed in an early Hebrew script called Samaritan, likely adorned the entrance of a synagogue destroyed by the Romans between AD 400 and 600, or by the Crusaders in the 11th century, Michaels said.

The slab of white marble, weighing about 200 pounds, is chiseled with 20 lines of letters in Samaritan script, derived jointly from Hebrew and Aramaic. After an introductory dedication and invocation, it lists nine of the 10 commonly known Biblical Commandments from the Book of Exodus, omitting “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” (King James translation), and adding one commonly employed by the Samaritan sect exhorting worshippers to “raise up a temple” on Mount Gerizim, the holy mountain of the Samaritans, located near the West Bank city of Nablus. 

Potential bidders are required to agree to place the object on public exhibition, as per a stipulation by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), which has designated the piece a “National Treasure” of Israel.

While Dead Sea Scrolls dated to the 1st century BC contain written examples of the 10 Commandments on parchment and papyrus, the earliest stone inscriptions of the Biblical law code are found in the so-called “Samaritan Decalogues” dating to the early centuries AD, of which there are four known examples including the Living Torah example, Michaels said.  All of the other examples are fragmentary and are now in museum collections or at protected sites in the Middle East. “The Living Torah example is among the earliest of these Decalogues, and certainly the most complete,” Michaels noted. “It is also the only example that can be legally obtained for private ownership.”

Samaria, a mountainous region north of Jerusalem, was in Biblical times home to an offshoot sect of Judaism whose worshippers were often denounced by traditional Jews.  “The Samaritans are widely known to Christians through the parable of the Good Samaritan,” said Michaels. “Their sect has endured through the centuries alongside traditional Jews, Pagans, Christians, and Muslims, so the 10 Commandments Stone is uniquely important to many different faiths and cultures.” 

Based on the letter forms studied by scholars, the stone was probably carved in the late Roman or Byzantine era, circa AD 300-500, to adorn the entrance or worship space of a synagogue in or around the modern city of Yavneh, now in western Israel. The synagogue was probably destroyed when the Samaritan sect was heavily suppressed by the Romans in the mid-400s, by the Byzantines in the 500s, or by the Muslims or Crusaders up to the 12th century AD.

The rediscovery of the 10 Commandments Stone was first related in a 1947 article in a scholarly journal written jointly by a Mr. Y. Kaplan, the stone’s then-owner, and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, later President of Israel (1952-1963) and a noted archeologist specializing in ancient texts. It was first uncovered in 1913 during excavations for a railroad station near Yavneh, and was acquired by an Arab man who set it in the floor of his courtyard. Over many years, foot traffic wore down some of the letters at the center of the slab, although the forms are still discernable.

In 1943, it was acquired by Mr. Kaplan, who brought in Dr. Ben-Zvi and other scholars to study it. Noted antiquities dealer Robert Deutsch acquired the piece in the 1990s, and Rabbi Saul Deutsch obtained it for his Living Torah Museum in Brooklyn, NY in 2005. It has been the centerpiece of the Museum’s collection since then and was subsequently published in Biblical Archaeology Review magazine and other publications.

Although considered a “National Treasure” of Israel, the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) approved export of the piece the United States in 2005 on the condition that it be displayed in a public museum, a condition that still pertains, Michaels said. “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,” Michaels said.

“Property Of the Living Torah Museum” will include at least 50 other artifacts from the museum’s collection, including a nine-spouted ceramic oil lamp dated to the first century AD that is regarded by some experts as the earliest known first Hanukkah menorah, Michaels said. “Most of these objects date to Biblical times and have particular relevance to the Old and New Testaments,” he noted. “All have been researched, vetted, and carry the appropriate provenance and export paperwork. Anyone with an interest in Jewish, Christian, or Classical history will find something in this sale.”

The Living Torah Museum, 1601 41st Street in Brooklyn, NY, is a unique “hands on” facility that brings people of all faiths into direct contact with Biblical times, said Rabbi Saul Deutsch, the museum’s founder and operator.

“People of all ages, young people especially, can come to our museum and actually touch objects that might have been handled by the Prophets and the earliest Jews and Christians,” Michaels added. Proceeds from the November 16 auction will be used to expand and upgrade museum facilities, Deutsch said, including construction of a full-scale replica of the original Tabernacle in Solomon’s temple. 

Exhibitions of the 10 Commandments Stone and other artifacts will be held in Heritage’s offices in Dallas, New York, and Beverly Hills in October and November. Special viewings can be arranged by appointment. For more information on the auction, please contact David S. Michaels at dmichaels@ha.com

Heritage Auctions is the largest auction house founded in the United States and the world’s third largest, with annual sales of more than $900 million, and 950,000+ online bidder members. For more information about Heritage Auctions, and to join and receive access to a complete record of prices realized, with full-color, enlargeable photos of each lot, please visit HA.com.

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