Holidays, Hebrew, and the Holy Keystone

Thoughts on the Newark Holy Stones by Guest Blogger Jeff Gill This time of year, whether you realize it or not, most of us are hearing and even saying quite a few words in Hebrew. Hebrew is a foreign language to most of us, but not an incomprehensible one. One peculiarity of Hebrew that most people are familiar with is that it goes from right to left, rather than our Western norm of left to right. So a Hebrew volume opens in a fashion that many of us would see as backwards, and reads across the page opposite from what we expect. The Newark Holy Stones are two objects found in June & November of 1860 both by David Wyrick. (1) They are objects of similar size and heft which, while found in different locations spread across miles of Licking County, Ohio, both exhibit forms of Hebrew lettering carved into their surfaces. The meanings of the Hebrew words on them is less challenging to translate than explaining how such artifacts would be found buried in Native American earthworks. I’ve had the pleasure of looking into the history & archaeology behind these finds in association with Brad Lepper for many years (2), and we’ve enjoyed learning much about American history before the Civil War and scientific controversy leading through the era of Abolitionism. We’ve become convinced not simply that the Holy Stones are a hoax, but that they were a fraud with a very particular purpose that makes a great deal of sense in relation to the specific year in which they were found. To say more than that would be more than a blog post, it would have to be a book. But in general, following Sagans Law that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, the main reason on the face of these finds to label them as modern creations inserted into the older mounds is that theres simply no other evidence of a Hebrew or Roman or Western presence in all the multitudinous archaeological record associated with the Ohio mounds. Thats not the whole argument for hoaxing here, but its a major starting point. The Holy Stones have continued, in the face of this and other objections, to have their fans; in every generation since 1860, they’ve been enlisted to serve one view or another of one group or anothers agenda about the historical narrative, scientific paradigms, or various cultural perspectives. Glenn Beck has been the most recent public figure to adopt them as a prod to poke at settled opinion, and thats fine, although he got more wrong than right in even what he tried to say on TV in their defense. One such note was his observation that the scholars who had rejected Hebrew inscribed stones didn’t know that it went right to left, not left to right. Speaking as one of those with a modicum of Hebrew knowledge who have reviewed the evidence of the inscriptions, I can assure Mr. Beck that I’ve kept in mind that little detail.

Image of the Keystone showing the Hebrew inscription, which reads from right-to-left, but looks as if it has been carved from left-to-right. Photograph courtesy of Phil Wanyerka and the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum.

Its perhaps most obvious on the one side of the four facets of the Keystone which has the phrase Holy of Holies on it, or in Hebrew Qadosh Qadoshim. The somewhat square shape that is the Mem or final letter of qadoshim is neatly placed at the tip, or point of the Keystone where it tapers down. The last width of that facet where the Mem would comfortably fit: that is where the letter is carved. On the right, the top where a knob is carved out of the widest end (possibly because this object is more of a plumb-bob than a stonemasons keystone), you have the last letter of the two word phrase curving over the shoulder of the end: almost the whole Qoph is actually bending off of the face where the rest of the inscription runs. Except: Hebrew starts on the right, and goes left. So the Qoph beginning Qadosh Qadoshim should fit the neatest, flat on the face, and if theres any awkwardness, it would be to the left, where the last few letters might, if you aren’t quite precise, run together justlikethis. Indeed, each of the four inscriptions are tidy on the left, but squeezed on the right, to the point where the first letter (if youre writing in Hebrew) is actually carved across the curve. Which makes no sense. Unless youre just taking some Hebrew out of a book, and speak English as your native language, so you try to reproduce the phrase on each side starting from the left and carving one letter at a time to the right. THAT would make sense. Saying a Hebrew speaker carved starting the wrong way round, and on around to the vertical face at that, makes none. Jeff Gill * * * Footnotes 1. As with almost everything related to the Holy Stones, theres not really a simple answer to even the question how many Holy Stones are there? We have the standard references to the Keystone and Decalogue stones, but the Decalogue Stone has a stone box, which itself is two carefully crafted pieces. There is also a stone bowl found with the Decalogue Stone that is in the holdings of the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum, and two octagonal plumb bobs (location uncertain). In 1867, further digging at the Jacksontown site where the Decalogue Stone, bowl, and plumb bobs were found revealed an inscribed stone with markings similar to those on the Decalogue, and possibly the same type of stone; it is known as the Johnson-Bradner Stone for the finders, but is only known through 19th century lithographs. And in 1864 there had been two other Hebrew inscribed stones found at a farm east of Newark, which were called the Cooper Stone and the Inscribed Head, whose Hebrew was shortly revealed to be a prank on the part of one of the purported discoverers. All of which is to say: how many Holy Stones are there? Somewhere between two and ten, depending on which artifacts you count, and how. 2. Bradley T. Lepper and Jeff Gill, “The Newark Holy Stones,” Timeline, vol. 17 no. 3 (May/June 2000): 16-25.  

Posted December 15, 2013
Topics: Archaeology

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