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Ancient Ten Commandments tablet auctioned

November 17, 2016

The world's earliest-known complete stone inscription of the Ten Commandments, a 1,500-year-old stone tablet, was sold at a US auction for $850,000. It had spent over three decades as a paving stone.

marble slab with ten commandments
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Heritage Auctions, HA.com/M. Roppolo

The world's earliest-known complete stone inscription of the Ten Commandments, described as a "national treasure" of Israel, was sold at an auction in Beverly Hills for $850,000 (793,000 euros.)

Chiseled in an early Hebrew script called Samaritan, and weighing 52 kilos, the roughly 1,500-year-old, 63 by 57 centimeter white marble slab was sold on Wednesday night at a public auction of ancient Biblical archaeology artifacts.

The tablet lists nine of the 10 commonly known commandments, omitting "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain" and replacing it with a rule for Samaritan worshippers. 

It was put up for sale by Rabbi Shaul Deutsch, the founder of the Living Torah Museum in New York. It was auctioned off under one condition: it must be displayed in a public museum, the Dallas-based auctioneer Heritage Auctions said.

Archaeological treasure used as a paving stone for 30 years

The tablet was probably inscribed during the late Roman or Byzantine era between 300 and 800 AD, and marked the entrance of an ancient synagogue that was likely destroyed by the Romans, according to Heritage Auctions.

The tablet was discovered in 1913, during excavation for a railroad line near the modern city of Yavneh in Western Israel. After its discovery, it was used as a paving stone in a private courtyard for 30 years, with the inscription facing up. The foot traffic blurred several words over time, the auction house says. 

An archaeologist then owned the slab from 1943 to 2000, and the Israeli Antiquities Authorities approved export of the piece to the United States in 2005.

The auction opened with a $300,000 bid on the tablet. The winning bidder has asked not to be identified.

db/eg (Reuters, AP)