TEL AVIV (Aug. 30)
A small ivory pomegranate verified to be the first known relic from the First Temple has gone on display at the Israel Museum.
The thumb-sized pomegranate a “rimon” clearly bears the inscription “Belonging to the Temple of the Lord, Holy to the Priests.”
The rimon, which was acquired last week by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem for $550,000, is less than two inches tall and one inch wide. Carved from a single piece of ivory, it has a flat base through which is cut a small hole.
The rimon may have topped the scepter of a high priest, according to instructions laid down in Exodus and Kings I. Rimonim were also used to adorn the high priests’ robes.
According to the Book of Exodus, “And upon the skirts of it thou shalt make pomegranates of blue and of purple and of scarlet round about; and bells of gold between them round about; a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the skirts of the robe round about.”
The rimon is the first artifact to be attributed to the First Temple built by King Solomon. Scientists who analyzed the small object have dated it to around the 8th century B.C.E.
Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.
The 2,800-year-old object is badly chipped on one side. The validating inscription is written in ancient Hebrew in completely legible script. It is believed to be the oldest known inscription with the Hebrew name of God.
The only other relic of the First Temple is said to be silver scrolls bearing the benediction of the Kohanim, the high priests. The scrolls were recently found in a burial cave overlooking Jerusalem’s Hinnom Valley, outside the Old City.
The rimon is believed to be at least 100 years older.
The ivory pomegranate’s acquisition by the Israel Museum marks the end of an international journey that began nine years ago, when the rimon was bought in Israel by an unknown party and smuggled out of the country. The buyer in turn sold the object to an anonymous party in Switzerland, who bought it for the museum.
An Israeli archaeologist examined the rimon in Switzerland and verified its authenticity.
Israeli newspapers speculated Tuesday that the rimon might have been purchased by an Israeli for a few hundred dollars from a local dealer and smuggled to Europe, where it was placed on display in France. The object’s value was estimated when the exhibition curator sought advice for insurance purposes.