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Micromorphologic Examination of the 'Gabriel Revelation' Stone

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VOLUME 58 • NUMBER 2 • 2008
129 In Memoriam: Professor Avraham Biran, 1909–2008
132 ISRAEL ROLL and OREN TAL, A Villa of the Early Roman Period at
150 AVRAHAM FAUST and SHLOMO BUNIMOVITZ, The Judahite Rock-Cut Tomb:
Family Response at a Time of Change
171 BOAZ ZISSU, The Hellenistic Fortress at ¡orvat Tura and the Identification
of Tur Shimon
Palestinian Weight Mentioning the Emperor Claudius
and KURT RAVEH, Napoleon Bonaparte’s Adventure in Tantura Lagoon:
Historical and Archaeological Evidence
220 YUVAL GOREN, Micromorphologic Examination of the ‘Gabriel Revelation’
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Typesetting by Marzel A.S. — Jerusalem
Printed by Old City Press, Jerusalem
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Micromorphologic Examination
of the ‘Gabriel Revelation’ Stone
Tel Aviv University
ALIMESTONE stele bearing a Hebrew inscription in black pigment has been
subjected to laboratory examination. The stele originated in the antiquities market
and its provenance is unknown.1It bears a text of an apocalypse transmitted by the
angel Gabriel; hence the stele was nicknamed ‘the Vision of Gabriel’(Yardeni and
Elizur 2007; Yardeni 2008). Based on its linguistic features, they date the text,
written in Hebrew on stone, to the late first century BCE. This suggestion is
corroborated by the palaeographic evidence, which points to the late first century
BCE or the early first century CE. The present study had a dual purpose: to
attempt to address the question of authenticity of the inscription, and to investi-
gate the possible provenance of the stele through microarchaeological
examination of the rock and the sediment attached, which is presumably derived
from its location of discovery.
The examinations focused on the stone, the outer crust (namely, the patina cover-
ing the stone), and the soil attached to it, with special emphasis on the inscribed
surface. The principal hypothesis was that if the patina covering the script was
created under natural conditions, reflecting natural processes of sequential coat-
ing of the stone over a prolonged period of time, the authenticity of the stele and
the inscription on it might be verified.
The provenance determination that followed was made on the basis of the
micromorphology of the earth still attached in places to the stone, especially on
IEJ 58 (2008): 220–229 220
1The stele is at present in the collection of Dr. David Jeselsohn in Zurich. The study
was conducted under the initiative of Ms. Michal Dayagi-Mendels, Chief Curator of
Archaeology at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem (IMJ), following a recommendation
by Prof. Israel Knohl of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, by agreement of the
Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and after the owner agreed to exhibit the inscrip-
tion at the IMJ. The author would like to thank Dr. Jeselsohn for his collaboration and
the two above institutions for their cooperation. The first examination and sampling
for further analyses was carried out by the author in July 2007 in Zurich. Further analyses
of the samples were carried out in the Laboratory for Comparative Microarchaeology of
the Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University.
the back and sides, where its accumulation was greater due to the lack of signifi-
cant cleaning. The examination of these aspects partly followed the methodology
adopted in previous cases (Goren 2007). According to this method, both in situ
and powdered samples of the outer crusts were analysed by a series of structural
and microscopic methods, starting with low-powered reflected light microscopy
through to the transmitted light petrographic microscopy. Since the pigment of the
inscription is thought to be organic (carbon), no further analyses (under the
Scanning Electron Microscope; SEM) were performed. The analyses consisted of
the following stages:
A. Surface examination of the inscribed area as well as the sides of the stele
under the stereomicroscope and the extraction of samples for further analyses.
This was done in order to locate use and wear signs, pigments, rock-coatings
and other secondary materials, and isolated sediments that were attached to
the stele from the environment where it was presumably deposited.
B. The following six samples were removed from different points for further
Sample JA-1-1. — A chip, about 1×0.5 mm., was taken from the break at the
lower third (from bottom) of the stone with the aid of a delicate chisel and
a jeweller’s hammer. The chip was used for petrographic definition of the
rock. This sample was also used in order to decipher the type of patination
that should be looked for on the stone surface.
Sample JA-1-2. — A disaggregated sample of the attached soil was taken with
the aid of a scalpel from the crevices on the sides and back of the stone
(fig. 1). The combined sample that was collected from several points
within this area made altogether about two cubic cm.
Sample JA-1-3. — The inscribed surface was examined in detail under the
stereomicroscope. In order to facilitate the task, a broken fragment (the
long triangular fragment that was broken between the two large parts of
the stele) was chosen as a representative example and studied in detail
under the stereomicroscope. The inscribed area was photographed under
various magnifications. No clear patination has been observed on the
surface, but what seem to be the remains of plaster on the back, referred to
also by Yardeni (2008), was seen and taken as sample JA-1-3 (fig. 2).
Sample JA-1-4. — A sample taken from the break area on the lower block,
including the surface and part of the inner rock, in order to examine it in
cross-sectioned thin section (fig. 3).
Samples JA-1-5 and JA-1-6. — Samples of a spot of greyish material appar-
ently coating the inscription (sample JA-1-5) and a dark material coating
the edges of the break on the lower block and forming a triangle-like spot
below it on the left-hand edge (fig. 4, sample JA-1-6) were scraped off.
Fig. 1. Soil attached to a crevice on the stele side
Fig. 2. The plaster-like material under the microscope
Fig. 3. The break area on the lower third of the stone
Fig. 4. Incrustation covering(?) part of the inscription
C. Samples JA-1-1 and JA-1-4 were mounted on small trays, with their freshly-
broken cross-sections facing up, and examined under a stereomicroscope at
×10 to ×100 magnifications.
D. Following stage C, halves of samples JA-1-1 and JA-1-4 were thin-sectioned
in perpendicular orientation to the surface (namely in cross-section), in order
to examine the micro-stratigraphy of the rock coating. For this purpose, each
sample was briefly glued by a tiny drop of superglue to the base of a small
polyvinyl cup with its cross-section parallel to the bottom. Then the samples
were gradually impregnated with Buhler Epo-Thin low-viscosity epoxy resin
within a dessicator of which the air was slowly pumped out to form vacuum
conditions, and then slowly released (for more details, see Courty, Goldberg
and Macphail 1989: 57–59).
E. Samples JA-1-1 and JA-1-6 were used for the preparation of standard
petrographic thin sections and examined under the petrographic microscope
in order to identify the petrologic properties of the base rock.
F. The soil sample JA-1-2 and the alleged plaster sample JA-1-3 were placed in
polyvinyl molds and impregnated by epoxy using the above-described
method. The resulting thin sections were studied under the petrographic
microscope in order to reveal the possible provenance and setting of the sedi-
ment where the stone was presumably deposited till its discovery in modern
The petrographic examination reveals that the rock is micritic limestone.2Surface
examination of the stone under the stereomicroscope revealed that in places, it
was coated by a thin crust of material with a darker and browner shade than that of
the freshly broken stone. Under the stereomicroscope, it was difficult to distin-
guish whether this film was coating the pigmentation of the inscription, although
in several locations this seemed to be the case. Sample JA-1-5, which was
extracted from such a location along the broken facet of the stone, was examined
2The stone is identified as micritic limestone, with high contents of iron minerals
appearing as dispersed opaque particles of about 20–30 µm., reaching up to 50 µm.
and forming about 7% of the matrix. Few foraminifera appear. The stone contains
local stylolites, namely irregular surfaces that commonly appear as jagged lines on
exposed surfaces of carbonate sedimentary rock types. Their origin is usually attrib-
uted to solution that occurs after the host rock was formed. These can be seen also at
the macro level (fig. 5).
as block in cross-section. A powdered extract of such coating was also examined
(as sample JA-1-6).3
The plaster-like material (sample JA-1-3) is seen under high microscopic
magnification (×400) as an accumulation of calcitic crystals with extremely high
contents of nannofossils (namely coccoliths,4fig. 6). This matter is different than
the base rock of the stele and indicates another material that was attached to it,
either by natural processes or by human activity. The composition of this matter,
with its high microfossil contents, indicates that it has not undergone any process
of decarbonisation of the calcium carbonate into lime, but rather, that naturally
formed chalk, perhaps powdered, was attached to the rock surface. Therefore, this
is not slaked lime plaster but powdered chalk, which was often used in antiquity as
3In both cases the coating is seen as an accumulation of calcite. In cross section (sample
JA-1-5), it is seen as microlaminated caliche locally coating the bedrock surface at
thickness of merely 50 µm. The powdered extract, containing the same material which
was scraped from an area of about 1, included pure calcite crystals about
100–250 µm. with no other materials.
4Coccoliths are calcareous nannofossils, few microns in size, made of individual plates
of calcium carbonate formed by single-celled algae, which are arranged around them
in a radial array.
Fig. 5. Stylolite on the rock under the stereomicroscope
a substitute to burnt lime for plastering architectural surfaces. It is not possible to
judge whether this is a natural accumulation of sediment from a nearby soft chalk,
or an artificial cementation of powdered chalk that was used for plastering a
nearby surface.
When examined in thin sections under the petrographic microscope, the soil
attached in places to the stone appears as calcareous, silty loam containing quartz
with an assembly of secondary minerals at the silt fraction, and calcite, dolomite,
chalk, limestone, chert (flint) and pyroxene (fig. 7). In addition, fossilised with
some phosphorous concentrations appear, as well as an aggregate of gypsum
‘fish’ crystals (fig. 8).5
5The soil is calcareous, silty loam with about 5% silt. The silt is mostly made of quartz,
with secondary grains of other minerals at the same fraction including plagioclase,
hornblende, zircon, iddingsite, muscovite, and epidote. The soil also contains abun-
dant (~5%) calcite cleavage particles ranging between 40 µm. and 700 µm. in size,
and fewer dolomite crystals of 50 µm. to 250 µm. in size. Within the matrix, rounded
argillaceous rock fragments (ARFs) appear as finely crystalline, microlaminated,
birefringent bodies with clear optical orientation, indicating nearly pure clay content
with preferred orientation of the clay crystals. Opaque silty grains are abundant in the
matrix, indicating iron minerals, together with iron stains of parts of the clay matrix.
Fig. 6. Coccoliths (some marked by arrows) in the plaster-like material (×400)
The study of the ‘Gabriel Revelation’ stele by microarchaeological means reveals
that the inscription was written on a slab of limestone containing iron minerals
and stylolites. Although it also contains some badly preserved foraminifera, its
geological age could not be determined. Since limestone beds are widespread
throughout the southern Levant, the origin of the rock could not be determined on
the basis of its composition.
The surface of the rock is coated by a very thin veneer of caliche that could be
seen under the microscope in the surface cross section. It could not be established,
however, whether this film is deposited over or underneath the pigment of the
inscription. Several spots of calcitic incrustation, admittedly very limited in size
The coarse fraction, making ~20% of the material, includes badly-sorted grains of
foraminiferous chalk (up to 2.2 mm.), micritic limestone (up to 2 mm.), chert (up to
0.5 mm.) and pyroxene (augite, up to 200 µm., see fig. 7). In addition, fossilised
fish(?) bones are seen together with some phosphorous concentrations (ovalites).
Within the examined soil sample, an aggregate of gypsum ‘fish’ crystals, of 1.2 mm.,
appears (fig. 8).
Fig. 7. Pyroxene — augite crystal (marked by arrow) in the soil
and distribution, which were conceivably built up over the inscription (fig. 5),
were found to be made of pure calcite crystals with no visible traces of unnatural
materials. The calcite was strongly attached to the rock and hence it is logical to
assume that it developed over it through a natural process of crystallisation.
Therefore, as far as the methods used in this study can tell us, there was no
indication of modern treatment of the surface of the stone. Yet it must be
emphasised that by no means does this statement indicate that the entire inscrip-
tion or parts of it were created in antiquity beyond any trace of doubt. Optical
microscopy and petrography are powerful tools in any attempt to verify the
authenticity of unprovenanced artefacts, yet they are not the only means that can
be used in such investigations, and further analyses, preferably dating of the
pigment of the inscription, are necessary.
The soil attached to the stone might hint at its probable place of origin.
Generally, the micromorphology of the soil indicates that it is calcareous silty
loam that most likely developed over chalk. The presence of chert is not uncom-
mon in the Senonian or Eocene chalk units of the southern Levant. Moreover, the
phosphorous ‘ovalites’ and the fossilised fish(?) bones are typical of the
Santonian-Campanian phosphorite units overlying the chalk and chert formations
in the southern Levant. Yet other components within the soil may direct us into
Fig. 8. Gypsum ‘fish’ in the soil
more specific regions. The formation of gypsum ‘fish’crystals within soils is typi-
cal of arid zones. Hence, the presence of a well-developed aggregate of such
crystals within the small soil sample clearly points at an arid zone. Moreover, the
assemblage of ‘heavy minerals’ in the soil is also indicative. While quartz, zircon,
plagioclase, hornblende and epidote are rather widespread in the wind-blown silt
that collects in many southern Levantine soils, the presence of iddingsite (an alter-
ation product of olivine) and pyroxene (augite) is quite unusual. Especially
notable is the presence of the last mineral in the sand fraction as well. Since augite
is easily weathered by chemical and physical processes, its presence in the course
fraction, together with finer grains of iddingsite and plagioclase, suggests the
presence of olivine basalt flows at a relatively small range.
If present-day Israel and Jordan are considered the possible origin of the
inscription, the combination of an arid climatic zone, chalk, chert and phosphorite
formations, some dolomite, and nearby olivine basalt exposures best suits certain
areas east of the Dead Sea, particularly east of the Lisan area. In this area,
Coniacian to Campanian chalk, marl, chert, and dolomite of the Wadi Umm
Ghudran Formation, and phosphorites of the Amman Silicified Limestone and the
Al Hisa phosphorite formations, co-exist in close proximity and below
Neogene–Pliocene olivine basalt exposures (Sneh, Bartov and Rosensaft 1998).
This combination is specific enough to suggest with some probability that this
area was indeed the source of the soil that is attached to the stele. If so, while the
geological origin of the stone cannot be determined, the soil attached to it may
suggest that it was brought from the area east of the Lisan peninsula, east of the
Dead Sea.
Courty, M.A., Goldberg, P. and Macphail, R.
1989 Soils and Micromorphology in Archaeology, Cambridge, U.K.
Goren, Y.
2007 Scientific Examination of a Seleucid Limestone Stele, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie
und Epigraphik 159: 206–216
Sneh, A., Bartov, Y. and Rosensaft, M.
1998 Geological Map of Israel 1:200,000 Sheet 2, Jerusalem
Yardeni, A.
2008 A New Dead Sea Scroll in Stone? Bible-like Prophecy Was Mounted in a Wall 2,000
Years Ago, Biblical Archeology Review 34/1: 60–61
Yardeni, A. and Elizur, B.
2007 A Prophetic Text on Stone of the First Century BC, Cathedra 123: 155–166
The Hazon Gabriel, a Hebrew text written on stone that most likely pre-dates Jesus' death, initially caused a great deal of controversy due to a possible reference to the resurrection of a Davidic figure after three days. Since the interpretation of that line has largely been rejected, the field is left open for other interpretations of the brief and fragmented text. This paper focuses on the many links to David and the covenantal scene in 2 Samuel 7 in Hazon Gabriel, arguing that both aspects of that covenant-the promise of an enduring Davidic line and the asserted right of God to have a temple built only on God's initiative-present the proper literary backdrop for Hazon Gabriel. Meanwhile, the rebuilding of the second temple on the initiative of the non-Davidic king Herod, a project mat required the demolition of the existing temple, is presented as the historical backdrop to the apocalyptic text.
Since its first edition in 2007, the so-called Apocalypse of Gabriel inscription has never ceased to raise the interest of scholars and media. Beyond any sensationalism and arbitrary interpretation, it might indeed give fresh insights on the complexity of the religious practice, ideology and literary production of Jewish groups at the turn of the Common Era. However, its authenticity is still to be definitely proved. This uncertainty prevents one from drawing solid and deep-ranging conclusions. An Italian translation of the text is presented.
A New Dead Sea Scroll in Stone? Bible-like Prophecy Was Mounted
  • A Sneh
  • Y Bartov
  • M Rosensaft
Sneh, A., Bartov, Y. and Rosensaft, M. 1998 Geological Map of Israel 1:200,000 Sheet 2, Jerusalem Yardeni, A. 2008 A New Dead Sea Scroll in Stone? Bible-like Prophecy Was Mounted in a Wall 2,000 Years Ago, Biblical Archeology Review 34/1: 60–61
A Prophetic Text on Stone of the First Century BC
  • A Yardeni
  • B Elizur
Yardeni, A. and Elizur, B. 2007 A Prophetic Text on Stone of the First Century BC, Cathedra 123: 155-166 (Hebrew)
  • M A Courty
  • P Goldberg
  • R Macphail
Courty, M.A., Goldberg, P. and Macphail, R. 1989 Soils and Micromorphology in Archaeology, Cambridge, U.K.
A New Dead Sea Scroll in Stone? Bible-like Prophecy Was Mounted in a Wall 2,000 Years Ago
  • A Yardeni
Yardeni, A. 2008 A New Dead Sea Scroll in Stone? Bible-like Prophecy Was Mounted in a Wall 2,000 Years Ago, Biblical Archeology Review 34/1: 60-61