By Marice Richter
DALLAS (Reuters) - A 1,500-year-old stone tablet with the earliest known chiseled inscription of the Ten Commandments was sold at a U.S. auction on Wednesday for $850,000.
The two-foot (61 cm) square slab of white marble that weighs about 115 pounds (50 kg) was sold in Beverly Hills, California, by Dallas-based Heritage Auctions to a buyer who not to be immediately identified.
The tablet was put up for sale by Rabbi Shaul Deutsch, founder of the Living Torah Museum, in Brooklyn, New York, with the stipulation that the buyer must put it on public display, the auction house said.
The tablet is chiseled with 20 lines of Samaritan script with principles that are fundamental to Judaism and Christianity. The inscription lists nine of the 10 commandments in the Book of Exodus, omitting "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain" and replacing it with a rule for Samaritan worshippers, the auction house said.
It was probably chiseled during the late Roman or Byzantine era, between 300 and 500 A.D., and marked the entrance of an ancient synagogue that was likely destroyed by the Romans, according to the auction house.
The tablet was discovered in 1913 during excavation for a railroad line near the modern city of Yavneh in Western Israel. Someone, possibly a construction worker, acquired it and set it in a courtyard where it remained until 1943 when it was acquired by an archeologist, who owned it until his death in 2000.
Deutsch acquired the tablet for temporary display through an agreement with the Israel Antiquities Authority and then bought it outright after a legal settlement, Heritage officials said.
Deutsch said he wished to sell the tablet and other artifacts from his collection chronicling Jewish life and history back to antiquity to raise money for a makeover of his museum. He said he plans to transform the museum with more hands-on exhibits to attract younger visitors.
“The new owner is under obligation to display the tablet for the benefit of the public,” David Michaels, director of antiquities for Heritage Auctions, said in a statement.
Two phone bidders pushed the sale price up from an opening live bid of $300,000, Heritage officials said.
(Reporting by Marice Richter in Dallas; Editing by Nick Macfie)