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A LIKELY SOURCE FOR THE DESIGN OF THE NEWARK DECALOUGE STONE

The Newark Holy Stones are a series of archaeological forgeries created during the mid-to-late 19th century. The research that I and my colleague Jeff Gill have conducted on these remarkable artifacts is based on the insight of early Hudson, Ohio, archaeologist Matthew Canfield Read, that such forgeries “will always in some way represent the ideas of the time of the forgery.”

The first of the Holy Stones, the Keystone, came to light in June of 1860. The second and by far the more compelling of the Holy Stones was discovered in November of that same year. It is referred to as the Decalogue Stone, because the Ten Commandments are inscribed across its many complicated faces.

Decalogue Stone courtesy of the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum

Decalogue Stone courtesy of the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum

Jeff and I have described elsewhere how the social, religious, political and scientific circumstances of 1860s Ohio gave rise to these forgeries, but we had not been able to find where the forgers had gotten the idea for the unique shape of the Decalogue Stone. After years of fruitless searching, I chanced upon Martin Carver’s book Sutton Hoo: burial ground of kings? where I came across the following passage:

“…1860 was something of an annus mirabilis for the antiquary, who was rapidly being accepted as part of the new scientific vanguard. Sir Austen Henry Layard’s Nineveh and its Remains had appeared in 1854, swiftly becoming a best-seller, and Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, published in 1859, seemed to make a remote past possible everywhere.”

I hadn’t realized that Layard’s work was such a sensation during this period, so I went to the library to look through as many of his books as I could find. While paging through a copy of his Discoveries among the ruins of Nineveh and Babylon, which had been published in 1853, I came across an illustration of a large stone carving that originally had been located at the entrance to a temple in Nimroud. It looked very familiar. In fact, it duplicated, in great detail, the form of the Decalogue Stone.

Compare the images for yourself. Both have a tombstone-shaped frame with a bearded man shown in left profile and the left arm of both men is bent. Both men are wearing long gowns and have some sort of domed head-covering. Finally, there is an inscription arcing over the heads of both men.

Figure from Layard's 1853 book Discoveries among the ruins of Nineveh and Baylon

Figure from Layard’s 1853 book Discoveries among the ruins of Nineveh and Baylon

I am convinced this illustration provided the model for the Decalogue Stone. There are copies of Layard’s book in the libraries of both Kenyon College and Denison University. Kenyon is where the Rev. John W. McCarty, the local cleric who translated the Holy Stones at the time of their discovery, went to seminary and he was the rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Granville during this period.

McCarty is a key suspect behind the forgeries, since he was the only person in the community who had enough knowledge of Hebrew to come up with the ancient-looking inscription on the Decalogue Stone. As a minister, McCarty is likely to have had a keen interest in Layard’s discoveries at Nineveh and Babylon and is certain to have seen this illustration.

Brad Lepper

Comments (2)

  1. AND . . . McCarty worked as the librarian, kind of a work-study position, while he was in seminary. Which meant plenty of time & opportunity to review the new acquisitions. From Layard and whomever.

  2. Dale Gnidovec

    Nice work, Brad! I think you nailed it – the timing is especially convincing.

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