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NEWARK HOLY STONE IS FEATURED ON AMERICA UNEARTHED

I have largely avoided watching the popular History Channel program America Unearthed, because I had read enough about Scott Wolter and his show to know that I probably wouldn’t enjoy it. I decided to watch the latest episode entitled “Ark of the Covenant,” however, because I heard it included information about the Newark Holy Stones, which I have been studying for years. I was morbidly curious to see what Wolter would have to say about it.

Jason Colovito, a serious student of pseudoscience, has reviewed every episode of America Unearthed, on his website, which I highly recommend to your attention. Rather than repeat his analysis of this episode, I will restrict my comments to the segment of the show that dealt with the Newark Decalogue Stone.

Holy Stones Decalogue

The Decalogue Stone. Image courtesy of the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum.

The Decalogue Stone is one of the several artifacts known collectively as the Newark Holy Stones, because they were found in the vicinity of Newark, Ohio. It is a small, roughly tombstone-shaped object carved from black limestone. It is completely covered with a Hebrew inscription comprising the Ten Commandments and there is a rendering of a turbaned individual identified as Moses. It reportedly was found beneath a small earthen mound that, in turn, had been buried beneath an enormous stone mound. The bulk of the stone had been hauled away during the 19th century revealing a number of small, earthen mounds, which promptly were dug into by various parties and one of these expeditions resulted in the apparent discovery of the Decalogue Stone.

For more details about this fascinating object and why I am sure it is a 19th century forgery, you can refer to the several publications that I and various co-authors, particularly my colleague Jeff Gill, have written on the subject. A list is appended to this post.

In “Ark of the Covenant,” Wolter and his guest expert, Huston McCulloch, appear to be unaware of this body of research for they make no mention of it whatsoever. They conclude the Decalogue Stone is an authentic relic of prehistory and that it is a key piece of evidence pointing towards North America as the repository of the fabled Ark of the Covenant.

As a quick summary, here are the arguments they offer in support of the authenticity of the Decalogue Stone:

1. Wolter asserted that the Hebrew text inscribed upon the Decalogue Stone had passed the scrutiny of the skeptics.

2. McCulloch pointed out that the small stone box in which the Decalogue Stone was found would have taken a lot of work to make and asserted that if the Decalogue Stone was a fake, the forgers wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of making such an elaborate box for it.

3. After a microscopic examination of the Decalogue Stone, Wolter concluded it was not made by modern machinery and no geological data indicated it was a hoax. He observed scratches on the back of the stone, but McCulloch asserted the scratches likely were made when the Decalogue Stone was being placed in or removed from the stone box.

4. Wolter concluded there was no reason not to accept the Decalogue Stone as genuine, but that academics have dismissed it, because it didn’t “fit the paradigm.”

All of these claims are rubbish.

1. Not only has the inscription on the Decalogue Stone not passed the scrutiny of skeptics, no less an authority than the late Frank Moore Cross, Harvard University Professor of Near Eastern Languages, declared it to be a “grotesque” forgery. Jeff Gill has demonstrated that the archaic-looking Hebrew letters on the Decalogue Stone are based on the standard Hebrew alphabet used in the 19th century. It is a 19th century artifact made to look as if it were ancient.

2. Why would anyone go to all the trouble of creating such an elaborate hoax? Jeff Gill and I have thoroughly addressed this point in our published analyses of the Holy Stones. We do not think the stones were mere pranks. They were sophisticated forgeries intended to address the most important scientific debate of the age, a debate with profound political and religious implications. Of course the perpetrators would have gone to great lengths to make them look authentic.

3. The back of the Decalogue Stone does, indeed, preserve evidence that it was made with 19th century technology. Jim Hahn, an avocational archaeologist employed by the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum to make fine, cast replicas of the Decalogue Stone, told me that at least one set of scratches on the back of the Decalogue Stone actually was a small patch of grinding marks made by a 19th century grinding wheel. Evidently, the stone carver had missed this patch when he was finishing the stone.

4. The idea that my colleagues and I are hiding the supposed truth about the Decalogue Stone, because we are part of some kind of Machiavellian conspiracy to maintain the current paradigm is the most absurd claim of all. If we had actual evidence to prove that Hebrews had traveled to ancient America, we would get our pictures on the cover of National Geographic magazine. Large grants would be lavished upon us to undertake excavations and we would get to re-write the textbooks. Why would I choose to remain an underpaid museum archaeologist when “fortune and glory” were within my grasp? I can’t speak for all my colleagues, but my commitment to the current paradigm is not strong enough to pass up such an opportunity.

As a final note, Huston McCulloch is identified in the program as an “Historian.” Actually, he is a retired professor of economics and, to my knowledge, has no training as an historian. If he were an historian, then he might have had a better appreciation of the historic context in which the Holy Stones and similar frauds emerged. Matthew Canfield Read, a 19th century archaeologist from my hometown of Hudson, Ohio, had the right of it. He wrote that such frauds “will always in some way represent the ideas of the time of the forgery.” That’s why none of the hundreds of professional archaeological excavations conducted in Ohio during the 20th and 21st centuries has ever uncovered anything remotely like the Decalogue Stone.

Brad Lepper

For further reading:

Bolnick, Deborah A., Feder, Kenneth L., Bradley T. Lepper, and Terry A. Barnhart
2011 Civilizations lost and found: fabricating history. Part Three: real messages in DNA. Skeptical Inquirer 35(5):48-51.

Feder, Kenneth L., Bradley T. Lepper, Terry A. Barnhart, and Deborah A. Bolnick
2011 Civilizations lost and found: fabricating history. Part One: an alternative reality. Skeptical Inquirer 35(5):38-45.

Lepper, Bradley T.
1992 Just how holy are the Newark “Holy Stones?” In Vanishing Heritage, edited by P. E. Hooge and B. T. Lepper, pp. 58‑64. Licking County Archaeology and Landmarks Society, Newark.

1999 Newark’s “Holy Stones”: the resurrection of a controversy. In Newark “Holy Stones”: Context for Controversy, edited by P. Malenke, pp. 15-21. Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum, Coshocton, Ohio.

Lepper, Bradley T., Kenneth L. Feder, Terry A. Barnhart, and Deborah A. Bolnick
2011 Civilizations lost and found: fabricating history. Part Two: false messages in stone. Skeptical Inquirer 35(6):48-54.

Lepper, Bradley T. and Jeff B. Gill
2000 The Newark Holy Stones. Timeline 17(3):16-25.

2008 The Newark “Holy Stones”: the social context of an enduring scientific forgery. Current Research in Ohio Archaeology 2008.

Comments (15)

  1. Just to pile on:

    1. Wolter asserted that the Hebrew text inscribed upon the Decalogue Stone had passed the scrutiny of the skeptics. // Not even close. McCulloch himself, in his own analysis of the Decalogue Stone, states that it’s a transposition from standard (read: modern) Hebrew to this anomalous alphabet. http://economics.sbs.ohio-state.edu/jhm/arch/wyrick/transcrpt.pdf

    2. McCulloch pointed out that the small stone box in which the Decalogue Stone was found would have taken a lot of work to make and asserted that if the Decalogue Stone was a fake, the forgers wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of making such an elaborate box for it. // This is simply Bob Alrutz’s plaintive point, made to Hu, to me, and to anyone who would listen: “why would you go to this much trouble just to make a hoax?” It was a good question, and it provoked both Brad and myself to dig deeper, and learn about polygenesis and monogenesis — and as it turns out, trying to prevent a continent-wide Civil War would be worth a great deal of trouble, don’t you think?

    3. After a microscopic examination of the Decalogue Stone, Wolter concluded it was not made by modern machinery and no geological data indicated it was a hoax. He observed scratches on the back of the stone, but McCulloch asserted the scratches likely were made when the Decalogue Stone was being placed in or removed from the stone box. // Brad pointed out that the machine-made scratches are so deep on this very hard stone they even show up in second-generation casts. ‘Nuff said.

    4. Wolter concluded there was no reason not to accept the Decalogue Stone as genuine, but that academics have dismissed it, because it didn’t “fit the paradigm.” // What paradigm? They don’t fit into anything, unless you accept umpteen dicey propositions about the Bat Creek Stone, at which point they become a set of precisely TWO. (Keep in mind that even Hu McCulloch has thrown the Keystone aside, although I would argue that there are multiple morphological and paleographical reasons to say that the Keystone & Decalogue stones either stand or fall together.) But the idea that the Decalogue is ignored because it’s just “an outlier” is neither credible nor supportable — it’s been reviewed by many reputable scholars, and the flaws and error patterns in the “Hebrew” transcription of the Ten Commandments simply reinforce the original observation of McCulloch: this is a transcription from “book Hebrew” into a made-up alphabet. Any argument that this scenario is itself proof of antiquity has to provide more evidence than anyone has even tried to offer. And as Brad has so delightfully explained, there’s nothing about the “current paradigm” that is so compelling or personally rewarding as to make me hide facts and possibilities that would get me on the cover of “National Geographic” or even the “National Enquirer” let alone “Tiger Beat” with my new proof of the possibility that ancient Hebrews built the Ohio ceremonial earthworks. There’s nothing about that idea that’s distasteful to me per se, it’s just that it’s not even remotely plausible, utterly unsupported by the evidence at hand, and the explanation we’ve discovered in the monogenesis/polygenesis debate of the 1850′s is not only more elegantly simple, it’s a compelling narrative of our nation’s critical moment in seeking the meaning of citizenship, humanity, and justice. Why would I trade that for ungrounded speculations about a single lost boatload of refugees who perversely left only a smattering of artifacts, and somehow never once even coughed near a Native American in their journey from the Atlantic coast to central Ohio, expiring conveniently without ever sharing their diseases, and transcribing misremembered apothegms into an anomalous alphabet just before their demise?

    C’mon. That’s not even *interesting* by comparison. And it’s not even worth pulling out Occam’s Razor to shave off.

  2. From pg. 60, ESOP vol. 21, Hu McCulloch – http://economics.sbs.ohio-state.edu/jhm/arch/wyrick/transcrpt.pdf

    The above three considerations would argue that the author of the stone was someone who was conversant in a dialect of Hebrew and wrote down the Decalogue text from memory, giving the essential sense of it, if not the exact wording. On the other hand, a few other discrepancies point instead to someone’s having slavishly copied a standard Hebrew text without understanding all the words.

  3. Dr.Lepper what do you think about the notion that the stones we made by an overzealous Mormon group passing though the area in the 19th century, to perpetuate their own agenda / mound revelation myths? No disrespect intended to modern Mormons, but that is a notion i had heard put forth before and wondered about .

    • Michael, A number of diverse groups in 19th century Ohio could have been motivated to perpetrate such a forgery — from Mormons to Freemasons. That’s one of the reasons it has been so hard to solve the mystery of whodunnit. My colleague Jeff Gill and I have settled upon the opponents of the doctrine of polygenesis — and therefore opponents of slavery — as the most likely people behind the forgery. The Holy Stones appear to be tailor-made to address the particular arguments of Josiah Nott, the foremost proponent of polygenesis and defender of the institution of slavery. Read our article in the magazine “Timeline” (see the reference in the blog post) for the fullest presentation of our arguments.

      • Randy Wright

        I’m guessing that Michael’s idea that Mormons may have fashioned the Newark Stones has its roots in another known forgery, the Los Lunas Decalogue Stone. That one also purports to be evidence of Hebrews in the New World, although it stretches the boundaries of credibility they made it all the way to New Mexico no matter where they made landfall in this hemisphere. It is a historical fact the Mormon Battalion passed through that area in 1846. A number of relatives of the Pratt Family (primarily the Browns), the “intellectual wing” of the early LDS Church, were members, and one of them could’ve forged the inscription.

        By the time of the discovery of the Newark Stones in 1860, most of the Mormons were settled in Utah Territory.

        • Randy, That didn’t stop the Mormons from climbing on the bandwagon. In October of 1866, in the Mormon newspaper the Millennial Star, Orson Pratt referred to the “Sacred Stones of Ohio” as evidence confirming the Book of Mormon.

    • Michael, That sounds more sensible than america manifest destiny and discovery doctrine theft of america. making sure to hide any evidence of a christian/hebrew people here in america. American History does have a lot to hide. You probably did not learn about the dishonesty of america in how they obtained the land. they don’t teach that in american history. No disrespect to Mormons but plenty of disrepect to native Americans.

      • “Hugh” I am old enough and well educated enough to know what really went down under the flag of Manifest Destiny. I would be stunned if Dr. Lepper does not know also i am sure he does. The real issue is in my view who built SM and how old is it, really? Much progress to answering that question has been made in the last few decades, but in my “Hummel” opinion ;) much more needs to be known/discovered. In my 30 years of reading everything i could and talking to everyone I have met from “New Agers” to “NA’s to “Academics” to “Astro-Archaeologists” to “Archeo-Aviarians” (“Hugh”). I find no absolute answer, but grains of truth in all. Personally I lean toward the view that SM is an Adena site, originally with FA culture taking the role of ‘caretaker’ afterwards. That is just my view not a manifesto. For the Shawanose to lay claim / ancestral connection to the site is a good start, as i do believe they were likely connected by blood to the ancients who built (or at least took turns caretaking) the site. However in my view Hugh ANY NA culture with Eastern Woodland Algonkian roots (the language group of most of the Eastern Woodland pre-contact NA’s) could do the same with equal validity. Today most folks lump NAs in the “New World” together as a homogeneously persecuted group. Which they of course WERE, but not as a single entity united against the barrage of Euro-migration. Tecumseh tried for example to unite all against the common enemy but failed to accomplish it that feat. If he Pontiac and others had succeeded things might be different today. I could ramble on this subject but i will stop here, and conclude with this “Hugh”. Dr. Lepper does not strike me as arrogant on the subject, simply unconvinced at this point in time, but open to changes in thinking that is on the near horizon. I respect Dr. Lepper for speaking his mind and in my opinion being more open-minded than he is given credit for by some. He is as he should be a man of the scientific method who wants concrete evidence before he dispells the prevailing academic view. Not a damned thing wrong with
        that.

  4. Andy White

    I DVR’d this program to watch it after reading your blog, Brad. What a bunch of nonsense. I’m glad you took the time to address the part of the show that involved the Decalogue Stone. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think champions of the kind of baloney that is the stock of shows like “America Unearthed” depend on people with actual expertise remaining silent so as not to ruin a good story. Thank you for taking the time to share your insights.

  5. Mr Leper,

    Your arrogance is really quite comical because from a native point of view. If the Dec stone have a hebrew connection then America is engaged in discrediting concrete proof that could stand up in a court that America is Illegally obtained and if presented properly could point to that fact. So What is manifest destiny? truth or Genocidal Bullying? You can’t have it both ways and early researchers I am sure were smart enough to know that what they were doing in taking the lands from the natives was wrong. Discovery Doctrine I repeat was absolutely wrong and Discovery Doctrine was adopted by america evidenced by the Johnson vs MacIntosh case. I realize you are an Archeologist but your history expertise really stinks. You should just go and do a little more history on Discovery Doctrine and you will find out that Discovery Doctrine is Pre Columbian law brought to america via a Papal Bull. So America would have no interest in hiring you to explore hebrew findings in america cuz you would be researching truth where america wants Natives to be savages and ignorant and (unchristian). America will never throw grants at evidence they want hidden. If the native are christian (pre columbia) Then america needs to give the land back according to Discovery doctrine. Your Grant money will continue to be spent on hiding the truth of america’s theft.

  6. I dare you to keep the post about Native Americans. On this blog. Truth needs to be hidden so i am expecting my post to be hidden.

  7. I saw it and even bought a replica of it to show my family. This world is filled with so many opinionated know it all’s that they become filled with so much darkness that they can’t see the light of truth if they looked directly at it. The Holy Stones are only a few of the items that have been found that verify an intelligent people who came here from Jerusalem about 600 B.C. and wrote in Ancient Hebrew. What is also most important is that they took with them The Plates of Laban which contained the writings of the Old Testament which verify that many precious parts were then out of the Bible during the days of Constantine and were lost to us today. The Lord knew this would happen and “for a wise purpose” he commanded that the record called The Book of Mormon be written which contains many more words of scripture and writings of the Lord Jesus Christ as He appeared to those people in “The Promised Land” of North America after He was resurrected. The prophets wrote His words and they are a second witness to the Bible that Jesus is the Christ!
    Jesus said, “Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?” 2 Nephi 29:7
    So open your hearts and your eyes and ears and listen to the Spirit of the Lord burn within you and testify of the truthfulness of these things.

  8. Angela Andrews

    This stone looks alot like a funeral stele. Look here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arameans

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