After the railroad workers first uncovered the tablet back in 1913, it was used as flooring in a privately owned courtyard, where foot traffic rubbed out portions of the writing. A man named Y. Kaplan, who acquired the slab in 1943, submitted it to scholars for study, and introduced it to the wider world in an article he co-wrote in 1947 with Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, an archaeologist specializing in ancient texts who would go on to become president of Israel (1952-63).
In the 1990s, antiquities dealer Robert Deutsch bought the stone slab, which was designated a “National Treasure” of Israel. Despite that distinction, in 2005 the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) approved its export to the United States, where it was entrusted to the care of Rabbi Saul Deutsch, of the Living Torah Museum.
At the upcoming auction, the tablet will be included among a number of other historically valuable objects from biblical times, including a nine-spouted ceramic oil lamp dating to the first century A.D. Some experts believe the lamp is the earliest known Hanukkah menorah.
The opening bid for the 10 Commandments tablet is $250,000, though experts think it will go for much more. Because of its “National Treasure” status, the buyer of the tablet must agree to display it in public, as a condition of ownership. As Michaels put it, “We seek either an institutional buyer or a private one who will agree to exhibit the 10 Commandments Stone so that all can see, enjoy and learn from it.” Proceeds from the auction will go to expand and upgrade the Living Torah Museum’s facilities in Brooklyn, New York, including the construction of a full-scale replica of the original Tabernacle in Solomon’s temple.