The Ohio Decalogue Stone
In November of 1860, David Wyrick of Newark, Ohio found an inscribed stone in a burial mound about 10 miles south of Newark. The stone is inscribed on all sides with a condensed version of the Ten Commandments or Decalogue, in a peculiar form of post-Exilic square Hebrew letters. The robed and bearded figure on the front is identified as Moses in letters fanning over his head.
The inscription is carved into a fine-grained black stone that only appears to be brown in the accompanying overexposed color photographs. It has been identified by geologists Ken Bork and Dave Hawkins of Denison University as limestone; a fossil crinoid stem is visible on the surface, and the stone reacts strongly to HCl. It is definitely not black alabaster or gypsum as previously reported here. According to James L. Murphy of Ohio State University, “Large white crinoid stems are common in the Upper Mercer and Boggs limestone units in Muskingum Co. and elsewhere, and these limestones are often very dark gray to black in color. You could find such rock at the Forks of the Muskingum at Zanesville, though the Upper Mercer limestones do not outcrop much further up the Licking.” We therefore need not look any farther than the next county over to find a potential source for the stone, contrary to the previous assertion here that such limestone is not common in Ohio.
The inscribed stone was found inside a sandstone box, smooth on the outside, and hollowed out within to exactly hold the stone. The Decalogue inscription begins at the non-alphabetic symbol at the top of the front, runs down the left side of the front, around every available space on the back and sides, and then back up the right side of the front to end where it begins, as though it were to be read repetitively.
David Deal and James Trimm note that the Decalogue stone fits well into the hand, and that the lettering is somewhat worn precisely where the stone would be in contact with the last three fingers and the palm if held in the left hand. Furthermore, the otherwise puzzling handle at the bottom could be used to secure the stone to the left arm with a strap. They conclude that the Decalogue stone was a Jewish arm phylactery or tefilla (also written t’filla) of the Second Temple period. Although the common Jewish tefilla does not contain the words of the Decalogue, Moshe Shamah (1995) reports that the Qumran sect did include the Decalogue in their tefilimot. [Sentence added 8/7/01.]
Cyrus Gordon (1995), on the other hand, interprets the Newark Decalogue stone, like the Los Lunas NM Decalogue inscription, as a Samaritan mezuzah. For a full transcription, see McCulloch (1992), and compare Deal (1996).
The Decalogue stone measures 6-7/8″ (17.5 cm) long, 2-7/8″ (7.3 cm) wide, and 1-3/4″ (4.2 cm) thick (as measured from cast).