Home » Epigraphy » ‘Priests’ or ‘Priest’ in the Mariam (Miriam) Ossuary, and the Language of the Inscription*

‘Priests’ or ‘Priest’ in the Mariam (Miriam) Ossuary, and the Language of the Inscription*

Photo Courtesy of, and Copyrighted by, Dr. Boaz Zissu

The editio princeps of the Mariam Ossuary (on the spelling “Mariam,” rather than “Miriam,” see previous post) is really quite masterful, a model publication in numerous ways (see Zissu and Goren, 2011). This note of mine is simply intended to be a modest refinement (correction) of word division in the editio princeps (and also, thereby, the resolution of a grammatical difficulty implicit in the editio princeps, as well as the resolution of the actual language of this inscription). Here is the relevant segment of this inscription: “khnmm’zyhmbyt’mry.” The authors of the editio princeps divide the inscription this way: khnm m’zyh mbyt ‘mry and render it: “priests of Ma’aziah from Beth ‘Imri.”

However, I am confident that this inscription must be divided in the following way: khn mm’zyh mbyt ‘mry. That is, “priest of Ma’aziah from Beth ‘Imri.” Thus, the place name “m’zyh” is preceded by the prepositional min (with assimilated nun, of course). Arguably, this can be classified as a partitive use of min and can be rendered “of.” In sum, therefore, the common noun khn is a singular noun, followed by the preposition min plus the name “Ma’aziah,” not a plural form of the common noun sans preposition. Naturally, this resolves a morphological problem implicit in the editio princeps of this inscription as well. After all, the rendering in the editio princeps assumes a plural noun in construct, but with a mem still present (which would be an anomaly). The word division that I propose here eliminates that problem. It is imperative for me to emphasize (in defense of the authors of the editio princeps) that word division is something that can be quite difficult in epigraphic texts that have no word division, or have no clear word division (and the same problem certainly occurs in literary texts, especially those written in scriptio continua, for example, the great Greek Uncials of the New Testament).

Moreover, I am quite confident that it was the assumption that said mem was a plural marker on khn (making it khnm) that caused the authors of the editio princeps to state that the inscription was Hebrew (Zissu and Goren, page 75). The inscription is arguably Aramaic. That is, the presence of the words brt (Aramaic for “daughter,” cf. Hebrew bt for daughter) and br (Aramaic for “son,” rather than the Hebrew word bn for son) are strong evidence that the inscription is Aramaic. Of course, in this period (etc.), it can certainly be the case that br, for example, can occur in a Hebrew inscription (such is the case in Cotton, CIIP #70, where the word br is present, but the article on the following noun is the Hebrew article, rather than the Aramaic form of the article, thus revealing that the inscription is Hebrew, not Aramaic. Note that there is a linguistic principle operative here, that I will discuss in more detail in a forthcoming article on this ossuary). But there is nothing in this inscription that suggests it is Hebrew, and there is strong evidence that it is Aramaic, so the most cogent statement is that the inscription is indeed Aramaic.

It should be emphasized that although the authors of the editio princeps did not understand that this mem was the preposition min, they certainly perceived the sense of the text and so accurately rendered it “of” (but placed the word “of” in brackets; see the title of the editio princeps), and understood it as meaning “of [or ‘from’] the course of Maa’aizh”; see page 80).

In sum, the common noun khn is singular in this text (not plural), the preposition min is attested twice (not once), and the language of this inscription is Aramaic (not Hebrew). Thus the reading and word divisions are: mrym/brt/yshw’/br/qyp’/khn/m-m’zyh/m-byt/’mry. That is, “Mariam daughter of Yeshua son of Caiaphas, priest of Ma’aziah from Beth ‘Imri.”

Respectully submitted,

Christopher Rollston

Cotton, H., et al. Corpus Inscriptionjum Iudaeae/Palaestinae: Volume I Jerusalem, Part I. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2010.

Zissu, B. and Goren Y, “The Ossuary of ‘Miriam Daughter of Yeshua Son of Caiaphas, Priests [of] Ma’aziah from Beth ‘Imri.'” IEJ 61 (2011): 74-95.

*I am very grateful to Professor Dr. Boaz Zissu for sending me an offprint of his co-authored article.


4 Comments to “‘Priests’ or ‘Priest’ in the Mariam (Miriam) Ossuary, and the Language of the Inscription*”

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