Review of _Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae_

16 July 2011

A Review of Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae: Volume 1, Jerusalem, Part 1: 1-704, edited by Hannah M. Cotton, Leah Di Segni, Werner Eck, Benjamin Isaac, Alla Kushnir-Stein, Haggai Misgav, Jonathan Price, Israel Roll and Ada Yardeni. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2010. ISBN: 978-3-11-022219-7. Pp. xxvi + 694. $195.

This is the first volume of the new Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae to appear in print. Scholars working in fields such as Epigraphic Hebrew and Aramaic, Hebrew Bible, Second Temple Judaism, the History of Judaism, Hellenistic Greek, Classical Latin, Greek New Testament and Early Christianity will find this volume to be a vade mecum. Moreover, those working in fields such as Hellenistic and Roman history, Jewish burial practices, Jewish personal names (in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin) and the history of Jerusalem will find this volume to be a particularly fertile source of primary data as well. In addition, those interested in subjects such as linguistic and cultural diversity in antiquity will find this volume to be replete with a superabundance of primary data. Ultimately, I would suggest that no scholar working within such fields can afford to be without this volume, and no library with a collection that touches on these fields can afford to be without this volume. It is a veritable sine qua non. To be sure, this volume is rather expensive, but it is certainly worth the purchase price. Within this review, I shall begin with a summary of the scope of this new Corpus, then discuss the contents of this first volume in broad strokes, and conclude with a synopsis of some of the epigraphic material contained in it.

Scope of the entire Corpus. For some time now, scholars have sensed that there needed to be a new corpus of inscriptions from this period and region. After initial discussions in 1997, it was decided that the new corpus would be “restricted to the Graeco-Roman period (beginning with Alexander and ending with the Arab Conquest of Palestine.” However, rather than restricting itself to Greek and Latin (as works focusing on this period have often done), the new Corpus “was to be a comprehensive multilingual corpus of all inscriptions, both published and (so far as possible) unpublished, encompassing the ‘sovereign languages,’ Greek and Latin, alongside the Semitic languages, namely Hebrew, Phoenician and the various Aramaic dialects: Jewish Aramaic, Samaritan, Nabataean, Northern Syriac and Southern Syriac (known also as Christian Palestinian Aramaic).” Furthermore, it was also agreed that it would be important also to include “the proto-Arabic languages, Thamudic and Safaitic, and finally Armenian and Georgian” as well. It was also decided that “Early Arabic inscriptions are outside the time limits of our Corpus and hence not included.” However, it was noted that these are “being collected and edited by Moshe Sharon in the Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum Palaestinae” (pages v-vi). Obviously, therefore, both breadth and depth are envisioned for this new Corpus.

Because this new Corpus has cast its net so widely, it was determined that “the entire Corpus will consist of nine volumes, organized according to major geographical and/or historical divisions in ancient Judaea/Palestina: Jerusalem and its surroundings; the middle coastline north of Tel Aviv and south of Haifa with Caesarea as the focal point; the southern coastline with its urban hinterland; Galilee and the northern coastline including Acco; the Golan Heights; Samaria; Judaea (without Jerusalem) and Idumaea; the Negev.” It should be emphasized, however, that “the order in which the regions are presented here does not reflect the order in which the volumes will appear in print.” Finally, it is also stated that “a final volume will include milestones from the entire territory, including those that no longer bear an inscription, as well as items with unknown or uncertain provenance, in museums and private collections.” Parts of modern Syria and Jordan which were at different times part of the administrative unit which included Iudaea/Palestine (i.e., Batanea, Aurantis, and the Peraea) are not included since nowadays they belong to territories covered by Inscriptions Grecques et Latines de la Syrie or de la Jordanie, respectively” (p. vi).

Naturally, because of the large number of inscriptions that are included in this Corpus, the editors state that “it was not our intention to provide an exhaustive commentary for every single inscription” (p. vii). Similarly, as for the bibliography, it is stated that it “does not claim to be complete; whereas the editors consulted every item in which each inscription was discussed, only the relevant literature has been cited here. Any other procedure would have resulted in an endless list of items, which would be of little interest” (p. vii). Again, this too is entirely understandable and defensible, in light of the large numbers of texts that are part of this Corpus. However, it should also be emphasized that the bibliographies in this volume are really quite thorough. To be sure, they are not exhaustive, but those using the bibliographies will not be disappointed.

Regarding this first volume (parts 1 and 2) it is stated that “the following order has been adopted. First, the inscriptions were divided so far as possible into three chronological groups: (1) The Hellenistic period up to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70; (2) The Roman period from 70 to the reign of Constantine; (3) Late Antiquity, from Constantine to the Arab Conquest.” (p. vii). It is noted that there have been some exclusions, but entirely understandable ones. Namely, the editors state that “on the whole we have not included mass-produced inscriptions such as impressions of amphora-handle stamps, brick-stamps, potter-stamps, stamps on lamps, and pilgrims’ ampullae” (p. vii). Those using this volume might have wished for indices. The editors sensed the importance of this and state that “we regret the absence of a general index in this volume.” However, they do state that “a general index for all the volumes is planned. And we intend to provide a provisional general index to this volume on the Internet” (p. viii). It should also be mentioned that the preface mentions that “an index of names is provided here [in this volume].” There is no index of names in Volume 1, Jerusalem, Part 1: 1-704, but my strong assumption is that this index will be included in the forthcoming Volume 1, Jerusalem, Part 2.

In any case, Volume 1, Jerusalem, Part 1: 1-704 begins with a fairly detailed synopsis of ancient literary references to the city of Jerusalem (pp. 1-37). Moreover, there is a fine summary of the caves and tombs in the region of Jerusalem. In terms of the history of Jerusalem, there are particularly good summaries of the period between the First and Second Jewish Revolts and also of the period from the time of Hadrian to Constantine, and from Constantine to the Muslim Conquest. This section of the volume is reflective of the volume as a whole, namely, detailed reference to relevant ancient sources, replete with citation of the most salient and authoritative modern studies. The remainder of this volume (i.e., Volume 1, Part 1) focuses on “Inscriptions from the Hellenistic period up to the Destruction of the Second Temple.” This material is divided up into four parts: Section A “Inscriptions of religious and public character,” (inscription numbers 1-17, pages 39-64). Section B “Funerary Inscriptions” (inscription numbers 18-608, pages 65-609). Note that the material in Section B is divided according to region or site (e.g., Ramat Eshkol, Kidron Valley [North], Diskin Street, Jason’s Tomb, French Hill, Ramat Rahel, and then a division called “Unprovenanced.” Section C “Instrumentum Domesticum” (inscription numbers 609-692, pages 611-680). Section D: “Varia” (inscription numbers 693-704, pages 681-694).

The format for each entry follows a standard pattern. Namely, there is reference to the number of the inscription within this volume (i.e., numbers 1-704), then there is descriptive title for the inscription (e.g., “#357, Epitaph of Shappira with Aramaic wall inscription”), followed by a reference to the approximate date of the inscription (e.g., “1 c. CE” = 1st Century CE). A basic description of the inscription is then given (e.g., “An inscription of four letters, cut in the soft rock, and blackened in, above the loculus of one of the lower burial rooms”). Normally, there is reference to the find spot, the present location, the department of antiquity number or museum number, and the measurements (e.g., for ossuaries). The editors made a concerted effort to personally inspect all available inscriptions (sometimes requiring travel to France, Germany, etc.). Also, there is reference to the precise date that the inscription was “autopsied,” that is, inspected, collated, measured, photographed. This is followed by the inclusion of the reading, provided in block script Aramaic, that is, the Jewish Script, for the Hebrew and Aramaic inscriptions, and the Greek and Latin script for inscriptions in those languages. In addition, different readings are also often provided under the rubric of “App. Crit,” that is, as a “critical apparatus,” along with reference to the scholar that proposed the reading. There is also a transliteration and a translation of the inscription. For the majority of inscriptions in this volume, black and white photos are also provided, although for a few of the inscriptions it was not possible to provide a photo. In such cases, hand copies are normally provided. Then there is a “Commentary” on the inscription, replete with things such as a discussion of orthography, phonology, prosopography (when appropriate), inscriptions with similar contents, meanings of names (when this can be determined).

Readers of this volume will find very fine, thorough entries for the inscriptions. Sometimes the inscriptions in this volume are, of course, partiucarly well known. For example, included in this volume are the “Uzziah Plaque” reading: “Here I brought the bones of Uzziah King of Judah; and not to open” (# 602) and the Greek warning sign from the Temple Mount: “No foreigner is to enter within the balustrade and forecourt around the sacred precinct. Whoever is caught will himself be responsible for his consequent death” (#2). There are particularly judicious discussions of inscriptions such as the “Ya’akov (‘James’) Ossuary” (i.e., #531, without provenance), and the Talpiyot Tomb known as the “Yeshua’ Family Tomb” (#473-478). Moreover, there is also a very useful synopsis of the salient points regarding the Sarcophagus of “Queen Sadan,” a burial inscription known for more than a century, but still the subject of substantive discussion (#123). Naturally, some will find the references to professions to be of interest. Although these are not very common, there are a few, such as the ossuary of “Yehosef son of Hananiah, the scribe” (#86). References to aspects of religion are also present at times. For example, there is reference to “Hananiya the son of Yehonatan the Nazirite” (#70), and several references to Proselytes to Judaism, including a certain” Ioudan the Proselyte of Tyre” (#174), and a certain “Ioudas son of Laganion the Proselyte” (#551). Of much interest also are the ossuary of “Megiste the priestess” (#297) and references on ossuaries to “Korban” (#466), a term also known from the Greek New Testament (among other ancient literatures). Of course, the famous ossuary inscription stating that “No one has abolished his entering [into death], not even El’azar and Shapira” (#93), receives a through treatment, replete with discussion of the different readings of Frank Cross and Joseph Naveh. There is also reference to a certain “Menahem” from the priestly course of “Yakim” (#183), and an ossuary of a certain “Yehohana” who was the granddaughter of the Caiaphate “High Priest Theophilos” (#534). Sometimes very useful linguistic data can be mined from the ossuary inscriptions, such as the fact that Semitic tsade can be represented in Greek with the psi, as the Semitic and Greek forms of the same name are given (see #309). Naturally, there are a few references to the prohibition of removing the bones (#507, 385). In sum, this volume is a treasure trove of data for scholars working in a wide variety of fields.

This really is a priceless volume. Those that purchase it will always be grateful they did. Those that do not purchase it now will regret that decision. Ultimately, these volumes will be the gold standard for the next generation, perhaps longer. I recommend this volume completely and without reservation. Those wishing to order this directly from the publisher can do so here: or Tel: 857-284-7073.

Christopher Rollston, Ph.D.

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

14 July 2011

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.

The Ossuary of Mariam Daughter of Yeshua’ in Context: Limning the Broad Tableau of the Epigraphic and Literary Data

6 July 2011

By Christopher A. Rollston

Introduction. The recent publication of the “Mariam Daughter of Yeshua” Ossuary (Zissu and Goren 2011) has justifiably garnered substantial attention. The authors are to be congratulated for producing a very strong, detailed, useful editio princeps of this ossuary and its inscription. The ossuary is without a secure provenance, but I do not doubt that it is authentic. At this juncture, it is my intent to summarize in a fairly methodical fashion some of the ways in which this new ossuary inscription dovetails with, and augments, our knowledge. My comments are particularly philological and historical in nature.


A. JOSEPHUS. At various points, the Jewish Historian Josephus (ca. 37 C.E. – 100 C.E.) discusses the priesthood of the late Second Temple Period, and at a particular point in his historical synopsis:

(1) Josephus notes that a certain: “Iōsēpos ho Kaiafas “ (Joseph Caiaphas, high priest from ca. 18-36 CE) became a high priest during a time of tumult (note, for example, the short duration of various high priests prior to that of Joseph Caiaphas). Here is the full context of the reference: “Valerius Gratus succeeded Annius Rufus as procurator over the Jews. Gratus deposed Ananus [ca. 6-14 C.E.) from his sacred office, and proclaimed Ishmael the son of Phabi as high priest [ca. 15-16 CE]. Not long afterwards, he removed him also and appointed in his place Eleazar [ca. 16-17 CE] the son of the high priest Ananus. A year later he deposed him also and entrusted the office of high priest to Simon the son of Camith [ca. 17-18 CE]. This last-mentioned held this position for not more than a year and was succeeded by Joseph, the one (who was called) Caiaphas (Greek: Iōsēpos ho Kaiafas , that is, personal name, article, then “Caiaphas”) [18-36 CE]. After these acts, Gratus retired to Rome, having stayed eleven years in Judea. It was Pontius Pilate who came as his successor” (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities XVIII,33-35).

(2) Later, Josephus states that Vitellius (governor of Syria) traveled to Judea and went to Jerusalem in particular. Among the things that Vitellius did was this: “he removed from his sacred office the high priest Joseph Caiaphas and appointed in his stead Jonathan, the son of Ananus [Greek New Testament: Annas] the high priest. Then he set out on the journey back to Antioch” (Joseph, Jewish Antiquities, XVIII, 95-97).

(3) Significantly, of Ananus [Annas], Josephus states that “the Elder Ananus was extremely fortunate. For he had five sons, all of whom, after he himself had previously enjoyed the office for a very long period, became high priests of God—a thing that had never happened to any other of our high priests” (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, XX, 198).

Historical Notes: These citations reveal that Joseph Caiaphas was the name of a high priest, of course (on the presence of “son” on Ossuary 461, see below). Moreover, the names of several of his predecessors are given and among them is Ananus. This figure of Josephus (Ananus) is known in the Greek New Testament as “Annas” (see Luke 3:2; John 18:13, 24; Acts 4:6). In addition, within these texts it is stated that five of his sons functioned as priests and two of them are mentioned in the pericopes cited here, namely, Eleazar (16-17 CE) and Jonathan (36-37 CE). See also below). The remaining sons are: Theophilus (37-41 CE), Matthias (42-43 CE), and Ananus II (62 CE; on Theophilus, see also Rahmani 1994, 259 [no 871], for reference to an ossuary inscription that includes the words “Theophilus the high priest”). The reference to “the Elder Ananus” is a reflection of the fact that the high priest Ananus (high priest from ca. 6-14 CE) had a son named Ananus (as noted above) who also became a high priest, namely, Ananus ben Ananus, that is, Ananus II (62 CE).

B. GREEK NEW TESTAMENT. The Greek New Testament refers on several occasions to Caiaphas (namely, Matt 26:3, 57; Luke 3:2; John 11:49; 18:13, 14, 24, 28; Acts 4:6). Among the most important for this article are these references:

(1) The context of this narrative is the beginning of the prophetic work of the figure known as John the Baptist (i.e., arguably sometime in the mid to late 20s CE). “During the high priest(hood) of Anna and Kaiafa (Caiaphas; some Greek mss of this verse have Kaifa, including Codex C and Codex D) the word of the Lord came upon John the son of Zechariah in the desert” (Luke 3:2).

(2) These texts (below) hail from a judicial context, namely, putative events immediately prior to the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the courtyard of the high priest being called Kaiafa (Caiapha; some Greek mss of this verse have Kaifa; Matt 26:3, similar variant spelling in vs. 57). (3) “But one of them, Kaiafas (Caiaphas; some Greek mss of this verse have Kaifas), being that year the high priest…” (John 11:49 “that year” is arguably a way of referring to the time frame of the trial and not, therefore, some sort of suggestion that he was only the high priest for a year). (4) “And they brought him to Annas first; he was the father-in-law of Kaiafa (Caiaphas; some Greek mss of this verse have Kaifa) who was the high priest that year” (John 18:13).

(5) The setting for this text is judicial as well, but the historical context is after the crucifixion, during the early history of the then fledgling Jewish sect known as Christianity. “And Annas the high priest and Kaiafas (Caiaphas; some Greek mss of this verse have Kaifas) and John and Alexander and as many as were out of the lineage of the high priesthood were standing there…” (Acts 4:6).

Historical Notes. As noted, the Ananas of Josephus is the same as the Annas of the Canonical Gospels. Moreover, the “John” mentioned in Acts 4:6 is arguably the Jonathan [ca. 36-37 CE] mentioned by Josephus as the son of Ananus, and the successor of Caiaphas. Also, it is not impossible that the Alexander mentioned in Acts 4:6 is the figure known in Josephus by the Hebrew name Eleazar son of Ananus[ca. 16-17 CE]. Note that the phenomenon of “double-names” is well attested for Jewish figures of the First and Second Temple Periods, in biblical and epigraphic sources. However, they may indeed be two different people. The fact that Caiaphas is said to be the son-in-law of Annas is a significant historical detail. I consider it reliable. Obviously, therefore, the details about Ananas (Annas) that are known from Josephus and the New Testament converge at a number of levels, and also are complementary in some respects. Note also in this connection the orthographic variation with regard to the spelling of Caiaphas: namely, Kaiapha and Kaipha. Note in this connection the variation in spelling in the epigraphic form of this name, detailed below. On the presence or absence of a final sigma (etc.) on Semitic personal names written in Greek, see the discussion below (IIA, Philological Note #2).


A. THE CAIAPHAS BURIAL CAVE. Twelve ossuaries (or portions thereof) were discovered in 1990 in a tomb in southern Jerusalem (See Greenhut 1992; Reich 1992; Zias 1992; Cotton, et al., 2010, 481-488 [numbers 461-465]. There were a total of four loculi (or kokhim) in this tomb, three along one wall and one along another wall. Six of the ossuaries still contained bones (note: the tomb had been robbed at some point prior to excavation). Two of the ossuaries were still in situ. One of the ossuaries contained a coin from the sixth year of Agrippa I (ca. 42-43 CE). It is the inscribed ossuaries that are of interest for this article (note that the numbers used in this article are those of Cotton, et al. Predominant focus will be numbers 461, 463, and 462, in that order).

Ossuary 461. The ossuary is lavishly decorated, reflecting affluence, and probably opulence. There are two Aramaic inscriptions on this ossuary, inscribed in a very cursive hand. The first inscription is written on two lines and the second on a single line. I shall refer to them as 461-A and 461-B.

461-A: line 1. Yhwsp br (Yehoseph bar = Yehosep son of)

461-A line 2. Qyp’ (Qaiyapha’; note that I consider yod to be the correct reading, not waw).
461-B: Yhwsp br Qp’ (Yehosep bar Qaipha’)

Ossuary 463. There is one inscription. The name is arguably Aramaic (see below), written in a cursive hand.

Qp’ (Qaipha’)

Ossuary 462. There is one inscription, written on two lines. I shall refer to these lines as 462-A and 462-B. The inscription is written in a highly cursive hand. This inscription is arguably Aramaic (see below).

462-A. Mrym brt (Maryam birat = Maryam daughter of)
462-B. Šm‘wn (Shimon).

Philological, Epigraphic, and Historical Notes: (1) Greek Iōsēpos = Hebrew Yhwsp. (2) Moreover, the sigma (e.g., on Iōsēpos) attested on the end of the personal names in the Greek literary material is certainly not a problem, as it is simply the Greek case ending, which is routinely added onto Semitic (etc.) names (in legions of literary and epigraphic texts, not just these), obviously nominatives in particular (also of import: some foreign personal names in Greek are declined fully, some are not. Along those lines, and for illustrative purposes, I would note that the s of the personal name “Jesus” is simply the nominative case ending, and not really part of the name itself, per se…compare the genitive and accusative forms of that name, that is, Iēsou and Iēsoun respectively). (3) Greek kappa is often used to represent Hebrew and Aramaic qop. For example, “korban,” Aramaic Qrbn’, is represented in the Greek New Testament as korbanas (Matt 27:6). Similarly, Simon the Zealot is referred to as Simon the Kananaios (i.e., Simon the Kananean, that is, Simon the Zealot”) a spelling that is representing Aramaic Qn’n (Matt 10:4; cf Luke 6:15), obviously with the Greek kappa representing not the Semitic kap, but rather a Semitic qop. Ultimately, therefore, there is no orthographic problem that would preclude considering Greek Kaiafa to be a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic name Qyp’. (4) Significantly, the orthographic variation reflected in these ossuary inscriptions for the name Caiaphas, namely, Qyp’ and Qp’ (i.e., with or without yod) can be understood to be paralleled fairly nicely by the orthographic variants attested in the Greek New Testament, namely, Greek Kaiafa parallels Aramaic Qyp’ and Greek Kaifa parallels Aramaic Qp’. Obviously, Hebrew and Aramaic of this period do not represent vowels in anything approximating a precise fashion (the use of matres lectionis in this period is certainly helpful, but matres lectionis can hardly be said to clarify vocalization in some sort of definitive manner, but I do not consider the orthographic variant here to be inconsequential). In the case of the spellings Qyp’ and Qp’ (i.e., with or without the yod), I would simply note that one could understand the yod to be a mater lectionis or an actual consonant. Ultimately, this sort of thing could readily account for the two orthographies attested in the Greek New Testament. Also, on an ancillary note, suffice it to say that I believe it to be entirely tenable to contend that Yhwsp br Qyp’ and Yhwsp br Qp’ of Ossuary 461 refer to the same person. (5) Mariam (or Maryam) is the preferred vocalization, *not* Miriam. Basically, the Masoretic Text reflects a (fairly) late phonological shift, namely, as Waltke and O’Connor have noted (Waltke and O’Connor, 1990, 25), “an original short a in word-initial closed syllables” becomes i. Fortunately, the Septuagint preserves the original vocalization, thus, the sister of Moses is Mariam in the Septuagint (e.g., Exod 15:21), not Miriam. The same vocalization (i.e., with the vowel a in the first syllable) is still preserved in Arabic as well. Also, the same phenomenon is operative for the person name Sampson (e.g., Judg 14:1, with MT Šimšōn but LXX Sampsōn), of course. (6) The script of these inscriptions is a highly cursive script. It can be dated to the first century CE. (7) The two iron nails found in this tomb were probably used as instruments used for inscribing letters, although some other mundane function (e.g., scraping something, etc. ) is not impossible. (8) The presence of the words brt (rather than standard Hebrew bt) “daughter” and br (rather than standard Hebrew bn) “son” certainly argue strongly for Aramaic, moreover, I consider the ’alep of Caiaphas, that is, Qyp’ to be the determined form (i.e., with ’alep as the postpositive Aramaic article). Thus, the cumulative evidence reveals that this inscription is to be considered Aramaic, of course.

This ossuary is inscribed in a formal hand, arguably dating to the first century CE. The inscription is Aramaic. It can be read as follows: Mrym brt yšw‘ br Qyp’ khn m m‘zyh mbyt ‘mry

Mariam the daughter of Yeshua son of Qaiyapha, a priest of Ma‘aziah of the House of ‘Imri

(See the very useful note below from Ed Cook regarding the reading of a bet, not dalet before Ma’aziah). (Addendum: 15 July 2011: the editio princeps reads khnmm’zyh…so it turns out that it is not a kap as was initially suggested in press reports, nor is it a bet, but rather a mem. See now the blog post above, entitled “Priests or Priest…”)

Epigraphic, Philological and Historical Notes: (1) This text is, arguably, Aramaic. Note especially the Aramaic brt “daughter” and br “son.” (2) The script of this ossuary is the formal script, deeply and carefully incised. I consider it to be reflective of the first century CE. (3) The presence of the names Yeshua‘ and Mariam are not at all surprising, as they were very common names in this period. Furthermore, it should also be noted that in the Caiaphas Burial Cave the name Mariam is also attested, although because of the patronymic it is clear that they are not the same person. (4) Regarding the vocalization of Mariam (rather than Miriam), see the discussion under note five above. (5) There has been some reference to the possibility that the place name Khirbet Kufin (in the northern Hebron Hills) may be preserved in the name of the “Caiaphas” family (i.e., Kufin = Caiaphas). Although this is not impossible (and I do think that it merits further investigation), I am rather disinclined to think that this is the case. After all, the Arabic place name Kufin is normally said to begin with a kaf, not a qaf. Compare the personal name Caiaphas, which begins with a qop in Aramaic and Hebrew. The distinction between these two consonants is (largely) lost in modern Hebrew, but is very much retained in modern Arabic (basically, k is a velar voiceless stop, while q is a velar voiceless emphatic). Of course, Greek is not a Semitic language and so the fact that it often represents the q as a kappa is not a particularly relevant argument against my statements regarding the q and k in Aramaic (and Hebrew) and Arabic. (6) Having said this, I should note that I do think that the name “Caiaphas” preserves a place name. Rather than Kufin, however, I believe that one can make a tenable case that Qeiyafa (i.e., Khirbet Qeiyafa) is the place name preserved in “Caiaphas.” There are, of course, Second Temple Period occupational remains at Khirbet Qeiyafa. I am not stating this definitively at this time, but do wish to mention it at this time as something that is arguably quite viable. (7) The use of the term “priest” and the reference to the priestly course of Ma‘aziah (cf. Neh 10:9 [English 10:8]) are very interesting (as is also the reference to the house of ‘Imri). The fact that the word priest is used, and the fact that there is reference to a priestly course, undermines even further Horbury’s contention that ossuaries 461 and 463 from the Caiaphas Burial Cave do not refer to the high priest named Caiaphas (Horbury 1994). Pace Horbury, I do not consider Horbury’s evidence (neither his reading of a waw in the epigraphic attestation of the personal name, nor his use of the Rabbinic evidence, etc.) to be sufficient to make his case that the literary sources referring to Joseph Caiaphas and Ossuary 461 with its reference to Yhsp bar Qyp’ (he reads it as Qwp’, renders it “Qopha”) are ultimately referring to different people who simply have similar sounding names. Again, I consider “Caiaphas” (in the literary and epigraphic sources) to preserve a place name and I believe that the Joseph Caiaphas of the literary material and the Joseph bar Caiaphas of the epigraphic corpus to be the same person. (8) Someone might object to the fact that Josephus does not have the word “son.” True enough. However, the fact of the matter is that sometimes the word “son” (bn or br) can be omitted in ancient texts. That is, in certain contexts, the word “son” was not deemed essential. I believe Josephus, therefore, to be reflective of this practice (naturally, I would also suggest that there was an earlier figure known as “Caiaphas,” with the term “Caiaphas” preserving a place name and the term, Joseph Caiaphas, therefore, reflects the fact that he was the son of a man named Caiaphas). Of course, the practice of papponymy is certainly well attested in antiquity and so I cannot rule this phenomenon out as an impossibility in this case. However, the totality of the archaelogical, epigraphy, and literary evidence converges quite nicely and so I am comfortable affirming that Josephus and Ossuary 461 are referring to the same person (also, I think that it is probable, but not absolutely certain, that the Joseph Caiaphas of the Caiaphas Burial Cave and Caiaphas the Priest of the Mariam Ossuary are the same person, although they are at the very least certainly of the same family). (9) In this connection, as an ancillary note, I should like to mention that personal names plus geographic names (i.e., PN + GN) are quite common, including in Greek sources. For New Testament examples, Mary Magdalene (Greek: Mariam hē Magdalēnē [Matt 27:56],that is, personal name, article, geographic name) and Judas Iscariot (Ioudas ho Iskariōtēs) [Matt 10:4], that is, personal name, article, and arguably a geographic name). I am certainly not suggesting that this structure in Greek (or in Hebrew and Aramaic) can only be used of the combination of a personal name plus a geographic name; however, I am suggesting that it is a construction that can be used for the combination of a personal name and geographic name. (10) Some have argued that the Sadducees might have had objections to ossuary burial (and thus did not practice it). I find that to be a problematic position (and the archaeological and epigraphic evidence, combined with the evidence of the first century literary sources, combine to suggest that some Sadducees were comfortable with ossuary burial).

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. Christopher A. Rollston

*I gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Omar al-Ghul and also of Eran Arie with regard to various aspects of this article. Also, a number of my previous articles can be found on . In addition, I am on facebook: search for Christopher Rollston…I often post articles on fb that revolve around the fields of archaeology, epigraphy, and anthropology in general.

Select Bibliography
Cotton, H., et al (eds). Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2010.
Greenhut, Z. “The ‘Caiaphas’ Tomb in North Talpiyot.” ‘Atiqot 21 (1992): 63-71.
Horbury, W. “The ‘Caiaphas’ Ossuaries and Joseph Caiaphas.” PEQ 126 (1994): 32-48.
Rahmani, L. Y. A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries. Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority, 1994.
Reich, R. “Ossuary Inscriptions from the ‘Caiaphas’ Tomb.” ‘Atiqot 21 (1992): 72-77.
Waltke, B. K. and O’Connor, M. An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns,
Zias, J. “Human Skeletal Remains from the ‘Caiaphas’ Tomb.” ‘Atiqot 21 (1992): 77-80.
Zissu, B. and Goren, Y. IEJ 61 (2011)

Just Published, _Tel Aviv_ 38:1, including Rollston’s “The Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon: Methodological Musings and Caveats.”

11 May 2011


Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University Volume 38, Number 1, 2011

In Memoriam: Anson Rainey
Deborah Sweeney

Judahite Stamped and Incised Jar Handles: A Tool for Studying the History of Late Monarchic Judah Oded Lipschits, Omer Sergi, Ido Koch

The paper probes the distribution of the various stamped and incised Judahite jars with two criteria in mind: (1) their estimated date; (2) the assumption that in addition to Jerusalem, sites that yielded large quantities of stamped handles (mainly Lachish and Ramat Raḥel) served as major collection centres while sites that yielded only a few dozen stamped handles served as secondary administrative centres of the kingdom. Based on their findings, the authors reconstruct the evolution of the royal administrative system in the late 8th through the early 6th centuries BCE.

Tell Qudadi and Tel Gerisah: Two Early Bronze II Sites on the Yarkon River Ram Gophna, Yitzhak Paz

Tell Qudadi and Tel Gerisah are two multi-period sites located on the Yarkon River. Recent research has revealed that they were the only settlements along the central Coastal Plain that were inhabited during the Early Bronze Age II. Tell Qudadi and Tel Gerisah could have played important roles as an outpost and as a main inner anchorage site, respectively, in maritime activities between Old Kingdom Egypt and the North Levantine coast.

An Egyptian Mortuary Cult in Late Bronze II Canaan Katia Charbit Nataf

The paper re-examines the significance of the banquet scenes depicted on the Late Bronze Age II Megiddo and Tell el-Far>ah ivories. The author attempts to identify and link a set of characteristics on the panels—the lotus flower, the drinking vessels, the musical instruments and the Delta papyrus marshes—to the Egyptian goddess Hathor. She then proceeds to explore the hypothesis that mortuary Hathor worship, a direct legacy of Egyptian cultic belief, was adopted by the Canaanites during this period. The archaeological context of such a cult is discussed.

The Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon: Methodological Musings and Caveats Christopher Rollston

The Qeiyafa Ostracaon is an important inscription from the late stage of Early Alphabetic. Regarding its language, some have argued that it is written in Hebrew. This article, however, contends that there are no discernable diagnostic features in the ostracon that mandate such a conclusion. Furthermore, the article also emphasizes that the script of this inscription is certainly not Old Hebrew, nor is it the immediate precursor of the Old Hebrew script. Rather the Old Hebrew script derived from Phoenician. Thus, there is some distance between the script of this inscription and the Old Hebrew script. Finally, the article contends that it would be difficult (because of the dearth of
data) for grand proposals about statecraft and literacy to be made on the sole basis of this ostracon.

Textual and Historical Notes on the Eliashib Archive from Arad Nadav Na’aman

The first part of the article discusses in detail some letters addressed to Eliashib, possibly the commander of the fortress of Arad.
New readings and interpretations are suggested for Ostraca Nos. 3, 5, 10, 12 and 18 and their structure and contents are clarified. The second part of the article offers new solutions for some problems in the history of the Negev in the late years of the Kingdom of Judah. It suggests that the elite troops of Kittiyim were hired by one of the last kings of Judah and sent to the Negev in an effort to curtail the Edomite danger. However, the efforts to defend the Negev failed and its centres were destroyed some time before the Babylonian 588–587 BCE campaign against the Kingdom of Judah. The heavy destruction brought about by the Edomites was deeply engraved in the collective memory and provides the background for the distinctive negative attitude to Edom in biblical prophecy of the exilic and post-exilic periods.

Egypt and the Levant in the Iron Age I–IIA: The Ceramic Evidence Shirly Ben Dor Evian

Traditionally, relations between Egypt and the Levant in the early phases of the Iron Age have been reconstructed based on the scant historical record and on biblical descriptions. This article introduces a new facet of Egyptian regional intervention into the
discussion: the presence of Egyptian pottery at Iron Age sites in Israel.

The Babylonia–Elam Connections in the Chaldaean and Achaemenid Periods—Part I Ran Zadok

The paper discusses the political and economic connections between Babylonia and Elam during the periods of the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid empires (626–539 and 538–332 BCE respectively). It is based on both published and unpublished sources in Neo/Late-Babylonian as well as in Neo-Elamite and Royal Achaemenid Elamite. These are mostly implicit, as pertinent chronicles and royal inscriptions are rare.
Therefore, the evidence for political history is minimal whereas the socioeconomic information is much more detailed. Nevertheless, even this information is chronologically uneven as most of it refers to the Chaldaean and early Achaemenid period with very few sources about the late Achaemenid period (483–332 BCE). An appendix is devoted to workmen from upper Mesopotamia and Syria (‘Assyrians’) in Elam including Arabians. They were—at least partly—subjects of the Neo-Babylonian empire before its demise.

Editors: Israel Finkelstein, Benjamin Sass Editorial Board: Nadav a’aman, Oren Tal, David Ussishkin Managing Editor: Myrna Pollak

Tel Aviv is Published by Maney Publishing for The Emery and Claire Yass Publications in Archaeology of The Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University

For more information, visit our website at

Among the Last of the Titans: Aspects of Professor Anson Rainey’s Life and Legacy (1930-2011)

20 February 2011

The contours of the life of Professor Anson Rainey are significant, well known, and well documented. He was a force of nature, and he was beloved, respected, revered, and (on occasion) feared. Within the field, he was a polymath. He was among the most capable and authoritative scholars of the Northwest Semitic languages. Indeed, he was as comfortable in Ugaritic, Phoenician, and Aramaic as he was in Old Hebrew. Moabite and Ammonite were subjects of great interest for him and he knew the preserved texts in these languages so very well. In addition, he was also a most capable scholar of Egyptian and Coptic. Moreover, he was also a formidable scholar in various fields and subfields of Assyriology, and his contributions to the Amarna Letters are substantive, diverse, and legion; arguably these are some of his most enduring contributions. Of course, among his greatest passions was historical geography, and it is my opinion that he had no peers in this field. Furthermore, he had also spent many seasons excavating, and he knew the archaeology of much of the ancient Near East so very well. Of course, in addition to his fluency in several European languages, he was also fluent in both modern Hebrew and also modern Arabic. I know of no one who was so capable in so many things. With his death, we are witnessing the loss of one of the last of the polymath “titans” of the field.

Of course, throughout much of his career, he was an institution at Tel Aviv University, first teaching full-time there in 1964 and continuing at Tel Aviv until his retirement from full-time teaching there in 1998. He was also a professor, and in many ways an institution, at the American Institute of Holy Land Studies (now Jerusalem University College), something about which he was always very proud. Ultimately, research was really the bone and marrow of life for Anson. That is, his institutional affiliations and his travels revolved around his publication projects. And few can claim to have been as productive as he. He authored more than a dozen volumes, translated nearly that many more, he authored in excess of two hundred scholarly articles, wrote numerous reviews, and presented more than eighty conference papers. Not so very long ago, he told me that many students that were with him at Brandeis University (his doctoral alma mater, 1962) had earned their degrees and they were never heard from again. He considered this to be an utter waste of a good education. Anson published and presented papers and he believed this was the best course of action. One could say that Anson practiced what he preached. That is, Anson was a most assiduous, productive scholar.

Philologists are often given to Wanderlust, and this was certainly the case for Professor Anson Rainey. For example, he traveled to Berlin and collated at the Vorderasiatisches Museum and to Cairo to collate at the Cairo National Museum. Moreover, he collated texts in Jordan, and he collated at both the British Museum and the Ashmolean Museum. Within the United States, he collated at the Metropolitan Museum (New York) and the University of Chicago. He was also a visiting scholar at various institutions, including Harvard University (1976-77), the University of Pennsylvania (1983-84; 1988-89; 1995-96), the University of California Los Angeles (2001), Konkuk University in Seoul, Korea (2002), and the University of Melbourne, Australia (2002).

During the course of his life, Anson’s relationships with people were always of great importance to him. He would often mention his great respect, even admiration, for the work and person of W. Moran (of Harvard). In fact, in many ways, he considered himself to be a student of Moran and he understood himself to be building on the work and legacy of Moran. Moreover, he often spoke with pride about his tutelage at the feet of H. J. Polotsky (of Hebrew University) in Egyptian. Furthermore, Anson’s colleagues and students always loomed large in his worldview. He reminisced about Y. Aharoni with nostalgia so profound that I have rarely seen it equaled. And he would note the accomplishments of his own students with pride, touting them often. Through the years, many, including me, have felt that Anson was among the most accessible, kind, supportive scholars in the field. He was always available for conversation, dialogue, and I have long treasured the things that I learned from him. Many have long said that they felt similarly. Of course, Anson also seemed to take it rather personally if someone close to him differed with him about something he considered to be all too clear. And he was consistently candid about such things. But I suppose that this is a reflection of the fact that he genuinely cared deeply about the field and about the people in it. The field was important to Anson, paramount even. He wanted the field to get it “right.”

Life is often a pilgrimage and this was the case for Professor Anson Rainey. The scholarship he produced is among the most original, substantive in the field. The personal and religious trajectory of his life is fascinating in and of itself. As I reflect on him, and his death on February 19th, it is not primarily Anson the productive scholar that I shall miss, though I shall miss this. Rather, it is the departure of Anson the mentor, friend, and colleague that is most difficult.

Christopher Rollston

Writing and Literacy in the World of Ancient Israel

9 October 2010

The following volume is available from the Society of Biblical Literature ( > publications)

Writing and Literacy in the World of Ancient Israel: Epigraphic Evidence from the Iron Age
by Christopher Rollston

ISBN 1589831071
Price: $21.95
Binding Paperback
Publication Date October, 2010

Ancient Northwest Semitic inscriptions from Israel, Phoenicia, Syria, Moab, Ammon, Edom, and Philistia enlighten and sharpen our vision of the Old Testament world in various ways. Writing and Literacy in the World of Ancient Israel focuses on this epigraphic evidence in order to broaden our understanding of the techniques and roles of writing, education, and literacy during this biblical period. To that end, the volume systematically covers scribal education; scribal implements; writing media such as stones, potsherds, and plaster; and the religious, administrative, and personal uses of writing. Its “handbook” format makes it easily accessible, including for use as a textbook in courses addressing the cultural context of ancient Israel.

Christopher A. Rollston holds a Ph.D. in Ancient Near Eastern Studies from the Johns Hopkins University. He is the editor of the scholarly journal MAARAV, has published widely in the field of epigraphy, and co-chairs the Epigraphy Sessions at the Annual Meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Schools of Oriental Research. He is currently the Toyozo W. Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies at Emmanuel School of Religion in Johnson City, Tennessee.

Hardback edition available from Brill Academic Publishers (

The Probable Inventors of the First Alphabet:Semites Functioning as rather High Status Personnel in a Component of the Egyptian Apparatus

28 August 2010

Christopher Rollston


For some time, there has been discussion about the social status of those that developed (“invented”) Alphabetic Writing (i.e., elites or non-elites). Therefore, the nuanced discussion between O. Goldwasser (2010 and BAS web site) and A. Rainey (BAS web site) is the continuation of an old (and important) debate. Rainey contends that the inventors of the alphabet were sophisticated Northwest Semites that knew the Egyptian writing system. Goldwasser argues that the “inventors of the alphabet could not read Egyptian, neither Hieroglyphic nor Hieratic.”

As an Ausgangspunkt for these comments of mine, and to facilitate understanding for those not familiar with the data, I should like to reiterate certain factors that have formed the basic contours of the entire discussion for some time: (1) Non-Alphabetic Writing (i.e., Mesopotamian Cuneiform and Egyptian) is first attested for the terminal chronological horizons of the fourth millennium BCE. (2) The alphabet was invented once and this arguably occurred during the early second millennium BCE. All alphabets derive, in some fashion, from this original alphabet. (3) The script of the Early Alphabetic inscriptions is modeled on (certain aspects of) the Egyptian script, as Egyptologists have noted for some time (e.g., from Gardiner to Darnell). (4) The language of the Early Alphabetic inscriptions is Northwest Semitic, *not* Egyptian (e.g., ba‘lat).

I. Some Salient Moments in the Early History of the Early Alphabet:

Research on the Early Alphabet began in earnest during the first two decades of the 20th century. Sir Flinders Petrie had discovered, in a temple in Serabit el-Khadem (in the Sinai), various Hieroglyphic inscriptions. However, he also discovered some inscriptions that he considered enigmatic. He initially referred to these inscriptions as a “local barbarism” (Gardiner 1906, 129-32). However, Gardiner soon began to analyze this corpus of inscriptions and he became convinced that the script was alphabetic, not some “local barbarism.” He rapidly made major strides forward in the decipherment of these inscriptions (often referred to as “Proto-Sinaitic”), based on his assumption that “the acrophonic principle” was operative. Moreover, he also argued that the intellectual soil that facilitated the invention was (certain aspects of) the ancient Egyptian writing system (Gardiner 1916, 1-16), including various Egyptian signs that represented single consonants. In addition, he became convinced that although these Early Alphabetic inscriptions “are not in Egyptian Hieroglyphic…many of the signs are obviously borrowed from that source” (Gardiner 1916, 14). Ultimately, based on the date of some of the Hieroglyphic inscriptions in the region of Serabit el-Khadem as well as the morphological similarities between these Early Alphabetic signs and certain Hieroglyphic signs, Gardiner stated that he believed that it was tenable to assign the alphabetic inscriptions to the latter portion of the Egyptian Twelfth Dynasty (i.e., early eighteenth century BCE. I provide more details in Rollston 2010). Several decades later, W.F. Albright made some significant progress regarding the history of the Early Alphabet, building on Gardiner’s seminal analyses (Albright 1966).

Through the years, F. M. Cross has also made fundamental contributions to the discussion of the history of the Early Alphabet (see Cross’s collected writings, Cross 2003). Furthermore, P. K. McCarter’s contributions have been particularly important (e.g., 1975, 1996) as well. Moreover, both B. Sass (1988) and G. Hamilton (2006; this publication by Hamilton was based on his Harvard dissertation, 1985) have contributed to the discussion. More recently, two alphabetic inscriptions discovered at Wadi el-Hol (Egypt) were published (J. Darnell, F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp, M. Lundberg, P. K. McCarter, B. Zuckerman 2005) and it has been argued that these can be dated to the same basic chronological horizon as the Early Alphabetic texts from Serabit el-Khadem (although perhaps from a later component of that horizon). Significantly, J. Darnell (the Egyptologist that was part of the team working on the Wadi el-Hol Inscriptions) has argued that the Early Alphabetic inscriptions from Wadi el-Hol were modeled on Egyptian signs (i.e., his assessment was analogous to Gardiner’s analysis of the Serabit el-Hadem Inscriptions). Note the following citation in this regard: “What is most striking about the alphabetic texts from the Wadi el-Hol is how so many of the signs appear to reflect features and peculiarities best known from the paleographic, orthographic, and lapidary hieratic traditions of the early Middle Kingdom” (Darnell, et al., 2005, 86). Also of substantial import in this connection is the content of some of the Hieratic inscriptions discovered in Wadi el-Hol, inscriptions found near the Early Alphabetic inscriptions. Here is Darnell’s translation of the first four lines of one of these inscriptions: “The General of the Asiatics, Bebi; his daughter Maatherankheni; the Royal Messenger Bebi; The Express Courier Hornebkhasutemsaf” (Darnell, et al., 2005, 88, 102-103). Of course, the term “Asisatic” in Egyptian is a term used in Egyptian for Semites (especially those from the Levant). Darnell believes that the writers of the Early Alphabetic inscriptions of Wadi el-Hol were “not slaves,” but “desert experts” who learned Egyptian from “military scribes” (Darnell, et al., 2005, 90). Note that within a second Egyptian inscription from Wadi el-Hol are references to various officials, including a reference to “The Scribe of the storehouse of the mayor, Sawepwaut” (Darnell, et al., 104).

NOTE: The inscriptions from Wadi el-Hol and Serabit el-Khadem are pictographic in nature and employ a principle often referred to as the acrophonic principle. So, for example, one of the letters attested has the appearance of a human head. The word for a human head in Semitic is r ’å. This pictographic letter stood for the phoneme “r.” That is, because the first sound of the word for head (r ’å) is “r,” a pictographic depiction of a head was intended to signify the “r” sound. Similarly, the word for water in Semitic is mym. Therefore, this pictographic letter (that has, in some respects, the appearance of flowing water) stood for the phoneme “m.” That is, because the first sound of the word for water (mym) is “m,” a graphic depiction of water was intended to signify the “m” sound.

It should be emphasized strongly here that Early Alphabetic inscriptions are attested not only in Egypt, but also in Palestine (but from later periods). For example, an inscribed potsherd from Gezer dating to the Middle Bronze Age II (ca. 1800-1630 BCE) contains three early alphabetic letters. The Lachish Ewer is written in the Early Alphabetic script and dates to some time around the thirteenth century BCE. (Regarding the transition from Early Alphabetic to Phoenician, see Naveh 1987; Cross 2003; McCarter 1975, Rollston 2008a, 2008b; 2010).

II. Literacy in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean

For the ancient Near Eastern cultural centers of Mesopotamia and Egypt, literacy rates are estimated to be low and confined to elites (e.g., scribes, government officials, priests). To be precise, for Egypt, literacy rates are often estimated to be at ca. one-percent or lower, and confined to elites (see Baines and Eyre,1983, 65-96; note that even at Deir el-Medina it is elites that are writing). For Mesopotamia, Larsen believes that one-percent is also a reasonable figure (see Larsen, 1989, 121-148, esp. 134). There is a fair amount of data from Mesopotamia and Egypt about the nature of scribal education (schools, school texts, buildings, etc.) and I discuss these data at some length in a volume on writing and literacy in the world of ancient Israel (Rollston 2010).

Some have suggested that with the invention of the alphabet, literacy rates rapidly became quite high, with both elites and non-elites writing and reading (note: these two skills are related, but quite different). For example, during the middle of the twentieth century, W.F. Albright stated that “since the forms of the letters are very simple, the 22-letter alphabet could be learned in a day or two by a bright student and in a week or two by the dullest.” And he proceeded to affirm that he did “not doubt for a moment that there were many urchins in various parts of Palestine who could read and write as early as the time of the Judges” (Albright 1960, 123). At the beginning of the twenty-first century, R. Hess made similar statements. For example, regarding ancient Israel, he states that there is “continually increasing evidence for a wide variety of people from all walks of life who could read and write.” In addition, he states that he believes “the whole picture is consistent with a variety of [literate] classes and groups, not merely a few elites” (Hess 2006, passim 342-345). However, based on a detailed analysis of the Old Hebrew epigraphic evidence for Iron Age Israel, I have argued (2006; 2010) that literacy in Iron Age Israel was confined primarily to elites (e.g., scribes, high military officials, priests). That is, I do not believe that the non-elite masses could write and read (at least not beyond the most remedial of levels…and when they did attempt to do so, it is painfully apparent). The epigraphic evidence in Old Hebrew (i.e., the meticulous execution of the script, the synchronic consistency of orthography, the use of complicated hieratic numerals, etc.) demonstrates that there was formal, standardized education in Iron II Israel. Moreover, there was a strong distinction between the educated and the non-educated, with the masses falling into the second category (something even Ben Sira noted centuries after the rise of alphabetic scripts, Sira 38:24-39:11; 51:23; Rollston 2001). In addition, I. Young’s cogent analyses (1998a; 1998b) of the biblical evidence suggest the same thing: elites were the writers in ancient Israel. Of import in this connection is the fact that Greek is an alphabetic script (derived from the Phoenician script), but there is no decisive evidence that literacy of the populace in ancient Greece was the norm. Moreover, Latin is an alphabetic script as well, but there is no decisive evidence that literacy was the norm for the populace in ancient Italy. Rather, the evidence suggests that the vast majority of the population was not literate. Note, for example, that W. Harris (1989, 114, 267, 22) has argued that literacy rates in Attica were probably ca. five percent to ten percent and those in Italy were probably below fifteen percent (note: within this volume [passim], Harris has cogently critiqued those that have proposed high(er) rates of literacy). Therefore, I contend that high levels of literacy are not a necessary correlative of the presence of an alphabetic writing system.

Goldwasser affirms (following in the footsteps of Albright) that “with the alphabet, writing broke out of the ‘golden cage’ of the professional scribal world,” and she contends that “alphabetic writing gave many more people control over their lives and enabled larger segments of the population to take a more active role in the cultural and administrative affairs of their respective societies” (Goldwasser 2010, 41). This is a marvelous notion, but I view it mostly a perpetuation of the older, romantic notions about literacy levels and the alphabet. Note that rather than positing rapid proficiency in alphabetic writing and literacy, recent empirical studies for modern languages have delineated developmental phases (“stages”) in the process of word-reading and word-spelling. Ehri summarizes these stages in broad terms as follows: (1) Prealphabetic; (2) Partial alphabetic; (3) Full alphabetic; (4) Consolidated alphabetic. The first stage applies to “prereaders who operate with nonalphabetic information because they know little about the alphabetic system.” The second stage applies to “novice beginners who operate with rudimentary knowledge of some letter-sound relations.” The third level applies to students who “possess more complete knowledge involving grapheme-phoneme units and how these units form words.” The fourth level “applies to more advanced students who have knowledge of letter patterns as well as grapheme-phoneme units” (Ehri 1997, 240; 253-256). Moreover, it has been argued on the basis of these empirical studies that for children to become proficient in a modern writing system (i.e., their first writing system) a few years are normally required, not a few days or weeks (Ehri 2002, 7-28; Henderson 1985). Of course, it is readily apparent that emergent writing is often attested within “initial” periods of instruction, but proficiency (e.g., capacity to produce “documents” with minimal orthographic errors, and with the letters reflecting accurate morphology and stance as well as standard relative size) requires substantial time (see also D. L. Share and I. Levin 1999; P. H. K. Seymour 2005). Arguably, literacy rates were higher in ancient societies using an alphabetic writing system than in those using a non-alphabetic writing system (because the non-alphabetic systems are more difficult). But my point is this: literacy of the masses is not a necessary correlative of the presence of alphabetic writing (regarding a definition of literacy, see Rollston 2010, 127-128 et passim). Basically, literacy continued to be something associated with elites, even after the rise of alphabetic writing. Therefore, I would contend that the inventors of the alphabet were also members of officialdom and literate (i.e., capable of writing and reading Egyptian texts) and that this literacy was a precipitating factor in their ability to invent the alphabet.

III. The Inventors of the Alphabet: Varia

O. Goldwasser (2010) contends that the inventors of the alphabet were illiterate. She focuses heavily on the Serabit el-Hadem inscriptions. Here are some of her statements. “The [Egyptian] turquoise expeditions to Serabit brought together high officials, scribes, priests, architects, physicians, magicians, scorpion charmers, interpreters, caravan leaders, donkey drivers, miners, builders, soldiers, and sailors” (Goldwasser 2010, 39). She also states that “some high officials who left inscriptions at the Serabit temple present themselves as Egyptians, yet they also mention that they are Asiatic in origin, or have an Asiatic mother.” In addition, she notes that “the expedition lists at Serabit also contain the names of many ‘interpreters’” (Goldwasser 2010, 40). She affirms that the bottom line is that “there were surely many more Canaanites at Serabit than are listed as such in the Hieroglyphic inscriptions at the site.” Furthermore, she notes that “Nowhere in the many inscriptions at the site is there a mention of slaves. Canaanites, yes; slaves, no” (Goldwasser 2010, 40). She believes that the inventors of the alphabet were Canaanite and even argues that we may even know the names of these inventors of the alphabet: “They apparently emerged from among the circle of one Khebeded. He is mentioned in several Egyptian Hieroglyphic inscriptions at the site and is referred to as the ‘Brother of the Ruler of Retenu’” (Goldwasser 2010, 45), with Retenu being a means of referring to the southern Levant. She also affirms that “It is clear that this ‘Khebeded, brother of the Ruler of Retenu’ is a Canaanite” (Goldwasser 2010, 45). She contends that “Khebeded was involved with Egyptian expeditions to Serabit for more than a decade” and she argues that “he is clearly the highest-ranking Canaanite who left a Hieroglyphic inscription in the Serabit temple. He was probably a leader of the Canaanite workforce.” She contends that “the quality of the Hieroglyphs in an inscription that Khebeded added on a stela…is very poor.” She also states that “his inscription on Stela 92 would have been an embarrassment for an educated Egyptian scribe….(his) Hieroglyphic signs [are of] different sizes and crammed next to each other, and vacant spaces appear at the end of the line. But the Hieroglyphic pictograms in Stela 92 bear a remarkable resemblance to the signs in the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions” (Goldwasser 2010, 46). She also states that “it may seem strange, but I believe the inventors of the alphabet were illiterate—that is, they could not read Egyptian with its hundreds of Hieroglpyic signs.” She then queries: “Why do I think so?” and then answers herself: “The letters in the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions are very crude. They are not the same size. They are not written in a single direction….this suggests that the writers had mastered neither Egyptian Hieroglyphic nor any other complex, rule-governed script” (Goldwasser 2010, 44). An additional piece of her argument is her contention that the “Canaanite inventors of the alphabet ” unwittingly conflated two Egyptian signs for snakes into a single alphabetic sign for /n/ (Semitic: “nahash,” i.e., “snake”) and this “confirms their ignorance of the meaning of the Egyptian Hieroglyphs.”

At this juncture, a summary of Goldwasser’s argument is in order. She believes that at Serabit there were high officials, including scribes. She mentions that the names of many “interpreters” are present. She believes that there were Canaanites at Serabit el-Khadem. She does not believe that the Canaanites were slaves. She mentions that some of the high officials that left Egyptian inscriptions were Asiatic (i.e., Canaanite). She notes that among the Canaanites was one man named Khebeded and she notes that he was the “brother of the Ruler of Retenu.” She states that the “inventors of the alphabet….apparently emerged from among the circle of Khebeded.” She states that Khebeded was involved with Egyptian expeditions to Serabit for more than a decade. She states that he is a high ranking Canaanite and that he left a Hieroglyphic inscription in the Serabit temple. She indicates that the quality of his Egyptian penmanship is “very poor, an embarrassment for an educated Egyptian scribe.” She affirms that the letters in the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions are very crude. She even contends that between Khebeded’s inscription on stela 92 and the signs in the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions there is a “remarkable resemblance.” But in spite of all of this, Goldwasser concludes that “I believe the inventors of the alphabet were illiterate—that is, they could not read Egyptian” (Goldwasser 2010, 43). Striking however, is the fact that she has actually made a good case for precisely the reverse. Namely, she has made a case for the fact that the inventors of the alphabet were Canaanite, that they were part of the circle associated with a high ranking Canaanite official named Khebeded, who was the brother of the Ruler of Retenu. Furthermore, she contends that he himself wrote a Hieroglyphic inscription and the poor penmanship of that inscription shows striking similarity to the script of the alphabetic inscriptions from Serabit. That is, basically she has made a case for contending that the inventor(s) of the alphabet were Canaanite, that this (or these) Canaanites functioned in official circles and that at least some of them were literate in Egyptian (even if not capable of writing the script with good penmanship!). Finally, regarding the presumed combination of two Egyptian signs for two different kinds of snakes into a single alphabetic sign (that signified the phoneme /n/, from “nahash” “snake”), I would simply state that this could just as readily be understood as a conscious decision (after all, through time, humans often combine two similar entities, for any number of reasons, especially within the realm of language).

Basically, I have thought for a number of years now that the cumulative weight of the evidence suggests that: (1) the Muttersprache of the inventors of the alphabet was a Northwest Semitic language, (2) and that the inventors of the alphabet functioned in a reasonably high status role within a component (or components) of the Egyptian administrative apparatus, that is, officialdom. (3) I believe that it is reasonable and tenable to argue that they learned Egyptian writing from Egyptian scribes. (4) I contend that it would be improbable that illiterate miners were capable of, or responsible for, the invention of the alphabet. (5) Ultimately, writing in antiquity was an elite venture and those that invented the alphabet were Northwest Semitic speakers, arguably they were officials in the Egyptian apparatus, quite capable with the complex Egyptian writing system. This, I believe, best accounts for the maximum amount of data.


Albright, W. F.

1960 Discussion. Pp. 94-123 in City Invincible: A Symposium on Urbanization and Cultural Development in the Ancient Near East, eds. C. H. Kraeling and R. M. Adams. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

1966 The Proto-Sinaitic Inscriptions and their Decipherment. Harvard Theological Studies 22. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Baines, J., and Eyre, C. J.

1983 Four Notes on Literacy. Göttinger Miszellen 62: 65-96.

Cross, F. M.

2003 Leaves from An Epigrapher’s Notebook: Collected Papers in Hebrew and West Semitic Palaeography and Epigraphy. Harvard Semitic Studies 51. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

Darnell, J. C., Dobbs-Allsopp, F. W., Lundberg, M. J., McCarter, P. K., Zuckerman, B.

2005 Two Early Alphabetic Inscriptions from Wadi el-Hôl. Pp. 63-124 in The Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 59. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research.

Ehri, L.

1997 Learning to Read and Learning to Spell are One and the Same, Almost. Pp. 237-69 in Learning to Spell: Research, Theory, and Practice across Languages, eds. C. A. Perfetti, L. Rieben, and M. Fayol. Mahway: Erlbaum.

2002 Phases of Acquisition in Learning to Read Words and Implications for Teaching. Pp. 7-28 in Learning and Teaching Reading, eds. R. Stainthorp and R. Thomlinson. British Journal of Educational Psychology: Monograph Series 1. Leicester: British Psychological Society.

Gardiner, A. H.

1906 Serabit. Pp. 129-32 in Researches in Sinai, ed. W. M. Flinders Petrie. London.

1916 The Egyptian Origin of the Semitic Alphabet. The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 3: 1-16.
Goldwasser, O.

2010 How the Alphabet was Born from Hieroglyphs. Biblical Archaeology Review 36/2 (March-April): 36-50, 74.
Hamilton, G. J.

2006 Origins of the West Semitic Alphabet in Egyptian Scripts. Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series 40. Washington, DC: Catholic Biblical Association.

Harris, W. V.

1989 Ancient Literacy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Hess, R. S.

2006 Writing about Literacy: Abecedaries and Evidence for Literacy in Ancient Israel. Vetus Testamentum 56: 342-346.

Larsen, M. T.

1989 What They Wrote on Clay. Pp. 121-148 in Literacy and Society, eds. K. Schousboe and M. T. Larsen. Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag.

McCarter, P. Kyle, Jr.

1975 The Antiquity of the Greek Alphabet. Harvard Semitic Monographs 9. Missoula, MT: Scholars Press.

1996 Ancient Inscriptions: Voices from the Biblical World. Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society.

Naveh, J.

1987 Early History of the Alphabet: An Introduction to West Semitic Epigraphy and Palaeography. 2nd ed. Jerusalem: Magnes.

Rollston, C. A.

2001 Ben Sira 38:24-39:11 and the Egyptian Satire of the Trades: A Reconsideration. Journal of Biblical Literature 120: 131-139.

2006 Scribal Education in Ancient Israel: The Old Hebrew Epigraphic Evidence. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 344: 47-74.

2008a The Pheonician Script of the Tel Zayit Abecedary and Putative Evidence for Israelite Literacy. Pp. 61-96 in Literature Culture and Tenth-Century Canaan: The Tel Zayit Abecedary in Context, eds. Ron E. Tappy and P. Kyle McCarter: Eisenbrauns.

2008b The Dating of the Early Royal Byblian (Phoenician): A Response to Benjamin Sass. Maarav 15: 57-93.

2010 Writing and Literacy in the World of Ancient Israel: Epigraphic Evidence from the Iron Age. Archaeology and Biblical Studies 11, Tammi Schneider, Editor. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature.

Sass, B.

1988 The Genesis of the Alphabet and Its Development in the Second Millenium B.C. Ägypten und Altes Testament 13. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Seymour, P. H. K.

2005 Early Reading Development in European Orthographies. Pp. 296-315 in The Science of Reading: A Handbook, eds. M. J. Snowling and C. Hulme. Oxford: Blackwell.

Share, D. L., and Levin, I.

1999 Learning to Read and Write in Hebrew. Pp. 89-111 in Learning to Read and Write: A Cross-Linguistic Perspective, eds. M. Harris and G. Hatano. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Young, I. M.

1998a Israelite Literacy: Interpreting the Evidence Part I. Vetus Testamentum 48: 239-253.

1998b Israelite Literacy: Interpreting the Evidence, Part II. Vetus Testamentum 48: 408-422.

John the Baptist and the Reliquary of Sveti Ivan: Not a Match

13 August 2010

This article is a slightly revised (June 2012) version of a post published here in August 2010, at the time of the initial press release. Fortunately, the most recent press reports (June 2012) are more circumspect and cautious than those of two years ago. Furthermore, please allow me to emphasize here that these excavations are useful and impressive, with some significant archaeological material culture having been excavated. Nevertheless, the conclusion must still be that there is no good evidence to suggest that these bones are probably those of John the Baptist.

I. Summary of the Salient Details of the ‘Sveti Ivan’ Excavation and the Claims regarding the Reliquary

A portion of a small island known as ‘Sveti Ivan’ (a Bulgarian term that means “Saint John”) has been the site of excavations for a number of years.  This island is located in the Black Sea, about a kilometer from the Bulgarian town of Sozopol, one of the oldest on Bulgaria’s southern coast.  Kazimir Popkonstantinov is the director of the excavations on Sveti Ivan.   Aerial images reveal that there are (at least) two prominent sets of monumental archaeological remains on the island.  These have been affirmed to be the remains of: (1) a church of ca. the 6th century CE; (2) and a monastery (and church) of ca. the 13th and 14th centuries CE.

Under the ruins of the 6th century church are the remains of an older basilica, and these older remains have been dated to ca. the 5th century CE.  It was in the ruins of this older basilica that a reliquary was found.  (1) The reliquary’s measurements are ca. 20.5 cm. x 12.5. cm. x. 14.5 cm.  The reliquary is reported to have been made of alabaster.  Within this reliquary were found bone fragments (six human bones and three animals bones), and the human bones included portions of a skull, a hand, a tooth, a rib, and an arm bone.  (2) Near the reliquary was a small sandstone box measuring ca. 4 cm. x 6 cm.  On this small sandstone box is a Greek inscription that reportedly says “May God save you, servant Thomas.  To Saint John, June 24.” 

Popkonstantinov had stated (in 2010) that the inscription is the “key” to the interpretation of the finds.  That is, based on this inscription, he has stated that the remains found in the alabaster reliquary may very well be those of John the Baptist, a figure of the Greek New Testament.

II. Summary of the Salient Features of the Greek New Testament’s Statements regarding John the Baptist

Although New Testament scholarship has cogently argued for more than a century that the New Testament documents are not historical in all of their details, it has been argued convincingly that certain things can be known about John the Baptist with a high degree of historical certainty.  Namely, (1) He was a Jewish Apocalypticist of the 1st century CE; (2) He was connected in some fashion with a movement surrounding Jesus of Nazareth; (3) John the Baptist was imprisoned in the Galilee by Herod Antipas (note: Herod was the Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea from ca. 4 BCE to ca. 39 CE).  (4)  John was martyred by Herod Antipas, arguably some time between 26 CE and 30 CE.  (5) John had followers (referred to in Greek as mathetai) and these followers buried John the Baptist after he was killed, arguably (according to the Marcan tradition), in a tomb (for these details, see Mark 6:14-29; Matt 14:1-12; Luke 9:7-9; for the birth narratives of John the Baptist, see Luke 1; for his apocalyptic message, see Mark 1:2-8; Matt 3:1-12; Luke 3:1-20).  (6) Josephus has some material about John, but this material does not alter the details about John the Baptist that I have noted here.  

III.  A Critique of Popkonstantinov’s (2010) Arguments, and any similar arguments made now in 2012

1. John the Baptist was buried in a tomb in Palestine, arguably in the Galilee (where he died).  (2) John the Baptist died during the early 1st century CE.  Therefore, without some compelling evidence for the moving of the body (or portions thereof) of John the Baptist (centuries later!) from the place of burial in Palestine, it is not cogent or prudent to propose that the remains found on a small island in the Black Sea, in the archaeological ruins of a basilica of the 5th century CE, are those of a Palestinian Jews named John the Baptist who lived, died, and was buried in the 1st century CE, in Palestine.

3. To be sure, Popkonstantinov has argued (2010) that the inscription on the sandstone box near the reliquary is the “key” to his interpretation.  However, this is not particularly convincing.  After all, the inscription certainly does *not* state that “these are the remains of John the Baptist.”  4. The date of June 24th is one of the feast days for John the Baptist (e.g., within Orthodox Christianity), but this cannot be construed as evidence that the bones themselves are actually those of John (indeed, the date of the founding of this church would argue against this, as the church was founded centuries after the death and burial of John the Baptist). 5. Furthermore, the inscription is not on the reliquary (where the bones were found), but rather, they are on a sandstone box that was found *near* the reliquary.  One might propose that the bones are those of a certain man named “Thomas,” but even this is not necessarily the case, for a number of reasons (not the least of which is the fact that the reliquary and sandstone box need not have belonged to the same person or been deposited at precisely the same time in the basilica).  

6. Mostly, the inscription strikes me as a plea of a pious believer from the island of Sveti Ivan to a famed patron saint, namely, a plea to John the Baptist.  That’s it. That’s the way I would interpret the totality of the evidence.   

7. Note that Popkonstantinov had stated (2010) that he knew of no DNA database for the relatives of John the Baptist.  This is correct…there is certainly *not* such a database of DNA data for the relatives of John the Baptist.  8. Of course, carbon tests have recently been done on three of the human bone fragments, and these are ostensibly helpful in establishing the basic chronological horizon for the interred remains (assuming they have not been handled so much that carbon dating will be very difficult or almost impossible), but even these sort of data can do no more than suggest that these bones came from the same basic chronological horizon as John the Baptist. That’s a far cry from demonstrating that these are the actual bones of John the Baptist.

Ultimately, I would contend that for someone to suggest that these bones could be those of John the Baptist, a figure of 1st century CE Palestine, is tenuous in the extreme.  In this connection I should note that Popkonstantinov (knowing that his understanding of the evidence is strained to the breaking point) was quoted as saying (in 2010): “Here, I believe, the science stops.  Since we cannot prove the attribution of any of the relics with scientific methods, we have to be tolerant of those who want to believe that they are” (Popkonstantinov).  I would gently suggest, though, that archaeological and literary analyses are about evidence, not about authority, faith, or piety.  Thus, with all due respect, it is necessary to state that Popkonstantinov’s conclusions do not follow from the evidence.

IV.  For the Sake of Argument, Here are the Sort of Data that would be Needed for Popkonstantinov’s Case.  

1. A reliable ancient tradition, preferably from the late(r) 1st century or very early 2nd century CE, stating that the bones of John the Baptist had been moved to an island in the Black Sea;  2. An inscription on the burial box that stated something like “The bones of John the Baptist” (i.e., name and title…something such as “John” would not be sufficient); 3.  A palaeographic date for the inscription itself that was late 1st century or very early 2nd century (after all, arguably no one in later centuries would be able to locate precisely the burial site of John the Baptist in Palestine and it may be that even in the late 1st century no one would have been able to have done so!).  (4) Carbon 14 dating of the bones that yielded a 1st century CE date.  We now have a carbon date which is helpful, but without the other data just outlined above (numbers 1-3), the carbon dates cannot be considered particularly useful in identifying the remains, even if they do come from the same basic chronological horizon. 5. Thus, in light of the general dearth of necessary data, it is necessary to conclude that these bones are not those of John the Baptist himself.


Christopher Rollston

The Hazor Tablet Fragments: Further Details and Musings

26 July 2010

Fragment of Hazor Tablet

Data about the Cuneiform Fragments from Hazor continue to be released.  Here are some of the most recent details: (1) There are two fragments.  One of the fragments is very small indeed. (2) Akkadian words that can be translated into English as “master,” “slave,” and arguably “tooth” have been read.  (3) Wayne Horowitz has been cited as stating that the style is reminiscent of the phrasing of the Code of Hammurabi (i.e., the famed Old Babylonian Law “Code”).  All of these are useful data.  Further details will certainly soon be forthcoming.

Reflections.  At this juncture, (1) It seems that there is the assumption that these two fragments are from a single tablet.  I think that this seems reasonable.  Of course, the best means of determining this sort of thing is a certain and clear join of fragments.  Often, though (in the absence of a certain and clear join), it is reasonable to posit that two fragments are of the same tablet based on the proximity of the fragments (i.e., found in situ next to each other).  Nevertheless, proximity of fragments cannot be considered quite as definitive as a clear and certain join.  (2) Legal texts are very common in the ancient Near East and are attested at numerous sites through the course of time.  (3) Hammurabi is a very famous “Code.”  Nevertheless, “Codes” such as Eshunna and Lipit Ishtar are also known.  Also, note the Middle Assyrian Laws…a fairly large corpus of legal texts (and sometimes the term “code” is used of these as well).  That is, Hammurabi is arguably the most famous “code” (i.e., famous now, in the modern period) but it is not the only extant law “code.” Note: in terms of chronological horizon, Expedition Director Amnon Ben-Tor has recently characterized these fragments as “Mari Age” (Itamar Singer, personal correspondence).   Along these lines, it should be noted that, as Raymond Westbrook (my teacher of all things legal) often stated…the term “law code” cannot be readily used of these ancient Near Eastern texts, as they are not “codes” in anything approximating modern legal codes (as modern legal codes are considerably more extensive).  Thus, I use the term “code” of these ancient Near Eastern texts with Westbrook’s caveat in mind.  (4) Words that can be translated “man,” or “citizen,” or “master,” or “slave” are quite common in legal texts (e.g., , “awilum” meaning “man,” “citizen,” etc. or “wardu” meaning “slave,” or “servant”).  (5) “Shumma Awilum” is a phrase that can be rendered “If a man,” and it is the standard way that each consecutive Law of Hammuarib begins (the same is basically true of the various law “codes”).  As noted above, Horowitz refers to the style of these new fragments as similar to Hammurabi.  This causes me to suggest that something similar to this phrase has been deciphered in the new Hazor fragments.  (6) Within one story Horowitz is cited as saying: that this latest discovery “opens an interesting avenue for possible further investiation of a connection between Biblical Law and the Code of Hammurabi.”  I concur and suspect (as I mentioned in a previous post) that the contours of this discussion were articulated nicely in two recent Maarav articles. 

Christopher Rollston

Legal Tablet from Hazor

19 July 2010

Here is an auspicious press release from the Hazor Expedition:

Hazor Law Code Fragments

The Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations in Memory of Yigael Yadin have recovered two fragments of a cuneiform tablet preserving portions of a law code at Hazor.

The text parallels portions of the famous Law Code of Hammurabi, and, to a certain extent even the Biblical “tooth for a tooth”. The team is presently working its way down towards a monumental structure dating to the Bronze Age, where more tablets are expected to be found.

The tablet is currently being studied at the Hebrew University. More details to follow as soon as possible.

The excavations are sponsored by the Hebrew university and the Israel Exploration Society, and take place in the Hazor National Park.

End of press release.



Rollston’s Bibliographic Suggestions and Brief Reflections on this Subject…

Because the Code of Hammurabi is mentioned (in the press release), readers might wish to refer to the discussion published in MAARAV between David Wright and Bruce Wells.  Namely, Wright, “The Laws of Hammurabi as a Source for the Covenant Collection…” (MAARAV 10 [2003]: 11-87), and then a response from Bruce Wells entitled “The Covenant Code and Near Eastern Legal Traditions: A Response to David P. Wright” (MAARAV 13 [2006]: 85-118), then Wright’s reply entitled “The Laws of Hammurabi and the Covenant Code: A Response to Bruce Wells” (MAARAV 13 [2006]: 211-260).  Wright subsequently published a book that revolves around this subject matter (and the substance of Wright’s MAARAV articles are contained in the book). 

In any case, because of the nature of this new Hazor find, and the wording of the press release, I suspect that the same issues that Wells and Wright discuss (in a very collegial, but direct, fashion) will soon surface again, this time as part of this new Hazor tablet.

Most readers will already know this, but suffice it to state that the amount of extant legal material in Mesopotamian cuneiform is vast…coming from the Center (i.e., Mesopotamia proper) and also from the Periphery (e.g., Syria). 

Christopher Rollston 

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