17 March 2012


There is often a great deal of misunderstanding about this subject generally. That is, people who do not work in ancient history or ancient religion often assume that a belief in a resurrection was some sort of distinctively Christian belief. That, however, is a serious misconception. The fact of the matter is that within various segments of Late Second Temple Judaism, as well as within Early Post-Biblical Judaism, the notion of a resurrection was warmly embraced by many. The locus classicus in the Hebrew Bible is arguably the following text from the mid-2nd century BCE: “Many of those sleeping in the dust of the earth shall awaken, some to everlasting life and some to everlasting peril” (Dan 12:2; notice here that the correlative of “damnation” or “hell” is also present in some fashion, of course). Within the Old Testament Apocrypha, the notion of a resurrection is embraced at times as well, with the narrative about the martyrdom of “the mother and her seven sons” being a fine exemplar of this. Thus, according to the narrative, one of the sons said during the torture that preceded his death: “the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws” (2 Macc 7:9). Similarly, the mother herself says within the narrative, as an exhortation to her martyred sons: “the Creator of the world…will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again” (2 Macc 7:23). 2 Maccabees arguably hails from the first half of the 1st century BCE. Regarding the dead, the Wisdom of Solomon also affirms that the dead “seemed to have died,” but “they are at peace,” and “their hope is full of immortality,” and they will ultimately “shine forth” and “will govern nations and ruler over peoples” (Wisdom 3:2-8 passim, with the Greek future tense being used here). The Wisdom of Solomon arguably hails from the second half of the 1st century BCE. Significantly, all of these texts antedate the rise of Christianity and they all affirm a belief in a resurrection. In short, many Jewish people believed in a resurrection long before Christianity came along. To be sure, a belief in a resurrection was not universally accepted by all Jewish people in the Second Temple period. Some Jewish people did not believe in a resurrection. For example, the traditionalist Ben Sira rejected the notion of eternal bliss for the righteous and eternal punishment for the wicked. Thus, he wrote: “Who in the netherworld can glorify the Most High, in place of the living who offer their praise? No more can the dead give praise than those who have never lived; they glorify the Lord who are alive and well” (Sir 17:27-28). In sum, although not all Jewish people of the Late Second Temple period accepted the notion of a resurrection, there are texts from this period that demonstrate that a fair number did.

Furthermore, the Jewish historian Josephus (lived ca. 37-100 CE) also discusses the subject of the perishability and imperishability of the soul, with regard to some of the major strands of Judaism during the first century of the Common Era. Regarding the Pharisees, therefore, he states that they believe “every soul is imperishable, but the soul of the good alone passes into another body, while the souls of the wicked suffer eternal punishment.” Conversely, regarding the Sadducees he states that “as for the persistence of the soul after death, penalties in the underworld, and rewards; they will have none of them.” Regarding the Essenes, Josephus states that they believe “the body is corruptible and its constituent matter impermanent, but that the soul is immortal and imperishable…sharing the belief of the sons of Greece, they maintain that for virtuous souls there is reserved an abode beyond the ocean, a place which is not oppressed by rain or snow or heat, but is refreshed by the ever gentle breath of the west wind coming in from ocean, while they relegate base souls to a murky and tempestuous dungeon, big with never-ending punishments” (Josephus, Jewish War, II, 11-14; for more discussion, see Nickelsburg 1972, 164-169). Of course, pericopes within the Greek New Testament regarding the Pharisees and Sadducees dovetail nicely with Josephus. The locus classicus for the New Testament is arguably contained within the book of Acts: “The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three” (Acts 23:8; cf. also Matt 22:23). Of course, within Early Christianity, the notion of a resurrection (and the presumed correlative, “hell”, is also attested in some form in Daniel 12:2) predominates, as the soil from which Christianity especially hails is that of apocalyptic Late Second Temple Judaism (Ehrman 1999). Pericopes within the Greek New Testament such as “The Rich Man and Lazarus” (Luke 16:19-31) and “The New Heaven and New Earth” (Rev 21) reflect this, of course. Moreover, the belief in a resurrection persists in subsequent chronological horizons of Early Christianity as well (e.g., see Ferguson 1999, 16,23, 26, 65-78).

In short, based on evidence from literary texts associated with Late Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity, scholars of the Hebrew Bible, Second Temple Judaism, the Greek New Testament, and Early Christianity have for a very long time dealt with these ancient assumptions about the afterlife; therefore, the consensus of the field has long been that some Jewish people within the Late Second Temple period embraced a belief in a resurrection and some did not (e.g., DiLella 1966; Collins 1998; Ehrman 1999). Of course, Christianity too (originally a sect of Judaism, with strong apocalyptic tendencies) did embrace a notion of a resurrection, and this is very clear from the documents of the Greek New Testament. But the fact remains that many Jewish people of the late Second Temple Period believed in a resurrection, not just Jewish Christians, and the fact remains that a belief in the resurrection is attested within Judaism prior to the rise of Christianity. This is just a historical fact.

Significantly, for Late Second Temple Judaism and Post-Biblical Judaism, epigraphic evidence also demonstrates that some Jewish people believed in a resurrection and some did not. For example, an inscription in a corridor of the Jewish catacombs of Beth She’arim reads as follows: “Best wishes in the Resurrection!” (Greek: “anastasis”; Schwabe and Lifschitz 1974, 180 [#194]). Moreover, one ossuary from Jerusalem has the following: “No one has abolished/cancelled his entering, not even El‘azar and Shapira” (CIIP 1. #93). Similarly, a Jerusalem ossuary has the following Greek inscription: “Cheer up and feast, you brothers who are living, and drink together! No one is immortal” (CIIP 1. #395). Similarly, an inscription in a mausoleum adjacent to catacomb eleven at Beth She’arim has the following inscription: “I, the son of Leontios, lie dead, Justus, the son of Sappho, who, having plucked the fruit of all wisdom, left the light, my poor parents in endless mourning, and my brothers too, alas, in my Beth She‘arim, And having gone to Hades, I Justus, lie here with many of my own kindred, since mighty Fate so willed. Be of good courage, Justus, no one is immortal” (Schwabe and Lifschitz 1974, 97 [#127]). Similarly, an inscription from Beth She’arim reads: “Be of good courage, Simon; no one is immortal” (Schwabe and Lifschitz 1974, 35-36 [#59]). Or again from Beth She’arim: “Be of good courage, lady Calliope from Byblos; no one is immortal” (Schwabe and Lifschitz 1974, 124-125 [#136]). From a Greek inscription from Beth She’arim: “May your portion be good, my lord father and lady mother, and may your souls be bound in immortal life” (Greek: athanatou biou; Schwabe and Lifschitz 1974, 114-116 [#130]). Among the longest of this sort of inscription from Beth She’arim is the following: “this tomb contains the dwindling remains of noble Karteria, preserving forever her illustrious memory. Zenobia brought her here for burial, fulfilling thus her mother’s behest. For you, most blessed of women, your offspring, whom you bore from your gentle womb, your pious daughter, for she always does actions praiseworthy in the eyes of mortals, erected this monument so that even after the end of life’s term, may you both enjoy again indestructible riches” (Schwabe and Lifschitz 1974, 157-167 [#183]). Similarly, an inscription from Beth She’arim says: “May your lot be good, Hannah” (Schwabe and Lifschitz 1974, 2-3 [#2]). Or again, one of the Beth She’arim inscriptions contains the following statement: “Julianus Gemellus, may your share be good” (Schwabe and Lifschitz 1974, 8 [#13]). And again, “Sarah, mother of Yosi, have courage” (Schwabe and Lifschitz 1974, 16 [#22]). Likewise, an ossuary from Beth She’arim has the word “peace” in Greek and Hebrew and in its entirety it reads as follows: “Shalom, little Yosi, Shalom” (Schwabe and Lifschitz 1974, 19 [#28]). In sum, some epigraphic texts from ancient Judaism presuppose a belief in a resurrection and some do not.

Thus, in the final analysis, the cumulative evidence is decisive: There is nothing distinctively “Christian” about a belief in a resurrection. Rather, some segments of Late Second Temple and Early Post-Biblical Judaism believed in a resurrection and some segments did not. Christianity, as an heir to apocalyptic branches of Judaism, was quite consistent in always affirming a belief in a resurrection, but the fact remains that belief in a resurrection is well attested prior to the rise of Christianity, and this belief also persists in certain segments of Judaism after the rise of Christianity.

Christopher Rollston

2010 Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae: volume I, Jerusalem, Part 1, 1-704. H. Cotton, L. Di Segni, W. Eck, B. Isaac, A. Kushnir-Stein, H. Misgav, J. Price, I. Roll, and A. Yardeni, eds. Berlin: DeGruyter.

Collins, J. J.
1998 The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature, 2nd ed.
Biblical Resource Series. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Di Lella, A. A.
1966 “Conservative and Progressive Theology: Sirach and Wisdom.” CBQ 28: 139-154.

Ehrman, Bart
1999 Jesus: Apocalpytic Prophet of the new Millennium. New York: Oxford.

Ferguson, E.
1999 Early Christians Speak: Faith and Life in the First Three Centuries. 3rd edition. Abilene:
Abilene Christian University Press.

Nickelsburg, G. W.E., Jr.
1972 Resurrection, Immortality, and Eternal Life in Intertestamental Judaism. Harvard
Theological Studies 26. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Schwabe, M. and Lifschitz, B.
1974. Beth She‘arim: Volume II, the Greek Inscriptions. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society and the Institute of Archaeology of Hebrew University.


15 March 2012

Various motivations can be deduced (with some certitude) for the production of forgeries. (1) Venality is certainly a component present in the production and sale of forgeries. Non-provenanced inscriptions routinely sell for four, five, and even six figures. Some recent non-provenanced inscriptions have been valued at seven figures. (2) Some forgeries are arguably the result of “sour grapes” (e.g., a student purged from a Northwest Semitic epigraphy program) or professional rivalry, with the forger hoping to “dupe” the “offender.” (3) Naturally, sometimes a forgery can be a prank. For example, the forger of the Hebron Documents was probably a prankster (or a dolt, or both). (4) Moreover, there is a certain amount of prestige associated with being the person who “collects,” “vets,” or “finds” a significant “ancient epigraph” from the market. Indeed, the public (and even scholars within the field) can sometimes lionize such people, often suspending critical mental faculties (and thus assessments of antiquity) because of “sensational” non-provenanced epigraphs. (5) Religion and politics are also strong motives for the production of a forgery. For example, there was arguably a strong religious motivation for the production of the Shapira Fragments (and the initial aura surrounding them). The fact that the Jehoash Inscription was “reported to have been found in the region of the Temple Mount” has political and religious overtones. Ultimately, forgers are arguably motivated by a combination of such factors, and, of course, with each success, hubris is fostered.

Finally, I should like to note that those who suggest that “knowledgeable people” would not engage in the production or vetting of a forgery are being rather naïve. The fact of the matter is that even gifted scholars have been implicated for the production of forgeries. For example, Metzger has stated that former Princeton classicist Coleman-Norton (Metzger’s Doktorvater) concocted an apocryphal story about finding a manuscript of a Greek translation of the Latin Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum (in the North African town of Fedhala), and then published a detailed article about his sensational “find.” That is, to assume that bright, well-trained people are always characterized by professional ethics is belied by “epigraphic history.”

This post is a selection from my article in Maarav 10 (2003): 135-193…and from pages 191-193 in particular.

The Israeli Forgery Trial: The Verdict is Given

14 March 2012

Epigraphic forgeries have been produced for more than two millennia, and they continue to be produced. Among the most famous from the Middle Ages is the The Donation of Constantine, a document that was hailed as ancient and important…until Lorenza Valla demonstrated (1407-1457 CE) the damning philological and historical evidence against its authenticity. Similarly, an inscription referred to as the “Brazilian Phoenician Inscription” was forged during the late 1800s and purported to be an account of Sidonians landing in Brazil. M. Lidzbarski declared it to be a forgery (in 1898), but Cyrus Gordon revived this inscriptional debate and argued (in 1968) that it was indeed an ancient Phoenician inscription. Galvanized by Gordon’s declarations, Frank Cross demonstrated (in 1968) very nicely that this inscription was forged in the modern period.

Similarly, in 1971 G. Mendenhall argued that some inscriptions from the antiquities market, inscriptions dubbed “The Hebron Philistine Documents” were ancient, and he subsequently stated that progress was being made in decipherment of these ancient documents. Frank Cross, however, stated in an annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature that year that these documents were modern forgeries. But Mendenhall chided Cross (without naming him in print) and stated that those who said these documents were modern forgeries simply “do not want to be confused with new facts” and “have already made up their minds about what the ancient world was supposed to produce.” Mendenhall went on to state that “the only scholars who are convinced of their authenticity are those who have worked seriously with the original documents, including the extremely productive computer analysis.” He also said (in 1970 and 1971) that “it is very difficult to believe that scholars capable of putting such an enormous range of information into these documents would also be capable of such irresponsible misuse of learning.” Because these sorts of statements persisted, Joseph Naveh wrote an article entitled “Some Recently forged Inscriptions” in the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (1982) and demonstrated that these Hebron inscriptions were modern forgeries, and of a particuarly poor sort, as they were basically the Siloam Tunnel Inscritpion written backwards!

Mendenhall’s statement suggesting basically that “no one who has such knowledge would ever do something such as this” is oft cited by many people in different contexts (but mostly it is cited by those who wish to state that this or that modern forgery must be ancient because no person capable of producing a forgery would do so). Of course, (sadly) Mendenhall was too sanguine with regard to his assumptions about human nature and human motives. This is demonstrated most convincingly by the fact that Princeton University Professor P. R. Coleman-Norton published an article in Catholic Biblical Quarterly (in 1950) about finding a manuscript which was a Greek translation of the Latin Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum, a manuscript he said he came across in the North African town of Fedhala. In his autobiography entitled Reminiscences of an Octogenarian Princeton Theological Seminary professor Bruce Metzger demonstrated that this “ancient manuscript” Coleman-Norton had said he found was non-existent, and that the entire thing was a Witz, as even the title of the editio princeps demonstrated (it was entitled “An Amusing Agraphon”). In short, very capable scholars are also capable of producing forgeries, and of this there can be no doubt. Of course, even the best forgeres make mistakes…and trained palaeographers can discern these, and this also has long been the case (although some scholars are more capable than others at this, as history also demonstrates).

Naturally, with regard to some of the inscriptions that were part of this trial, it is important to remember that Joseph Naveh argued in print (in an article in Israel Exploration Journal) that the “Two Moussaieff Ostraca” were probable forgeries (in 1998). After collating most of the provenanced Old Hebrew inscriptions in the late 1990s and then looking carefully at the Moussaieff Ostraca, I began to argue (publicly, beginning in March 1999) that these two Moussaieff Ostraca were definitive modern forgeries. Of course, during the 2001 and 2002 the “Jehosash Inscription” surfaced. Joseph Naveh considered it a modern forgery (he told me this in an e-mail, in response to my e-mail to him in which I mentioned the numerous palaeographic problems I saw in this inscription which were demonstrative of its status as a modern forgery…and Naveh told me he felt the same way). Frank Cross also told me in an e-mail (in response to my e-mail to him, listing the palaeographic problems with the Jehoash Inscription) that he too believed the Jehoash Inscription to be a modern forgery and he too soon wrote an article for Israel Exploration Journal arguing that the Jehoash Inscription was indeed a modern forgery. At the same time, I was in the process of completing a long article on epigraphic forgeries for Maarav (published in 2003…and now available on, which included a long palaeographic discussion of the problems with the Moussaieff Ostraca and so I augmented that article with my observations about the palaeographic problems with the Jehoash Inscription. Frank Cross subsequently told me in an e-mail (which he sent in response to a penultimate draft of my long Maarav article on forgeries, an e-mail I still have) that he had become convinced that these Moussaieff Ostraca were indeed modern forgeries as well (he had previously been quoted in print as saying they were genuine). In fact, Cross went even further and stated in an open letter that he also considered the Ivory Pomegranate to be a modern forgery as well. Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University became involved during this time as the primary scholar who used hard science analyses on these inscriptions (and many others), and his conclusions were that these inscriptions were indeed modern forgeries. There were dissenting voices, but not many.

Of course, the discussion in Israel soon focused on those that were believed to have forged some of these inscriptions. Based on various lines of evidence, there was a decision to attempt to prosecute those believed to be responsible for at least some of the most recent modern forgeries. For a nice summary of the objects that were part of the trial, discussion of the problems with the antiquities market, and with forgeries in general, readers might wish to consult the articles in Near Eastern Archaeology 68 (2005). As part of that trial, I was brought to Israel to testify a few years ago and did so…beginning one morning at around nine in the morning and finishing shortly before eleven p.m. It was a long, but productive day. I found the prosecutors, Dan Bahat and Adi Damti, to be gifted, devoted prosecutors. Moreover, Judge Aharon Farkash is a very fine judge, learned, wise. The problem is that he did not believe there was enough evidence “to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” Significantly, however, speaking about the Ya’akov Ossuary (“James Ossuary”) in particular, Judge Farkash also stated (quite reasonably) that this “is not to say that the inscription on the ossuary is true and authentic and was written two thousand years ago.” Also, Prosecutor Dan Bahat has stated that the case had been “complicated by the refusal of a key witness, who was suspected of helping to forge many of the items, to come from Egypt to testify.” Bahat also stated that “What we have tried to do here is to set an international precedent.” Further elaborating, he said, “this is the first time someone has brought the issue of antiquiteis forgery before a court.”

At the end of the day, regardless of the guilt or innocent of those individuals charged and tried for forging inscriptions in this case, the fact remains that forgeries have been produced for more than two millennia and I do not forsee this changing. Indeed, it never will…after all, the motives for forgeries are numerous, from venality, to sour grapes, to a Witz, and from antiquity to the modern period even extend to realms of motivation in the realms of the political and religious.. I have an article coming out in a Brown University Symposium volume on the history of forgeries…and I have an academic monograph on this subject that will be sent off to a publisher this coming summer….so the saga continues…

James Tabor’s Iota: A Palaeographic Problem for his Inscriptional Reading

8 March 2012

Tabor's Drawing of Four-Line Inscription

James Tabor has argued that the four-line Greek inscription from the tomb which he and Simcha Jacobovici have dubbed “Talpiyot Tomb B” should be read as follows: (1) DIOS; (2) IAIO; (3) UPSW; (4) AGB. He renders it “Divine Jehovah Lift, Lift Up.” Richard Bauckham (on the ASOR blog) has followed Tabor’s readings (i.e., the Greek letters Tabor believes to be there), although Bauckham prefers to translate it “Belonging to Zeus IAIO. I, Hagab, exalt (him/you).” There is much that I like about Bauckham’s discussion in general, and I am very pleased by his basic conclusions.

Palaeographers, however, would note a rather serious problem for Tabor and Bauckham’s reading of line two…namely, the dramatic difference in the morphology of the iota, as a viewing of Tabor’s own drawings (p. 91, _The Jesus Discovery_) demonstrates. Thus, Tabor and Bauckham read an iota at the beginning of line two, but one with very long horizontal crossbars (a palaeographic problem I shall soon discuss in a long palaeographic and philological post here, replete with all of my readings and a full translation). However, the next grapheme they read as an iota is a straight vertical (with no horizontals). Variation in the same hand on ossuary inscriptions is certainly attested, but this great of morphological variation for this grapheme is not attested in the epigraphic corpus from this region during this chronological horizon. This is, of course, a serious problem for their reading of this ossuary inscription. Suffice it to say that I remain convinced that this inscription does not mention Yahweh, but it does mention “bones” (i.e., Greek “osta“).

Christopher Rollston

Joseph of Arimathea and Talpiyot Tomb B? An Absence of Reasonable Evidence for a Connection

5 March 2012

James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici have posited that Talpiyot Tomb B is a tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea (i.e., the “Joseph of Arimathea” mentioned in the canonical gospels), and that this tomb also contains the actual ossuary of Joseph of Arimathea himself. Here are some citations of Tabor and Jacobovici’s views: Talpiyot Tombs A and B “are most likely located on the rural estate of Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy member of the Sanhedrin who according to all four New Testament gospels took official charge of Jesus’ burial” (Tabor and Jacobovici, 2). But he is framed as wealthy and so they believe they have to account for the modest nature of this ossuary, thus, they suggest that there may have been “something about his faith or piety as part of the Jesus movement” that led him to “prefer such a modest bone box” (Tabor and Jacobovici, 89). Then they conclude that “it is not hard or even overly speculative for us to posit that the Talpiyot Tombs are a tiny but amazing glimpse into the life of Joseph of Arimathea” (Tabor and Jacobovici, 128).

The ossuary in Talpiyot Tomb B which they consider to be that of Joseph of Arimathea is one they also refer to as a “humble ossuary” (Tabor and Jacobovici, 89). Along the same lines, they query: “might Joseph of Arimathea have chosen a…modest ossuary for himself and his most immediate family—but one that boldly proclaimed their faith even in the midst of opposition and conflict?” (Tabor and Jacobovici, 90). It should be noted that the reason they refer to this ossuary as “boldly proclaiming their faith” is because the ossuary they believe to be that of “Joseph of Arimathea” is the one with the ornamentation they understand to be “Jonah and the Big Fish.” Of course, most scholars consider this ornamentation to be a nephesh tower or an unguentarium, not “Jonah and the Big Fish.”

In any case, the main point that I would emphasize at this time is this: The known inscriptions in Talpiyot Tomb B are (1) a four line inscription which has no reference to someone named “Joseph,” and certainly no reference to someone named “Joseph of Arimathea,” and (2) an inscription consisting of a single word, namely, “Mara” which they consider to be a reference to a woman, not a man (Tabor and Jacobovici, 127). They suggest that there is “circumstantial evidence,” namely, they suggest that “Arimathea” means “high” and Talpiyot is a “high” place. Of course, I would suggest that just being a “high” place is pretty circumstantial evidence indeed! Moreover, I would note that “Arimathea” is called a polis (Luke 23:51), that is, a “city,” rather than just a “high” place. Thus, I would suggest that most scholars will not consider the evidence to which Tabor and Jacobovici refer to be considered sufficient for their claim.

I would propose that for a historian to make a credible argument that this is the land, tomb, and ossuary of Joseph of Arimathea there must be solid evidence, such as the name “Joseph of Arimathea” inscribed on the ossuary. But, since these words are not there, it is really not convincing to posit that this is the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Tabor and Jacobovici may believe that it is not “hard or overly speculative” to say that this is the land, tomb, and ossuary of Joseph of Arimathea, but I think most epigraphers, prosopographers, and historians would find it to be quite speculative.


James D. Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici, The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find that Reveals the Birth of Christianity. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012

Tabor and Jacobovici’s New Volume: Epigraphic Reflections on it

28 February 2012

On February 28th, James Tabor and Simcha Jacobocici’s new volume was released, arguging that Jesus of Nazareth was married to Mary Magdalene, that they had a son named Yehudah and all of them were ultimately interred in East Talpiyot (Jerusalem), a tomb which they previously dubbed “The Jesus Family Tomb,” and which they now also term “Talpiyot Tomb A.” Along with others, I interacted with these claims several years ago and my article in Near Eastern Archaeology 69 (2006) is posted below, in its entirety, as part of previous post on my blog site.

This new volume by Tabor and Jacobovici, however, also contains much discussion about a different tomb in East Talpiyot, namely, one which they have dubbed “Talpiyot Tomb B.” It is ca. two hundred feet from the tomb they refer to as “Talpiyot Tomb B.” Two inscriptions from Talpiyot Tomb B have garnered substantial attention. The first one is simply “Mara,” a term which is most easily understood as a masculine, but which can be used as a shortened form of “Martha,” and thus as a feminine (Tabor and Jacobovici prefer to consider it a feminine, but I do not believe there is any way to know this with certainty). The second inscription consists of four lines and it is quite difficult. Tabor and Jacobovici consider it to contain the divine name “Yahweh” written in Greek letters and followed by a word for “lift up,” or “resurrect.” Moreover, they consider an ornamental motif on one of the other ossuaries in Talpiyot Tomb B to be a graphic depiction of Jonah being spewed from the mouth of a “dag gadol,” that is, the “big fish mentioned in the book of Jonah. Together, they argue that the totality of the evidence suggests this is a first century Jewish-Christian tomb (and that it may have belonged to a character of the gospels known as Joseph of Arimathea).

The technology Tabor and Jacobovici used to photographic Talpiyot Tomb B is really quite impressive. But, I am very disinclined to accept their interpretations of Talpiyot Tomb A or Tomb B. Indeed, regarding the four-line inscription, I would note that the name Yahweh (written in Greek letters) is simply not present…not on line two of this inscription (where they read it) and not on any of the three remaining lines of this inscription either. Actually, I consider it most likely that this inscription refers to the necessary reverence and care of bones (e.g., I read the last two letters of line one as omicron and sigma and the first two letters of line two as tau and alpha…that is, the word “osta,” an attested plural form of the word for “bones.”). I would also note that the word(s) “of Arimathea” do(es) not occur anywhere in this tomb, nor does the personal name “Joseph.” Moreover, regarding the word they understand to refer to “resurrection” or “lifting up” (hence their statements that this tomb’s inscriptions are Christian and refer to a resurrection), I would simply note that even if the word hupso is present in this inscription, it need not refer to a resurrection (in fact, that meaning of this word is a secondary or tertiary meaning at best). Also, many Second Temple Jews believed in a resurrection, not just Jewish Christians…so even a reference to a “resurrection” would not necessarily make this some sort of a Jewish-Christian tomb. All of these sorts of problems make the basic thrust of their arguments (for Talpiyot Tomb A and Talpiyot Tomb B) quite difficult for me to accept…the evidence is simply not there. Dramatic claims require dramatic evidence and it is simply lacking in this case. Also, I should mention that regarding the ornamentation on one ossuary which they consider to be a graphic depiction of “Jonah and the Whale,” I feel that it is most readily understood as a traditional Jewish nephesh tower, much as Eric Meyers has suggested.

Finally, I should note that I have known about these finds from Talpiyot Tomb B for about nine months, as I served as the epigraphic consultant for National Geographic with regard to this find (ultimately, the show was purchased from National Geographic by the Discovery Channel…an interesting story in and of itself…). I had been required to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement, but after Jacobovici and Tabor broke the story early this morning, I was free to write….thus, two blog articles of mine were placed on the official blog of the American Schools of Oriental Research early today, the first a brief statement with the salient points and the second a longer, detailed statement totaling about twenty pages in my manuscript. I thought about publishing my views on my own blog here, but it seemed preferable, and most useful, for my sentiments about these finds to be there. At this time, therefore, I simply refer the reader to the ASOR blog, where my detailed comments will be found, along with the comments of additional scholars. I plan to publish my full reading of this inscription in a journal, but in the meantime, I believe my detailed blog post will suffice. Here is the URL for my longer blog post:

With all best wishes,

Christopher Rollston

Professor Christopher Rollston Collating Inscriptions in the Middle East

28 February 2012


27 February 2012

This article (below) was first published in the academic journal, Near Eastern Archaeology 69 (2006): 125-129. Here is the URL for that article: Inscribed Ossuaries: Personal Names, Statistics, and Laboratory Tests

This (2006) article is methodological in nature and attempted to put the tomb which Tabor and Jacobovici dubbed (in 2006/07) the “Jesus Family Tomb” in its broader context, hence, I first discussed the nature of prosopographic analysis (i.e., attempts to discern familial relationships between ancient peoples, and then the attempt to connect those with people known from ancient literary sources) and then I turned in earnest to the Talpiyot Tomb.

Beginning of 2006 NEA Article

I. The Study of Names and Identifies: Standard Methods and Models

The term “prosopography” derives from two Greek words: prosôpon “face” and “grafê” “writing.” After being coined, this word could be used (e.g., during the Renaissance) of an attempt to pen a physical description of someone. Within various fields of more recent scholarship, prosopography became a technical term for attempts to reconstruct and describe data revolving around the subjects of genealogy, onomastics, and demographics (Stone 1971; Carney 1973). Within the field of prosopography of antiquity, there is often a predominant focus on the status, vocations, and kinship of elites, because a substantial portion of the epigraphic data derived from elite circles (Radner 1998; Radner 1999). For certain fields of ancient prosopography (e.g., biblical studies), analyses will also include attempts to argue for (or against) the identification of a person attested in a literary corpus with someone attested in the epigraphic corpus (e.g., Avigad 1987; Mykytiuk 2004; cf. Zadok 1989). Although certitude is the desideratum, it is often difficult to achieve. Before turning to the Talpiyot tomb in particular, some discussion of the standard methods would be instructive.

The most reliable prosopographies are those based on a convergence of epigraphic, archaeological, and (when available) literary data. However, certain minimal controls are mandatory for such analyses to be convincing or even tenable. Patronymics and matronymics (“son of” or “daughter of”) are a most fundamental component for prosopographic analyses. For the ancients, this was a means of differentiating (to some degree) people with the same name; patronymics are very common in the epigraphic corpus. For example, the Samaria Papyri refer to a slave named “Yehohanan bar She’ilah” (Gropp 2001, 35, no 1). Within the corpus of Aramaic and Hebrew inscriptions from Masada, there is reference to “Shimeon bar Yehosep” and “Shimeon ben Yo‘ezer (Yadin and Naveh 1989, 40, nos 463, 466). Matronymics also occur, though. For example, a Jerusalem ossuary is inscribed in Greek “Alexas Mara, mother of Judas Simon, her son” (Rahmani 1994, 258, no 868).” However, because complementary data are not present, nothing more substantive can be said about any of these people and they cannot be identified with anyone in the literary corpus.

Nevertheless, sometimes there are sufficient data to posit that a figure attested in the epigraphic corpus and a figure attested in a literary corpus are probably the same. This can be very useful for prosopographic analysis. For example, during Shiloh’s excavations at the City of David, a number of bullae were discovered in stratum X, a stratum that was destroyed by the Babylonians in ca. 587 BCE. Bulla 2 reads: “Belonging to Gemaryahu ben Shaphan.” Shiloh posited that the Gemaryahu of this bulla is to be identified with “the scribe Gemaryahu son of Shaphan” who is mentioned in Jeremiah 36:10 (Shiloh 1986). However, within the editio princeps of this corpus, Shoham reiterated Shiloh’s declaration, but noted a caveat: “it should be borne in mind, however, that the names found on the bullae were popular in ancient times and it is equally possible that there is no connection between the names found on the bulla and the person mentioned in the Bible” (Shoham 2000, 33). Similarly, the Babatha Archive (from the chronological horizon preceding the Second Jewish Revolt of 132-135 CE) refers to a certain elite woman named “Julia Crispina” (Lewis 1989, nos. 20, 24). An Egyptian document refers to a propertied woman of the same horizon and Levantine activities (Yadin 1971, 247-248). Ilan has marshaled a substantial amount of evidence and argued that they can probably be identified, but she remains cautious (Ilan 1992, 361-381). During the early history of the field, such methodological caution was not the norm. However, it soon became evident that there had been some misidentifications. For example, Albright had argued that the stamped jar handles he found at Tell Beit Mirsim inscribed “Belonging to Eliakim, the steward of Yokan” were to be associated with King Jehoiachin (Albright 1932, 77-106). After all, the title steward was one that could be associated with the throne and “Yokan” was arguably a variant of the throne name Jehoiachin. Ultimately, however, it became apparent that the Eliakim jar handles were not to be associated with the same chronological horizon as the Judean monarch. Albright’s identification seemed rational, but it had been wrong.

Although quite rare, there are occasions when someone attested in the epigraphic record can be identified, with enormous certitude, with someone known from literature. This requires substantial corroborating evidence. For example, the Moabite Stone was commissioned by “Mesha King of Moab.” In this inscription, there is also reference to the Moabite site of Dhibon and to the fact that Moab was under the hegemony of Israel during the reign of Omri of Israel. Then, Mesha states that he was able to secure Moab’s independence during the reign of Omri’s “son” (cf. Dearman 1989). Because of the correspondences of the personal names, the title king of Moab, and the basic harmony of the historical data, it is convincing to argue that the Mesha of the Moabite Stone is the Mesha named in the Hebrew Bible (2 Kgs 3:4-5). Similarly, there are a number of literary sources that refer to the leader of the Second Jewish Revolt (132-135 CE) as a certain Simon “Bar Kokhba” (Dio Cassius; Eusebius). Within Mishnah and Talmud, he is sometimes referred to as “Bar Koziba” (Yadin 1971, 255-259). For some time, scholars have stated that Simon’s patronymic “Bar Kokhba” (“son of the star”) was a messianic appellation rather than an actual patronymic. Of course, the Mishnah and Talmud’s “Bar Koziba” (“son of the lie”) was understood to be a pejorative. With the publication of the Bar Kokhba Letters, the actual patronymic of Simon became known: “Bar Kosiba” (Yadin, et al. 2002). Ultimately, because of the convergence of the name, the chronological horizon, and historical context, it can be stated confidently that the figure of literature and the epigraphic figure can be identified.

Sometimes ancient inscriptions will contain a personal name and a title. Data such as these would have been useful in antiquity for a number of reasons. A bulla from the City of David contains reference to “[Tobšillem] son of Zakar, the physician” (Shoham 2000, 35 [no 6]). From the Aramaic Persepolis corpus, there is reference to “Data-Mithra the treasurer” (Bowman 1970, 71-74 [no. 1]). Within the corpus of Ammonite inscriptions, a magnificent seal refers to “Palatya ben Ma’aš, the recorder (Taleb 1985, 21-29). A beautiful ossuary from Mount Scopus is inscribed with the words “Yehosep, son of Ìananya, the scribe” (Rahmani 1994, 262 [no. 893]). Of course, these sort of data can be very useful for a modern scholar attempting to do prosopography and sometimes such data can be the basis for a probable identification. For example, literary sources referred to “Gallio” as a “Proconsul of Achaia” (e.g., Tacitus; Pliny; Acts 18:12). During the twentieth century, some nine fragments of a Greek inscription from Delphi referring to “Proconsul Gallio” were published. Based on a convergence of data (including the personal name, title), it has been argued convincingly that the Gallio of the literary sources and the Gallio of the Delphic Inscription can be identified (Hemer 1980, 3-18). Similarly, the Mishnah refers to a Temple gate that was known as the “Gate of Nicanor,” with Nicanor as someone hailing from Alexandria. During the early twentieth century, an ossuary was discovered in Jerusalem, inscribed in Greek “the “Ossuary of Nicanor the Alexandrian, who made the doors” and then in Semitic script: “Nikanor Alexa” (Finegan 1992, 357-359; cf. Kane 1978 279-282). It is cogent to argue that this ossuary is the ossuary of the maker of the “Gate of Nicanor” mentioned in the Mishnah (Ilan 1992, 367). Of course, sometimes even with a title, the most that can be affirmed is that an identification is probable, not certain. For example, an Iron Age Old Hebrew seal from Mispah refers to “Ya’azanyahu servant of the king” and the book of Jeremiah refers to a prominent figure in the court of the Judean King Zedekiah named “Ya’azanyahu son of the Maacathite” (Badè 1933, 150-156; cf. 2 Kgs 25:23; Jer 40:8 and orthography). Although this identification is reasonable, it is not certain.

Significantly, Avigad argued for more rigorous methodologies for attempts to affirm that a personal name attested in the epigraphic corpus and a figure attested in the Hebrew Bible can be identified. Namely, he states that the name and the patronymic must be the same in the epigraphic corpus and the Hebrew Bible. Furthermore, he affirms that both must hail from the same chronological horizon (i.e., the archaeological context for the inscription and the putative historical context for the biblical personage must be the same). Finally, he affirms that the presence of a distinctive title in the epigraphic and biblical corpus fortify the identification. Nevertheless, Avigad was not satisfied even with this, for he also stated that because of the preponderance of certain names the presence of the same personal name and patronymic cannot be understood as demonstrative of the certainty of an identification (Avigad 1987, 235-237).

II. The Talpiyot Tomb.

Yosef Gat conducted a salvage excavation at a tomb in the Jerusalem neighborhood of East Talpiyot, Jerusalem in 1980. The tomb has been described in some detail (Kloner 1996, 15-22). Within the tomb complex, ten ossuaries were found. Six of the ossuaries were inscribed (Rahmani 1994, 222-224 [nos 701-709]). Four of the ossuaries were not. One of the four ossuaries, plain and without an inscription, was quite damaged (Rahmani 1994, 222 [comment 1]; cf. 94 [no 70]). Based on the totality of finds in the tomb, Kloner states that the tomb can be dated to the late Second Temple period. Furthermore, he estimated that the bones of around thirty-five people were interred there (Kloner 1996, 21-22). Rahmani read the personal names on the ossuaries as follows: (1) Mariamênou {ê} Mara (Mariamne who is also called Mara). (2) Yhwdh br Yšw‘ (Yehudah bar Yeshua‘). (3) Mtyh (Mattiyah). (4) Yšw‘ br Yhwsp (Yeshua‘ bar Yehosep). (5) Ywsh (Yoseh). (6) Mryh (Maryah). Pfann (2007) has now argued that the reading Mariamênou {ê} Mara is erroneous and has proposed Mariame kai Mara (i.e., Miriam and Mara).

The names Yehosep, Yoseh, Yeshua‘, Yehudah, Mattiyah, Maryah, Miriam(n)e, Miryam, and Martha (or the variants thereof) all have multiple attestations in the multilingual corpus of ossuaries and some are very common (Rahmani 1994, 292-297; Ilan 2002). Note that Sukenik even published an ossuary inscribed “Yeshua‘ son of Yehosep” (i.e., “Jesus son of Joseph”) and that the names Yeshua‘ and Yehosep are predominant in the family of Babatha’s first husband was named Yeshua’ and her first husband’s father was named “Yeshua’ son of Yehosep” (i..e., “Jesus son of Joseph”; Sukenik 1931; Lewis 1989, 35-40; cf. Yadin 1971, 233-234; Kraeling 1946, 18-19). That is, even with the small corpus of epigraphic attestations of personal names, the Talpiyot tomb occurrence of “Yeshua‘ bar Yehosep” is not unique.

Nevertheless, Pellegrino, Jacobovici, and Tabor have argued that the ossuaries of the Talpiyot tomb can be identified with Jesus of Nazareth and his family (Jacobovici and Pellegrino 2007; cf. Tabor 2006 and Tabor’s Jesus Dynasty Blog). To be precise, it has been argued that it is convincing to affirm that the ossuary of Yeshua‘ bar Yehosep is that of Jesus of Nazareth, the ossuary inscribed “Maryah” is that of the mother of Jesus of Nazareth, the ossuary inscribed “Mariam(n)e” is that of Mary Magdalene of the gospels, the ossuary inscribed “Yoseh” is that of Jesus’ brother Joseph, that of “Yehudah bar Yeshua” is that of a son born to Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and the ossuary inscribed “Mattiyah” is also that of a relative of Jesus of Nazareth. It is also affirmed that the persons buried in the ossuary inscribed “Yeshua‘ bar Yehosep” and that inscribed “Mariam(n)e {ê) Mara” were married. Finally, it has even been argued that the ossuary with the inscription “Ya‘akov bar Yehosep ’ahui d Yeshua” (i.e., the “James Ossuary”) was stolen from the Talpiyot tomb decades ago (and it is assumed that the entire inscription is ancient).

However, the problems with this proposal are legion. Note that for these six inscribed ossuaries from the Talpiyot Tomb, there are just two personal names with patronymics: (1) “Yehuda bar Yeshua” and (2) “Yeshua‘ bar Yehosep.” Moreover, there are no matronymics. There are no references to marital status. There are no references to fraternal or sororal relationships. These are pivotal issues, because without such data it is not possible for someone in the modern period to ascertain the precise kinship relationships of antiquity. Such tombs were “family tombs,” but to assume that a tomb represents some sort of nuclear family and to assume that one can discern without empirical evidence the nature of the relationships within that family is problematic.

For example, regarding the Maryah Ossuary, there is no empirical reason to assume that she is the mother of Yeshua‘ bar Yehosep. She might have been the wife of Yehudah, or the wife of Yoseh, or the wife of Mattiyah, or the wife of Yeshua‘. Sometimes we have complementary information that makes an affirmation about marital status. For example, an ossuary from the Kidron Valley is inscribed with the words: “Shalom, wife of Yehudah” (Rahmani 1994, 81 [no. 24]). An ossuary from Jerusalem’s French Hill reads in both Semitic and Greek: “Miryam, wife of Mattiyah” (Rahmani, 1994, 197 [no. 559]). However, on the Maryah Ossuary, there is no reference to marital status. Maryah might even have been the daughter of one of the men in the tomb. Sometimes such data are present. For example, an ossuary from Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus is inscribed “Judith, daughter of Nadav” (Rahmani 1994, 201 [no. 572]). An ossuary from Ramat Eshkol, Jerusalem reads: “Ossuary of Shalom, daughter of Sha’ul, who failed to give birth. Peace, daughter!” (Rahmani 1994, 132 [226]). However, for the Maryah Ossuary, no such data are present; therefore, to assume that a modern scholar can discern and make an affirmation about the nature of some relationship is risible.

Similarly, the assumption that the Yoseh of the Yoseh Ossuary was brother of Yeshua‘ is problematic: the Yoseh Ossuary has no fratronymic. Sometimes ossuaries do rarely mention the name of a brother of the deceased. For example, an ossuary from Mount Scopus is inscribed “Shimi, son of ‘Asiya, brother of Ìanin” (Rahmani 1994, 200 [570]). However, there is neither fratronymic nor patronynmic on this ossuary; thus, it is not possible to make affirmations about paternity or fraternity. Ultimately, Yoseh could be the son of Mattiyah, or the son of Yehudah, or the son of Yeshua‘. Perhaps he was the father of Maryah, or the father of Miram(n)e, or Mattiyah. Maybe he is the uncle of one of these (after all, because, there is rarely a reference to fraternal relationships, the potential is present for an “uncle” to be buried in a tomb). Perhaps Yoseh was the son or father or brother or uncle of someone who was buried in one of the uninscribed ossuaries. It is possible to suggest that he was a cousin of someone in the tomb. Furthermore, the Yehosep of the patronymic and the Yoseh of the ossuary could be the same person. After all, these ossuaries were inscribed at two different times and in neither case is there a patronymic for “Yehosep” or “Yoseh.” Sometimes the same ossuary will have the long form and the short form of a name. For example, an ossuary from the western slope of Mount Scopus has “Asous” and “Asoubos,” the long form and the short form of the same name, arguably for the same person (Rahmani 1994, 164, [no. 383]). The possibilities detailed here are not all mutually exclusive, but ultimately, because there is neither patronymic, nor statement of fraternity, or title, any suggestion about the relationship of Yoseh to those interred there remains conjecture and speculation.

Of course, it has also been suggested that the Mariam(n)e ossuary inscription is to be identified with the Mary Magdalene of the gospels. The problem is that Mariam(n)e is hardly a unique name and, moreover, the ossuary inscription does not contain the word “Magdalene.” Sometimes we do have data about the region from which the deceased hailed. For example, an ossuary from the Kidron Valley contains a Greek inscription with the words “Sara (daughter of) Simon of Ptolemais” (Rahmani 1994, 102 [no. 99]). However, the Mariam(n)e ossuary does not contain such a reference (i.e., no “Magdala”). Therefore, for someone to assume that the Mariam(n)e of the ossuary must be the Mary Magdalene of the gospels is without justification (cf. Fitzmyer 2007). She could be the wife of Mattiyah, Yoseh, Yehudah, or Yeshua‘ or she could be the sister of any person in the tomb (even of someone interred in an uninscribed ossuary). Again, not all of these are mutually exclusive, but the point is that to assume that one can state confidently the nature of the relationship of the Mariam(n)e of this ossuary to the Yeshua‘ of the Yeshua‘ Ossuary is rather naïve.

There have been some attempts to appeal to DNA evidence, but the fact of the matter is that the DNA evidence simply cannot carry the freight that has been placed on it. That is, Jacobovici and Pellegrino have stated that the laboratory was able to recover sufficient bone material from the Yeshua‘ Ossuary and the Miriam(n)e Ossuary for mitochondrial DNA analysis (but not enough for nuclear DNA analysis). Because the mitochondrial DNA did not “match,” they have assumed that Yeshua‘ and Mariam(n)e were married. Nevertheless, a number of potential relationships can be posited that would account for the DNA evidence. For example, perhaps, they were father-in-law and daughter-in-law, or perhaps they were brother-in-law and sister-in-law. In fact, they could have been brother and sister (with different mothers, but the same father). Of course, it could even be that Mariam(n)e and Yeshua‘ were paternal aunt and nephew. Numerous options present themselves. Jacobovici and Pellegrino state that the DNA do not “negate” [their] conclusion” (Jacobovici and Pellegrino 2007, 173), but this is much different from proving their conclusion. Of course, there is also no means of determining with certainty that the bones analyzed are those of the person whose name is inscribed on the ossuary!

Furthermore, with regard to the analyses of the patinas on the Talpiyot ossuaries and those of the Ya‘akov Ossuary, certain things should be stated. (1) The origin and chain of custody for the Ya‘akov Ossuary are not known and it is not possible to reconstruct it with any certitude (nor is it even possible to establish the authenticity of the entire inscription). (2) Several laboratories (including the GSI) have actually authenticated modern forgeries during recent years; therefore, the field of epigraphy should be very cautious about credulously accepting a laboratory analysis. There is, after all, a human component to laboratory tests as well. (3) There has been no indication that the laboratory tests were double-blind (a standard practice within the hard sciences). (4) Furthermore, I would suggest that (a) ossuaries made from the same basic Jerusalem limestone and stored in rock hewn tombs of the same city can have similar patinas and that (b) the control group must be very large for decisive statements to be made about the differences between the patinas on ossuaries in Jerusalem tombs of the same chronological horizon. Therefore, any attempt to use these patina analyses as corroborating evidence is most precarious indeed. Ultimately, it is readily apparent that the DNA tests performed are not sufficient to permit the positing of a complete nexus of relationships in the face of a dearth of the necessary prosopographic data, nor are the patina tests sufficient for demonstrating that the Ya‘akov Ossuary hailed from the Talpiyot tomb.

Regarding the statistics, Andrey Feuerverger has posted an open letter describing his basic premises and assumptions. For example, “we assume that “Mariamenou e Mara” is a singularly highly appropriate appellation for Mary Magdalene.” However, he concedes that “this assumption is contentious and furthermore that this assumption drives the outcome of the computations substantially.” Feuerverger also states that “it is assumed that Yose/Yosa is not the same person as the father Yosef who is referred to on the ossuary of Yeshua.” However, I have noted that this assumption may be erroneous. In addition, he assumes that “the presence of Matya does not invalidate the find” and that “we also assume that the Yehuda son of Yeshua ossuary does not invalidate the find, but we ignore it in the computations.” He then goes on to concede that “this last assumption is contentious.” I would argue that Feuerverger’s decision not to factor in (as negative evidence) the presence of names such as Yehudah bar Yeshua‘ and Mattiyah is problematic. After all, there is no ancient evidence that Jesus of Nazareth fathered a child named Yehudah and the closest known relative of Jesus of Nazareth with the name Matthew was a great grandfather! It seems reasonable to suggest that Feuerverger’s decision to avoid including data that militated against his hypothesis is a critical flaw, as is his decision to weigh certain aspects of the limited evidence heavily. I am confident that statisticians will be critiquing Feuerverger’s data in some detail, but I would simply state that generating statistics on the basis of a constellation of problematic assumptions is bemusing.

Thomas Lambdin’s famous dictum is that within the field we often “work with no data.” This is a hyperbole, but the fact remains that we do work with partial data, and sometimes the data we have are just plain opaque. With the Talpiyot tomb, there is a dearth of prosopographic data and this is a fact. There are no titles inscribed on the ossuaries and this is a fact. Also, there are no associated epigraphic materials in the tomb (e.g., a preserved epistle with some historical data). Based on the dearth of epigraphic evidence, it is simply not possible to make assumptions about the relationships of those buried therein and it is certainly not tenable to suggest that the data are sufficient to posit that this is the family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. Finally, it should be stated that at this juncture there is nothing in the statistical or laboratory data that can sufficiently clarify the situation and I doubt that there ever will be.


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End of the 2006 NEA Article

Professor Joseph Naveh: Epigraphic Reminiscences

25 November 2011

Professor Joseph Naveh was among the greatest of the Northwest Semitic epigraphers. He was born in (then) Czechoslovakia in 1928, and he died in Jerusalem on November 21, 2011. The scholarship Joseph Naveh penned is broad and deep, cogent and copious. He shall always be considered to be among the nephilim of the field of Northwest Semitic epigraphy. He will be sorely missed as a scholar, mentor, and friend.

During his early years (namely, 1955-1971), Joseph Naveh worked for the Israel Department of Antiquities (now the Israel Antiquities Authority), conducting surveys as well as excavating. From 1971 to 1997, he taught at Hebrew University (Jerusalem) in the Department of Ancient Semitic Languages. Even in retirement (1998-2011), he remained very active in the field, both in terms of publications as well as in terms of mentoring younger scholars in the field.

Although a fine excavator, it has long seemed to me that Professor Naveh’s discovery of Old Hebrew inscriptions in the area of Yavneh-Yam (“Mesad Hashavyahu”) in 1960 was a watershed moment in his life. The excavation season that year was brief, from 10 January to 1 February 1960, however, several Old Hebrew inscriptions were found, one of which was quite long and particularly important (Naveh 1960; cf. also 1962a; 1962b). The editio princeps of this inscription was rapidly published, and it is a model publication, detailed, careful, and cogent, further evidence for this being the fact that Frank Moore Cross made only minor revisions to Naveh’s readings (Cross 1962). At that time, epigraphy rapidly became a predominant focus for Naveh, and just a few short years after his publication of the Yavneh-Yam epigraphs, he completed an epigraphic dissertation at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (in November 1966), a dissertation written under Nahman Avigad. As a historical footnote, I should like to mention that Frank Cross once told me that he and Naveh had become quite good friends during this time period, and that many of their conversations during the early- to mid-1960s revolved around Aramaic palaeography. Naveh’s dissertation was subsequently published as The Development of the Aramaic Script (Naveh 1970) and it has long been, and remains, a sine qua non for those that discuss the synchronic variation and chronological development of the Aramaic script. Of course, Naveh’s early article on the distribution of the Old Hebrew script (Naveh 1968) remains a point of departure for all discussions of the Hebrew script, and this article foreshadowed his many subsequent publications on Hebrew scripts and inscriptions.

Significantly, however, Naveh’s publications focused not only on Old Hebrew and Aramaic, but also on Phoenician (e.g., Naveh 1987a), as well as on the scripts of Moab, Ammon, and Edom (e.g., Naveh 1970b; 1980). Moreover, arguably the most seminal early article on the Philistine script is the one authored by Naveh during the same year that he completed his dissertation (Naveh 1966). Naturally, it must be emphasized that Naveh’s research and writing also focused on Early Linear Alphabetic as well, with his article on Izbet Sarteh showcasing his acumen with regard to the earliest history of the alphabet (1978a). Of course, his article on the borrowing of the Semitic alphabet by the Greeks also reveals so much about the breadth of his interests and abilities (1973). Just as Naveh’s interests were “early,” so also were they “late.” For example, his article entitled “Hebrew Texts in Aramaic Script in the Persian Period?” (Naveh 1971) remains a point of departure for epigraphers discussing the Northwest Semitic scripts and inscriptions of the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman periods, as do also his articles and volumes on the Samaritan script (Naveh 1998a), Aramaic magical texts (Naveh 1998b; Naveh and Shaked 1993; Naveh and Shaked 1998), and inscriptions from Masada (Yadin and Naveh 1989). The utter breadth of his work is particularly impressive.

I should also like to emphasize that Professor Naveh was also especially gifted at recognizing and repudiating modern forgeries that came to light via the antiquities market. For example, although some prominent scholars had touted the “Philistine Hebron Documents” as ancient, Naveh published the seminal article debunking these assertions, and demonstrating conclusively that these documents were modern forgeries (Naveh 1982). Similarly, it was Naveh that argued in a brief, but critically important, article that the “Moussaieff Ostraca” were forgeries (1998c), something that he and I discussed at length in his home in 1998 and which precipitated my own presentations (esp. 1999-2002) and articles on the history of modern forged inscriptions (Rollston 2003; Rollston 2004). Nevertheless, it also should be emphasized that Naveh believed that some of the inscriptions that appeared on the antiquities market were genuine, evidence for this being the fact that he published a number of the fourth century Aramaic ostraca (which had been purchased on the market) putatively from Idumaea (Eph‘al and Naveh 1996).

Professor Joseph Naveh’s research and writing will certainly continue to impact the field in profoundly important ways for decades to come. His Early History of the Alphabet: An Introduction to West Semitic Epigraphy and Palaeography (1987) remains a vade mecum. No epigraphic library worth its salt is complete without this volume. Indeed, rarely does a week pass that I don’t take this book from my shelf, and I think this is the case for most epigraphers. Similarly, his volume entitled On Sherd and Papyrus: Aramaic and Hebrew Inscriptions from the Second Temple, Mishnaic and Talmudic Periods (1992) remains a most useful compendium of inscriptions from the Second Temple and Post-Biblical periods. I suppose this volume looms large in my own mind not only because of its content, but also because during a visit of mine to his home in Jerusalem, he pulled a copy from his shelf, inscribed it with some generous words, and gave it to me as a gift. Professor Naveh’s On Stone and Mosaic: the Aramaic and Hebrew Inscriptions from Ancient Synagogues (1978b) is also a seminal volume, the point of departure for those working on ancient synagogue inscriptions. Furthermore, one of the most useful volumes in the field is a selection of his published articles, namely, the volume entitled Studies in West-Semitic Epigraphy: Selected Papers. This was a volume that Naveh seemed rather reluctant to agree to. Indeed, shortly after the volume of Frank Cross’s collected writings appeared (Cross 2003), I suggested to Professor Naveh that a similar volume of his own writings would be particularly useful for the field (no doubt others had made the same suggestion), but Professor Naveh suggested in his response to me that he probably did not wish for such a volume to be produced. Fortunately, he must have reconsidered, and the field is better for it, as this volume is a veritable embarras de richesses for the field.

So, with the passing of Professor Joseph Naveh, the field is certainly the poorer. Frankly, his passing took me by surprise. It was not so very long ago that he and I had corresponded. On the other hand, perhaps I should have expected it…he was an octogenarian after all. But the fact remains that I didn’t expect it. With so many, I mourn this loss deeply. Fortunately, though, from his writings we shall all continue to be taught, and the memories of his many acts of kindness will certainly remain with us for many decades to come.

by Christopher Rollston

Works Referenced

Naveh, Joseph. 1960. “A Hebrew Letter from the Seventh Century B.C.” Israel Exploration Journal 129-139.
______. 1962a. “More Hebrew Inscriptions from Mesad Hashavyahu.” Israel Exploration Journal 12: 27-32.
______. 1962b. “The Excavations at Mesad Hashavyahu.” Israel Exploration Journal 12: 89-113.
______. 1966. “The Scripts of Two Ostraca from Elath.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 183: 27-30.
______. 1968. “A Palaeographic Note on the Distribution of the Hebrew Script.” Harvard Theological Review 61: 68-74.
______. 1970a The Development of the Aramaic Script. Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.
______. 1970b. “The Scripts in Palestine and Transjordan in the Iron Age.” Pp. 277-283 in Essays in Honor of Nelson Glueck: Near Eastern Archaeology in the Twentieth Century, ed. James A. Sanders. Garden City: Doubleday.
______. 1971. “Hebrew Texts in Aramaic Script in the Persian Period?” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 203: 27-32.
______. 1973. “Some Semitic Epigraphical Considerations on the Antiquity of the Greek Alphabet.” American Journal of Archaeology 77: 1-8.
______. 1978a. “Some Considerations on the Ostracon from ‘Izbet Sartah.” Israel Exploration Journal 28: 31-35.
______. 1978b. On Stone and Mosaic: The Aramaic and Hebrew Inscriptions from Ancient Synagogues. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration society.
______. 1980. “The Ostracon from Nimrud: An Ammonite Name-List.” Maarav 2/2:163-171.
______. 1982. “Some Recently Forged Inscriptions.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 247: 53-58.
______. 1987a. “Unpublished Phoenician Inscriptions from Palestine.” Israel Exploration Journal 37: 25-30.
______. 1987b. Early History of the Alphabet: An Introduction to West Semitic Epigraphy and Palaeography, 2nd ed. Jerusalem: Magnes.
______. 1992. On Sherd and Papyrus: Aramaic and Hebrew Inscriptions from the Second Temple, Mishnaic and Talmudic Periods. Jerusalem: Magnes Press.
______. 1998a. “Scripts and Inscriptions in Ancient Samaria.” Israel Exploration Journal 48: 91-100.
______. 1998b. “Fragments of an Aramaic Magic Book from Qumran.” Israel Exploration Journal 48: 252-261.
_______. 1998c. “Remarks on the Recently Published Moussaieff Ostraca.” Israel Exploration Journal 48: 269-273.
______. 2009. Studies in West-Semitic Epigraphy: Selected Papers. Jerusalem: Magnes Press.
Naveh, Joseph and Saul Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1993.
______. Amulets and Magic Bowls: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 3rd ed. 1998).
Eph‘al, Israel and Naveh, Joseph. 1996 Aramaic Ostraca of the fourth Century BC from Idumaea. Jerusalem: Magnes Press.
Yadin, Yigael and Naveh, Joseph. 1989. Masada I: The Yigael Yadin Excavations 1963-1965 Final Reports, The Aramaic and Hebrew Ostraca and Jar Inscriptions. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society.
Cross, Frank Moore. 1962. “Epigraphic Notes on Hebrew Documents of the Eighth-Sixth Centuries B.C.: II. The Murabba‘at Papyrus and the Letter Found near Yabneh-yam.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 165: 34-46.
______. 2003. Leaves from an Epigrapher’s Notebook: Collected Papers in Hebrew and West Semitic Palaeography and Epigraphy, Harvard Semitic Studies 51. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.
Rollston, Christopher A. 2003. “Non-Provenanced epigraphs I: Pillaged Antiquities, Northwest Semitic Forgeries, and Protocols for Laboratory Tests.” Maarav 10: 135-193.
______. 2004. “Non-Provenanced Epigraphs II: The Status of Non-Provenanced Epigraphs within the Broader Corpus of Northwest Semitic.” Maarav 11: 57-79.

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.

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