I’ve got a number of rants percolating inside of me and need to get one out before I damage myself.
As regular readers of rogueclassicism might be aware, Richard Bauckham has recently made another foray into trying to translate that inscription on an ossuary in Talpiyot Tomb B, a.k.a. the Patio Tomb. In case you haven’t seen it, it’s available via Mark Goodacre’s NTblog:
… in which he proposes the inscription consists of two names; this contrasts greatly with what he originally proposed on the ASOR blog back in March:
At the same time, Dr Bauckham conveniently collected most of the variant readings of the inscription in a guest post at Larry Hurtado’s blog:
… we should also mention H. Gregory Snyder’s comments at the ASOR blog on Christopher Rollston’s efforts:
… and, of course, Dr Rollston’s own posts:
- Reflections of an Epigrapher on Talpiyot Tombs A and B: A Detailed Response to the Claims of Professor James Tabor and Filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici
I won’t even bother with my own efforts at coming up with a translation, because as I stared at the available photos, it was becoming increasingly obvious that I (nor others) did not have photos of sufficient quality to come up with a transcription, let alone a viable translation. I think the variations just in Dr Bauckham’s contributions alone serve well to underscore this fact. Adding weight to this, if I may dangle a participle, folks may know that I run an obscure mailing list for epigraphy and many of the premier Greek and Latin epigraphers on the planet are members thereof. A request for suggestions of what the inscription might say garnered zero response. Adding even further weight to the suggestion that the photos we have been provided with by the investigators of the Talpiot Tomb(s), when a similar request was posted at the Current Epigraphy blog, the very first comment was a request for a photo with raking light (i.e. light from the side) — not that a lot of folks weighed in at all. Interestingly, though, one attempt at photomanipulation which was done in reverse order of something I tried, came up with a very different reading.
The point of this rant is this: the photos of the inscription from the Talpiot Tomb B, a.k.a. the Patio tomb, are of insufficient quality to draw scholarly conclusions from. I don’t know if it’s by design or what, but the handful of photos which have been released are those which ‘tend to’ lead the reader to whatever it is Drs Tabor and Jacobovici want them to see, but it is clear that professional epigraphers can see other things, but just aren’t sure what. Like the ‘jonah fish’, however, it is increasingly being seen that it isn’t what Drs Tabor and Jacobovici say is there (and yes, it is a valid criticism to point out what is claimed isn’t there without there being agreement on what is there — just anticipating a standard response which we witnessed when scholars didn’t agree on what the vessel on the ossuary depicted).
FWIW, I am not positive the amazing GE technology which was used to investigate the tomb is capable of producing a photo with the necessary raking light, although some combo of light + snake cam should have been able to do so. I am also doubtful, however, whether the small handful of photos which the investigators have released to the public are the only ones, or even the best ones. Surely there must be video as well. This sort of robot investigation of tombs holds great promise for archaeology in general, but it obviously is dead in the water if scholars are ‘holding back’ all the evidence they have available in order for it to have proper, scholarly peer criticism. This isn’t a situation where a questioning scholar can go to the museum and look at the inscription, or possibly track down a squeeze or rubbing to verify what is there. This isn’t a situation where we have to rely on some drawing made by some dead guy in the 18th or 19th centuries. This is a situation where — I’m sure — there are other images available and we aren’t deemed worthy to look at them, for whatever reason. Until such time as Drs Tabor and Jacobovici release more/all photos/videos of the inscription and make them available to scholars, their interpretation of this inscription — and by extension, their investigation in general — cannot and will not be taken seriously by the academic community or by the learned lay community and should be delegated the same category as the Ancient Aliens series.
There … I feel better now.
This is a sort of experiment in social media to see whether blogs as a medium might be usefully used to provide better readings of controversial inscriptions. In this case, the inscription may or may not be known to rogueclassicism readers, but there are at least three interpretations of what it says kicking around the internets. I have misgivings about all of them, and so I thought I’d present some photos and context, and so as to not predispose people to a particular reading, only link to those readings at the end. I am providing some notes/questions that I have along the way, which hopefully (again) will not predispose folks to one particular reading or another but will highlight some of the issues that seem outstanding with current readings. Please leave your readings/answers to questions in the comments, or if you’d prefer anonymity, email them to rogueclassicist AT gmail.com. I’m hoping to have some sort of followup to this post.
To begin: the inscription is found on one of a number of ossuaries still in situ in a tomb in Jerusalem, so we’re dealing with a funerary context. The inscription is only seen in photos (of varying quality) because the tomb was explored via a robotic camera. When the tomb was originally excavated back in 1980 or thereabouts, the inscription itself does not seem to have been recorded (or if it was, it has not been published). Further complicating things is the fact that the ossuaries were moved around and there are plenty of scratches thereon, which may or may not be affecting the reading of this inscription. Amongst the artifacts found in association with the ossuary inscription was this pot (the inscription is on the ossuary, not this pot):
… such pots are conventionally dated (as far as I’m aware) to the first centuries B.C./B.C.E. to the first century A.D./C.E.. The inscription itself has been presented in a number of photos of varying quality (clicking on the images should bring up larger versions; if not, links to the original photos can be found at the end of this post):
The one I was working from is a variation on the first (it has some circles); it’s probably identical save for the circles:
The following ‘excerpts’ come from this image and have been zoomed 50% … the first line:
- it seems to read DIOS, but why would such a word be on what is likely a Jewish ossuary?
- it is assumed to be one word in some readings; perhaps it carries over to the next line?
- might it be connected to a month name in the Seleucid calendar (were those month names still being used?
- does this carry over from the previous line?
- is the first letter an iota, a tau, or maybe even a gamma?
- are there only four letters here or are there perhaps more?
- is the first letter a tau, an upsilon, or some combination letter (sometimes referred to as a compendia)?
- how many letters are there in this line?
- is that Y-shaped thing an upsilon or a psi (is that a scratch or a branch)?
- is there a small tau beside that or is that just a scratch?
- again, how many letters are here?
- are those letters alpha, gamma, beta or is the second letter a mu or a pi?
- is the last letter a beta or something with a ligature?
So that’s the inscription. As mentioned above, please feel free to provide your readings in the comments, or if you’d prefer anonymity, email them to rogueclassicist AT gmail.com
- figure one (figure six in A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem )
- figure two
- figure three (2 and 3 come from the press kit at the Jesus Discovery site; additional photos are available there)
- figure four ( THE FOUR-LINE GREEK INSCRIPTION FROM A TALPIYOT TOMB: EPIGRAPHIC NOTES AND HISTORICAL DISCUSSIONS) (I may have this one mixed up with another version of the same photo)
- figure five (from Christopher Rollston’s article at ASOR)
- James Tabor, A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem
- Christopher Rollston (1) THE FOUR-LINE GREEK INSCRIPTION FROM A TALPIYOT TOMB: EPIGRAPHIC NOTES AND HISTORICAL DISCUSSIONS
- Christopher Rollston (2) The Four-Line Ossuary Inscription from Talpiyot Tomb B (1981): Summary and Restatement
- Richard Bauckham The Four-Line Ossuary Inscription from Talpiyot Tomb B – an Interpretation
- My own initial reading (which doesn’t convince even me at this point) The “Patio Tomb” … Evidence of Early Christianity? I Hae Me Doots (A Classics Perspective)