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)