“Miriam, Daughter of Yeshua, Son of Caiaphas” Inscription Announced

This morning, archaeologists from Bar Ilan University and Tel Aviv University announced the discovery of an ossuary (burial bone box) in Israel, which was recovered from thieves who had robbed a tomb.

The ossuary is unprovenanced – that is, because it was not discovered in a controlled archaeological excavation, its origin and context are unknown. However, further investigation (which I understand to be interrogation of the thieves) has led researchers to the conclusion “that the ossuary came from a burial cave in the area of the Valley of ‘Elah, in the Judean Shephelah.”

The authenticity of the ossuary and inscription were verified by Dr. Boaz Zissu of the Department of the Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology of Bar Ilan University, and Professor Yuval Goren of the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations of the Tel Aviv University using ESEM/EDS (Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope / Energy-Dispersive Spectrometer) technology. The results of the study are published in Vol. 61 of Israel Exploration Journal (published this week by the Israel Exploration Society).

The ossuary includes the Aramaic inscription, which appears to read:

מרים ברת ישוע בר קיפא כהני מעזיה דבית עמרי

which translates:

“Miriam, Daughter of Yeshua, Son of Caiaphas,
Priests of Ma’aziah from Beth ‘Imri”

or

מרים ברת ישוע בר קיפא כהן דמעזיה דבית עמרי

which translates:

“Miriam, Daughter of Yeshua, Son of Caiaphas,
Priest of Ma’aziah from Beth ‘Imri”

or, as Jack Kilmon suggests

“Miriam, Daughter of Yeshua Bar Qayafa,
Priest of (the course of) Ma’aziah of the House of ‘Omri”

(There is a question about whether the letter following the נ (nun) in כהן (cohen, or priest) is a ד (dalet), or a י (yod) with an unrelated scratch beneath it, or a מ (mem, apparently not in final form) similar to the letter that follows it. This is partially due to the fact that it is not certain whether the נ (nun) is in final form. It is longer, which would argue for a final ן (nun), but it is also curved, which would support the letter being a regular נ (nun). If it is a ד (dalet), then it would serve as a genitive construct indicator for the phrase “priest of Ma’aziah.” If it is a י (yod), then the word כהן (priest) would become the plural construct כהני מעזיה (priests of Ma’aziah), and the נ (nun) before would have to be interpreted as a standard נ (nun) not in final form. If it is a מ (mem), the result would be a pluralized כהנמ מעזיה with the construct implied (“priests [of] (the course of) Ma’aziah”), and the preceding נ (nun) before would have to be interpreted as a standard נ (nun) not in final form. All three options translate roughly the same. There will be other questions about the ש (shin) in the name Yeshua, as well as the diagonal mark to the right of the initial י (yod) in the same name, as well as a few others. I shall leave the formal epigraphical work to my Aramaic colleagues, who to be sure are already working up all possible interpretations and alternatives for this inscription.)

The ossuary is not unprecedented as ossuaries bearing the family name “Qayafa” (which many pronounce as “Caiaphas”) were among a total of twelve previously discovered in Jerusalem in 1990. I stated in an article at Bible and Interpretation:

“Twelve ossuaries were discovered in the so-called “Caiaphas” tomb, including a highly ornate ossuary discovered in situ (Ossuary 6) with two inscribed Aramaic inscriptions reading, יהוסף בר קיפא and יהוסף בר קפא (variant spellings of “Joseph, son of Caiaphas”), and another (Ossuary 3) with just the name קפא (“Caiaphas”) etched in an almost graffito fashion on the ossuary.”

The peripheral significance of this discovery to Christianity is that the High Priest Caiaphas, son-in-law of Annas, is mentioned in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus:

“First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year.” (John 18:13 NRSV)

Dr. Boaz Zissu of Bar-Ilan University made the following photo available:

The "Miriam Ossuary." Photo copyright Dr. Boaz Zissu, Bar-Ilan University.

The "Miriam Ossuary." Photo copyright Dr. Boaz Zissu, Bar-Ilan University.

The official press release is here. DO read this release for the best information about the ossuary and inscription.

News reports can be found on AP, Arutz Sheva, Jerusalem Post, Yahoo News, and more photos can be found at TimesUnion. Jerusalem Post video is here.

One can see the Aramaic inscription running from right to left along the top of the ossuary.

Regarding the end of the inscription, Arutz Sheva explains:

Ma’azyah was the name of the 24th priestly service shift at the temple. Members of this family signed the convention mentioned in the book of Nehemiah (10,9). The House of Imri refers to the priestly family of Miriam, or to the location she came from.

Steve Caruso at Aramaic Designs has offered up a mashup of the inscription with the letters filled in with black.

Caruso suggests the following:

Inscription of Miriam Ossuary, mashed up by Steve Caruso.

I have done the same below. The top image is an animated GIF (made with the help of MakeAGif) of my Photoshop fill-in of the inscription. I flash the inscription because it allows the viewer to verify precisely how I filled in the inscription (transparency, transparency, transparency!)

Animated GIF of Miriam Ossuary inscription highlighting the Aramaic Inscription

Animated GIF of Miriam Ossuary inscription highlighting the Aramaic Inscription. (Click to view.)

Below is a still photo of the inscription released by Dr. Zissu (top), and my highlight with the letters in black (and uncertain areas in gray, bottom).

Inscription of the "Miriam Ossuary" (without editing).

Inscription of the "Miriam Ossuary" (without editing).

Inscription of the "Miriam Ossuary" (with letters traced in black and gray)

Inscription of the "Miriam Ossuary" (with letters traced in black and gray)

Finally, before everyone gets carried away with what this ossuary and inscription mean, let me give the reader a quick review of what it does NOT mean:

  1. Since the ossuary was recovered from a thief, it is unprovenanced, meaning we cannot be certain of its place of origin or context. As an unprovenanced archaeological object, many academic publications that have agreed not to publish unprovenanced objects (to deter against looting and forgery) will not be publishing this ossuary. That is why you may not read about it in some of the more credible archaeological journals.
  2. The “investigation” (which I’m assuming was, in part, the interrogation of the thieves) concludes that the ossuary came from the Valley of ‘Elah, in the Shephelah, and NOT from the so-called “Caiaphas family tomb” in the Jerusalem Peace Park. There are some who understand the tomb in Jerusalem to have been the family tomb of Caiaphas, the High Priest mentioned in the Bible (Matt 26:57-68), who is said to have been involved with the trial of Jesus. If the ossuary came from elsewhere, there is a question why this ossuary would not have been found in the Caiaphas family tomb in Jerusalem. One answer may be that the Valley of ‘Elah tomb may be that of ישוע (Yeshua/Joshua/Jesus) Bar Qayafa (whose daughter, Miriam’s, ossuary was recovered), while the Jerusalem tomb may belong to יהוסף (Yehosef/Joseph), his brother.
  3. That said, the discovery of this ossuary is NOT evidence of the existence of Jesus. The ישוע (Yeshua/Jesus) mentioned in the inscription was NOT the same Jesus who is the central figure of the New Testament. Likewise, the presence of an inscription mentioning a peripheral character mentioned in the Bible does not mean that the entire story is true or historical.
  4. The inscription is NOT evidence that Jesus was tried by Caiaphas. This inscription only lends support to the understanding that there was, in fact, a priestly family named Qayafa/Caiaphas.
  5. The inscription is NOT evidence that there was a trial of Jesus. (See above.)
  6. The inscription is NOT evidence that Jesus died and was raised form the dead. That has nothing to do with this ossuary. Again, this discovery only lends support to the understanding that there was, in fact, a priestly family named Qayafa/Caiaphas.
  7. The inscription in and of itself is NOT evidence that the Bible is historically reliable, inerrant, infallible, or any other “See, I told you so” statement. The Bible is full of true facts and historical verities. No one questions this. However, the authentication of one claim does NOT mean that all claims are verifiable.

What this discovery DOES tell us is this:

  1. Someone named Miriam existed. She was apparently the daughter of  ישוע (Yeshua/Joshua/Jesus) Bar Qayafa (or the son of Qayafa/Caiaphas).
  2. If this Miriam is the daughter of Yeshua, and if that Yeshua is the son of Caiaphas, then the discovery gives us new information that the Qayafa/Caiaphas family was from the Ma’aziah order of priests from Beyt ‘Imri.
  3. Thus, the discovery of this unprovenanced ossuary provides support to the understanding that there was, in fact, a priestly family named Qayafa (Caiaphas) around the time of Jesus.

I look forward to following this story as it develops. I do NOT look forward to what will inevitably be the sensationalization of this story by some whose false or ignorant claims will be used to make money or promote a particular ideology, religious or otherwise.

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27 Responses

  1. You just know that good old Simcha is hustling up some sensationalist crap based on this right now.

  2. yep, i don’t doubt it’s authenticity.

  3. Additionally, I think you did a *much* better job of sketching it out than I did. The higher-res image of the inscription is certainly much clearer than what I had to work with. :-)

    Peace,
    -Steve

  4. Thanks for your commentary. I especially like it when you anticipate and/or counter the sensationalism.

  5. […] – A new ossuary has been found. Robert Cargill explains what this discover can tell us and what it cannot. […]

  6. […] (By the way, Caiaphas is real!) […]

  7. Hey, I enjoy your blog and have subscribed to it because you I like your perspective.

    I wasn’t sure how to contact you but I was wondering what your opinion was on this story in USA Today about a new algorithm to determine different authors in the bible.

    Maybe its blog worthy.

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-06-30-bible-tech_30_ST_N.htm

  8. Of course Jesus existed. He predicted the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple. He was arrested by the Jewish authorities, beaten, then handed over to the Romans who scourged him, questioned him, and eventually killed him.

    Jesus son of Ananias, that is.

    Apollonius of Tyana isn’t the only one you can play this game with.

  9. mike,

    thanx for your comment. yes, the text authorship algorithms are becoming increasingly useful, but still not perfect. their evolution is following that of ocr and voice recognition software (like google voice) or even google translate. they still miss things here and there, but they will be fined tuned over time, and once they are, they will be quite helpful. for now, i suggest learning the language you want to study from a credible scholar, and purchase accordance.

    bc

  10. […] from the IAA of an ossuary of questionable provenance made all the news last week. bob cargill has the most thorough roundup that i found, with plenty of links. But I should also note that both bob and Steve Caruso have […]

  11. It looks like the letter after כהנ might be ב; you rightly noticed and filled in the base stroke of the letter, but it looks to me like the base extends to the right (where you didn’t fill in), which makes the letter look more like a beth than a mem. This would yield the singular “priest in (the course of) Maaziah,” which fits better the syntax of the inscription.

  12. ed,
    that’s a good observation. and it yields the same result. it does look like the mem to the left, and i really don’t see the dalet. a yod doesn’t explain the base stroke (very well), so the mem or your suggestion of bet work best. thanx!!
    bc

  13. ed, just got home and checked it again (was at dinner):

    you’re right. it’s a bet. it should read:
    כהן במעזיה
    “priest in (the course of) Ma’aziah”

    good find!

    -bc

  14. 2 comments:
    (1) Everyone seems to be assuming that ‘bar Qayafa’ means that Yeshua was the son of the high priest Joseph Caiaphas. But most scholars have taken ‘Yehosef bar Qayafa’ in the so-called Caiaphas tomb to mean not that this Joseph was the son of Caiaphas the high priest, but that he belonged to the family of Caiaphas (or, less likely, that ‘bar Qayafa’ is a nickname). Josephus says the high priest was called ‘Joseph surnamed Caiaphas.’ In suggesting that Yeshua and Yehosef were brothers you seem to be thinking that both were sons of the high priest Joseph Caiaphas. But it is also possible that ‘bar Qayafa’ in both cases indicates their membership of the Caiaphas family (probably named after an ancestor nicknamed Qayafa), in which case we can’t tell how closely related they were. There are other cases of aristocratic families having a common ‘surname’ of this sort (not a proper personal name) and membership of the family indicated by ‘son of X.’
    (2) According to t.Yeb 1.10, the high priestly family of ‘the house of Qayafa’ (this confirms that it is a family name) came from Beth Meqoshesh, an unknown place (see CIIP vol 1, p 483). This COULD be the place from which the Miriam ossuary is said to have come.

  15. ‘Since the ossuary was recovered from a thief, it is unprovenanced, meaning we cannot be certain of its place of origin or context’

    What provenance do the Gospels have?

  16. good point. since the gospels are all anonymous collections of edited and copied accounts of jesus written decades after his disappearance, we must evaluate these texts with many of the same critical approaches (if we want to be consistent). one difference is that these are texts, and that the texts existed in numerous variant copies for centuries before an ‘official text’ (if you will) was determined (and still after that there were changes).

  17. Wow an atheist Biblical archaeologist. How depressing. You are apparently of the Dawkinsonian type of atheists since in reading your blog I see you are unable to restrain yourself from making numerous ‘ad hominem’ barbs at people of Biblical faith. Arrogance and condescension are not fine qualities in any person let alone one presuming to be a representative of scientific truth. Everyone has biases and various presuppositions, the good scientists are at least honest about it and don’t let it cloud their writing.

  18. zach,

    i don’t know you, and you obviously don’t know me, but the point in this article is that a peripheral reference to caiaphas does not speak in support of or against any historical claims about jesus. this inscription has nothing to do with jesus, but that will not stop some from drawing the conclusion that ‘since they found an ossuary of miriam, and mariam’s grandfather was caiaphas, and since the bible says caiaphas conspired against jesus, all claims about jesus must be true.’ this is simple false logic; the ossuary supports no claim for or against jesus.

    if one theme pervades my blog, it is to combat intellectually those who would do the following:
    1) abuse archaeological discoveries by sensationalizing them in order to make them say something they do not (usually to promote a particular religious, ideological, or political claim)
    2) use religion to make money (usually by making false claims about religion/faith order to drive advertising revenue, book sales, or solicit donations)
    as people of faith, we are free to believe whatever we want. but as scholars, we must stick to the facts.

    bc

  19. […] il nome “Miriam figlia di Yeshua figlio di Caifa, sacerdote di Maaziah da Beth Imri” (Robert Cargill propone altre interpretazioni). (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner) (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner) (AP Photo/Sebastian […]

  20. […] the inscription, “Miriam, Daughter of Yeshua, Son of Caiaphas” was also mentioned by multiple bloggers. Jim West also has news on Zahi Hawass and Tel […]

  21. […] A more detailed examination of the alternative translations and authenticity can be found here: Dr Robert Cargill’s blog, XKV8R) Detail of the ossuary's inscription. Image: […]

  22. […] […]

  23. Hi I’m new to site and don’t know how to post (other than by “reply”) Can someone tell me how?. Also, I have a question for a story that I’m writing: Are there any (translated) dead sea scrolls that haven’t been released yet to the public? thx Tom

  24. Look at the very last word. If you’re image of the inscription is correct, the last word (the name) is “עמרי” which is ‘Omri’ not ‘Imri’.

    The difference between ‘Imri’ and ‘Omri’ is the same as the difference between ‘Aleph’ and ‘Ayin’ (Ayin inspired the Greek Omicron and so is more akin to “O” than “I”).

    I’ve written Prof Zissu and he claims the last word (the name) is “אמרי” (with an ‘Aleph’) rather than “עמרי” (with an Ayin). Yet the first letter of the last word looks the same as the middle letter in the word “דמעזיה” in your etches which is most certainly an ‘Ayin’ (when compared to the last letter in “קיפא” which is an Aleph.

    If the word contains an ‘Ayin’, the same name “עמרי” appears on the Moabite Stone (also known as Stele of Mésa), starting on line 7. See here

  25. […] Robert Cargill has a higher-resolution image of the inscription that is much clearer than the image I had to work […]

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