“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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earliest hebrew inscription reported found

Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon

Professor Gershon Galil of the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa claims this inscription on a pottery shard discovered in the Elah valley dating from the 10th century BCE is the earliest example of Hebrew writing. Courtesy of the University of Haifa

researchers at haifa university are claiming that the ostracon discovered in 2008 at khirbet qeiyafa contains the earliest example of hebrew writing. professor gershon galil of the department of biblical studies at the university of haifa has translated the text of the faded ostracon. according to a press release:

The inscription itself, which was written in ink on a 15 cm X 16.5 cm trapezoid pottery shard, was discovered a year and a half ago at excavations that were carried out by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel at Khirbet Qeiyafa near the Elah valley. The inscription was dated back to the 10th century BCE, which was the period of King David’s reign, but the question of the language used in this inscription remained unanswered, making it impossible to prove whether it was in fact Hebrew or another local language.

galil’s english translation reads as follows:

1′ you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2′ Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3′ [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
4′ the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
5′ Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

galil uses the ostracon to argue that hebrew was established much earlier that most scholars date the origin of the language. while the gezer calendar, which dates to approximately the same period is a simple text telling the reader when to plant and when to harvest and may have served as a school text, this qeiyafa ostracon echoes some of the teachings that would later be found in the bible, such as caring for slaves, widows, orphans, infants, foreigners, and the poor.

a few comments and questions should surely be asked:

  1. what was the context of the sherd? this is instrumental in ruling out forgery. the ostracon came from the elah fortress excavation. the new york times’ ethan bronner wrote an article highlighting the excavation. there is an excellent timeline of the discovery of the ostracon.
  2. is the translation accurate? scholars will no doubt debate each letter of the transcription and translation. stephen smuts has blogged about a youtube video where professors hagai misgav and yosef garfinkel discuss their translation of the ostracon. galil’s translation will be sure to continue the debate.
  3. does this prove the existence of king david? the answer is no (nor does it arge against his existence). what it does show is that hebrew (if it is determined to be, in fact, hebrew and not some canaanite dialect) writing was practiced in the 10th century bce. this would support the presence of literate hebrew scribes at qeiyafa. whether the presence of scribes in a smaller coastal town supports the existence of an even larger israelite presence in jerusalem is yet to be seen. we cannot assume that just because someone in a small town southwest of jerusalem can write in hebrew means that there are even more people writing in a capitol in jerusalem. what it would tell us is that literacy was more common and widespread at an earlier period than previously thought. of course, none of this lends any evidence to the existence or absence of king david, but a widespread literacy of hebrew in the 10th century bce could be used as evidence of an established or coordinated scribal system in israel.
  4. does this mean that the bible was written earlier than we thought? no. because the text of the ostracon only makes references to themes that would later appear in biblical books, and does not cite them specifically, we cannot say that the bible was composed at any earlier of a date than the 7th-to-1st century bce periods that scholars already date the bible. conservative scholars argue that some portions of the bible were written as early as the 8th century reign of king hezekiah (with some archaic hebrew songs and poems perhaps dating a bit earlier), and other scholars date the composition of the bible to the 6th and 5th centuries bce, during and after the exile to babylon. still other minimalist scholars date the composition of the bible to the 3rd and 2nd centuries bce. (some books like daniel and esther were written even later and date to the second and first centuries bce). thus, we cannot state that this ostracon requires us to date the biblical texts to an earlier period. what we can say is that the themes of social justice and care of the poor and marginalized that would later be echoed in the torah and by the prophetic books were already in the consciousness of the peoples that would later com to identify themselves as jews.
  5. does this prove the story of david and goliath is true? no. better yet, not on your life! the story of david and goliath claims to have taken place in a valley where this ostracon was discovered. here’s a great rule of thumb in archaeology: just because something – anything – was found in a place where a legendary story is said to have taken place does not prove the story. it does nothing. it’s as if i told you that i floated in mid air unaided at ucla. you then traveled to ucla and found a flip flop that said ‘rainbow’ on it. you then tell the world that you discovered a rainbow flip flop in the same place that cargill claims to have floated in mid air. this does not make my story valid, it just means that the place i claimed to have done something exists. likewise, the discovery of this ostracon in the place where david was said to have battled goliath does not in any way lend evidence to the historicity of the legend. it only means that there is a place named the valley of elah. this, of course, won’t stop reporters form mentioning david and goliath.

links

http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2010/01/linguistics-and-dating-of-texts.html

http://thechurchofjesuschrist.us/2010/01/etching-hints-bible-is-older-than-thought-earliest-hebrew-inscription-found/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+TheChurchOfJesusChrist+(The+Church+of+Jesus+Christ)&utm_content=Google+Reader

http://jamestabor.com/2010/01/07/oldest-hebrew-text-deciphered/

http://www.dailyhebrew.com/2010/01/07/update-10th-century-khirbet-qeiyafa-inscription/

on looted archaeological objects, the antiquities market, the heliodorus stele, and the israel museum

Heiodorus Stele

The so-called Heliodorus Stele is said to be both authentic and from an archaeological excavation in Beit Guvrin, Israel. Scholars wonder how an object discovered in a sanctioned excavation made it onto the antiquities market.

there is an excellent editorial on the bible and interpretation site by editors mark elliot and paul flesher about the so-called ‘heliodorus stele.’ specifically, the editorial asks the question why this inscription, if authentic, wound up in the hands of collectors and antiquity dealers?

the article concludes:

In short, we would argue that there are many questions which need to be answered about the Heliodorus Stele, above and beyond the inscription written upon it: when was it found; how was it found; if it were looted from Beit Guvrin, did the dig directors know when and how it was taken; did the IAA and the Parks Authority know that such looting was going on and, if so, what steps did they take to prevent further looting; how did Gil Chaya really come into possession of the stele; how did the Steinhardts find out about it and buy it; how much did they pay for it and was Chaya allowed to keep the money; why wasn’t the sale stopped; why was the sale allowed in the first place; what role did the Israel Museum play in this; and why isn’t the IAA (and the dig directors) questioning all this if the object has been shown through analysis to come from the same place on a licensed dig as three other similar objects?

there are a few different conclusions we can draw about the heliodorus stele, and each one of them raises some serious questions. i want to know the following:

  • looted – if it was taken from beit guvrin, why aren’t the authorities trying to apprehend the looter(s)? who received money for the transfer of this looted object?
  • antiquities market – if it was not looted, but is simply an unprovenanced object on the antiquities market, why are scholars and journals publishing articles about unprovenanced materials?
  • forgery – if it is a forgery, what is the israel museum doing displaying it? and who got duped into saying this forgery is authentic? also, if a forgery, were the fragments discovered during the ‘dig for a day’ excavations planted?

put simply, if it was discovered in a legitimate excavation, what on earth is it doing on the antiquities market? and who took it?

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