Long-unrecognized lettering confirms that first-century artifacts found within an ancient Jerusalem tomb are the earliest representations of Christianity ever found, researchers say.
Two Hebrew scholars who examined photographs showing the inside of the tomb agree that markings on an ossuary — a box made to hold human remains — are stylized letters that spell out the name of Jonah, the researchers said Thursday (April 19). Jonah was the Old Testament prophet whose story of being swallowed by a great fish was embraced by the early followers of Jesus.
The tomb, located 6.5 feet (2 meters) below an apartment building in the East Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem, was discovered in 1981 but resealed after Orthodox Jewish groups opposed its excavation. Two decades later, the group got license to enter the tomb, which has been dated to before A.D. 70. Read more.
In Jerusalem and Judah, ancient limestone burial boxes containing skeletal remains — called ossuaries — are fairly common archaeological finds from the 1st century BCE to the 1st century AD period. Forgers have also added inscriptions or decorations to fraudulently increase their value. So three years ago, when the Israel Antiquities Authority confiscated an ossuary with a rare inscription from antiquities looters, they turned to Prof. Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology to authenticate the fascinating discovery.
Prof. Goren, who worked in collaboration with Prof. Boaz Zissu from Bar Ilan University, now confirms that both the ossuary and its inscription are authentic. The ossuary’s inscription, which is unusually detailed, could reveal the home of the family of the biblical figure and high priest Caiaphas prior to their exodus to Galilee after 70 AD. Caiaphas is infamous for his involvement in the crucifixion of Jesus. Read more.
Israeli scholars say they have confirmed the authenticity of a 2,000-year-old burial box bearing the name of a relative of the high priest Caiaphas of the New Testament.
The ossuary bears an inscription with the name “Miriam daughter of Yeshua son of Caiaphas, priest of Maaziah from Beth Imri.”
To confirm the authenticity of the ossuary, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), who discovered the ancient burial box turned to 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.
"The prime importance of the inscription lies in the reference to the ancestry of the deceased – Miriam daughter of Yeshua – to the Caiaphas family, indicating the connection to the family of the Ma’aziahcourse of priests of Beth ’Imri," wrote Zissu and Goren in the conclusion of their study. Read more.