There was a request for a picture of the actual ossuary inscription, and I realize that the last picture I posted was really rough and difficult to see. This image is from the Israeli Antiquities Authority (which is by far the clearest image I’ve been able to see and the one that I based most of my reconstruction on) and I have fiddled with the brightness/contrast as well as applied an unsharp mask to bring the inscription out.
I found posted over on the NT Gateway Weblog a wonderful illustration of how the inscription was broken down by Frank Moore Cross which pretty much agrees, letter for letter, with how I was able to pull “Yeshua” out of the tangle:
The broken down illustration has been cleaned up to a very large extent and is much easier to read. However, there is one thing that I find myself disagreeing on, and that is the interpretation of bar (“son of”). I’ve noticed three things:
- The supposed bet does not have a top. In the illustration, a small swash is added.
- What the cleaned up drawing claims as a resh looks too much like an informal Herodian bet.
- The downwards stroke has been ignored in the cleaned up illustration.
First, you’ll notice that the cleaned up image has a very small swash added to the top of the supposed bet where none of the other line drawings or photographs of the ossuary do. Again, this may be due to the poor quality of images that are out there, and could be easily cleared up with a small series so little as 3 megapixel images with varying light angles.
Second, what is identified as a resh has been smoothed out in the illustration. In the images of the ossuary and line art drawings there is a part where the stem of the glyph curves inwards. This immediately struck me as a bet. To my knowledge, as informal Herodian script eventually progressed, that particular featured ended up as a characteristic quirk of Rashi script many many years later (much like how the Rashi shin bears similarity to that form of Herodian), to which there is a comparison below:
Certainly not conclusive, but an alternate hypothesis at the very least.
Finally, the downwards stroke seems to be completely ignored, which could also be possibly read as a final nun (a hypothesis that some scholars agree with); however, I must admit that this then raises questions about how to interpret the first character in this grouping.
With these in mind, there is a possibility that this reads ben rather than bar, but I still believe that either interpretation is inconclusive.
The following is a followup article to a previous entry entitled The Jesus Son of Joseph Inscription.
Since I initially published this article, it has done a bit of spreading around the internet in several blogs (including NT Gateway), a link or two on Wikipedia, and has been included in an Editorial piece on RNN.
On NT Gateway, Mark Goodacre (an Associate Professor of New Testament in the Religion Department at Duke University and the Blog’s owner) said some very nice things about my research. He also emphasizes that I am not an epigrapher which is something important to keep in mind as I do not have formal epigraphical training. I am, however, a translator with a deep understanding of the language who deals with typesetting and translating Aramaic in Herodian script 6 out of 7 days a week, so I am intimately familiar with it.
In an update to Mark’s entry, he posted the following comment from Ed Cook:
I don’t think Caruso has divided the letters correctly. He assigns a long vertical shaft to the “shin”, but this vertical is actually (in my opinion) the waw, and the letter he identifies as waw is, conversely, the left shaft of the shin. Also the triangle shape that is part of the yodh (these loops or triangles are common in the ossuaries) he assigns to the shin. In short, I do not believe that Caruso’s site is a reliable source of paleographic information. The reading “Yeshua” looks likely to me based on the published drawing.
To make a few comments in response:
Cook does make a valid observation that the letters can be divided alternatively (as this inscription is quite the rorschach), however I do not agree with Cook’s analysis either. To explain, allow me to illustrate (to the best of my knowledge) what he was describing:
In blue, I’ve outlined how he sees the shin, where in red I’ve outlined where he sees a waw. This is also a valid possibility, albeit a bit squashed. However, his comment on the “the triangle shape that is part of the yodh (these loops or triangles are common in the ossuaries) [I assign] to the shin” I find inconsistent with this entire inscription.
In my reconstruction I didn’t punch out the triangle that appears in what I identify as a shin with how I vectorized the image. I only had poor-quality images from the Israeli Antiquities Authority to work with at the time. Here I have provided a better detail of the inscription, without much reconstruction, as it appears in Amos Kroner’s article:
And here is a closeup of the “triangle” that he is talking about:
In Herodian scripts, yods only have a “triangle” at their top if they are written with serifs. This is apparent in many of the other inscriptions in the Tomb. For example, take a look at “Joses” inscription:
Note how the serifs are applied consistently? Now, take a closer look at the “Jesus” inscription. If you note “Joseph” (the only easy to read word in the entire scrawl) there are no serifs to be seen and the yod and the wau are indistinguishable (which is common in informal handwritten Herodian from the period; it’s textbook). To claim that the entire inscription has one serif when there are examples to compare to for self-consistency is a little more than out of place.
I do have every confidence that I have identified the shin properly (I’d say 95% certain); however, I must admit that other than that, I cannot be even 10% conclusive about anything else in this inscription other than the name “Joseph.”
For the moment, that is all, but in my next update to this article, I will discuss some ideas concerning the rendering of bar (“son of”).
This post has been transcribed from its original URL http://www.aramaicdesigns.com/index.php?title=Page:The_Lost_Tomb_of_Jesus .
There has been so much press coverage about the upcoming documentary on the “Lost Tomb of Jesus” that I feel that I should add my 2 shekels (as it were) to the pot. I am no archaeologist, but I am very well learned in the Aramaic language in many of its dialects, so I believe that my experience in translation, interpretation and visualization may come the most useful to whoever is reading this. As such, I am going to limit my discussion strictly to that which I believe I have sufficient expertise to make a qualified statement on (e.g. translations and interpretations of the Aramaic inscriptions, themselves).
With that said, I’ve looked over every inscription that has been published in this tomb, and I have been able to read and confirm every translation easily. However, there was one exception, and (of course) it is probably the most debated of the lot: The inscription attributed to “Jesus son of Joesph.” Over the past few days, I’ve been looking over that inscription, and I would like to share what I was able to glean, along with some theories that I believe merit further research.
Out of all of the inscriptions, the one attributed to Jesus is the most difficult to make out, and as a result the most difficult to interpret. Using the photographs released by the Israeli Antiquities Authority and double-checking my work with that of Rahmani, I was able to piece together a line drawing of the deepest lines carved into the ossuary. From that, mulled over the drawing for a full day, trying my best to visualize how the inscription was originally translated as “a cross preceding ‘Jesus, son of Joseph'” and was able to break the inscription down into the following pieces:
From my knowledge of the language and the particular script this phrase was written in, I could easily make out the “cross” at the beginning (but more on that in a bit) and יהוסף Yehosef or “Joseph” at the end. I honestly could see how בר Bar or “son (of)” was implied, but it was not at all clear or coherent. With ישוע Yeshua` or “Jesus,” however, I had a great amount of difficulty seeing, and only after picking things apart with my computer I was able to visualize how this initial reading was made:
In informal scripts from this period, the letters ו (waw) and י (yod) are notoriously difficult to tell apart. They are much easier to discern with the more formal scripts that were found on the ossuaries for Joseh, Judah and the authentic portion of James, but then again that is the point: those scripts are much more formal and the scribe/mason took the time to write them with serifs and proper proportions (which is no easy task). The ש (shin) is a textbook form, and the ע (`ayin), given the long tail, appears to indicate the end of a word.
However, there are still some unanswered questions. Given the angle and tilt of the strokes, the “cross” shape at the beginning of the inscription looks more like an א (alef), which would mean that it would be part of the name. Furthermore, the downwards stroke of the ע (`ayin) looks like it overlaps a stroke that is already there. This particular stroke, looks like it could also be interpreted as part of the stroke infront of it, forming a ד (dalet), the large swash to the lower left possibly a scratch or damage sustained after the carving. For example:
With these two things in mind, the inscription could then also possibly read:
This is also a difficult reading for me, to my knowledge, there is no historical record for a name “אושד/אישד”, and there could also be nuances that I have missed. Furthermore, the portion that is assumed to read בר Bar (son of) may, in fact, also be part of the name, but given how it is garbled I cannot make sense of it. Dr. Stephen Pfann has suggested an alternate hypothesis that the name reads as “Hanun” or “Hanin.” Even with the ambiguities, given the prominence of the ש (shin), I cannot agree with his conclusion on that specific name (as no form of Hanun contains a shin); however, as I’ve mentioned earlier, I can readily see the first glyph that was ignored in the “Yeshua`” interpretation as an א (alef), which can open things up other interpretations. As such, overall it is a very strong possibility that this inscription is not “Yeshua` bar Yehosef.” I only hope that others can use the multimedia I’ve generated for further analysis, and that the letter ambiguities (especially how the cross/alef can alter the translation) are put under further critical examination.
— Steve Caruso
[updated Aug 2009] Steve Caruso is a professional translator at Aramaic Designs (http://www.AramaicDesigns.com) and has been studying the Aramaic language in all of its dialects for over a decade. His primary focus is research on the influence Aramaic has had over the New Testament as well as various forms of Aramaic calligraphy. He currently holds a Masters of Library and Information Science from Rutgers University and is working on the preservation of the language through digital library and lexicon projects (such as eBethArké and The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon) as well as teaching classes online and translating for the public.