Monday, October 06, 2008

Orthography of the High Priest Sarcophagus

Jim Davila has directed us to the discovery of an inscription on a sarcophagus dating from the Second Temple period, which reads ‏בן הכהן הגדול, "son of the High Priest."

I will leave the historical analysis to others who are better qualified. What interests me are the orthographical minutiae. The main two words, kohen and gadol, both give the opportunity for the use of matres lectionis (consonants used as vowel letters). However, only one word has a mater, ‏גדול. This is consistent with the vast majority of its occurrences in the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible.

The spelling of the other word, ‏כהן, without a mater, is also consistent with its spelling in the Masoretic Text, where it never appears with a mater. Not very interesting, I know. However, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the largest collection of Second Temple Hebrew texts that we have, the word appears with a mater in the majority of cases (‏כוהן), as does ‏גדול. This is true for both words even of the biblical texts.

The Mishnah has the same orthography as the Masoretic text, but for the expression "High Priest," it uses the phrase without the definite article: ‏כהן גדול. The same is true of the Hasmonean coins, but this may be for reasons of space.

So of the three ancient forms of this title (Masoretic tradition, Qumran, Mishnaic/numismatic), the sarcophagus is aligned with the Masoretic tradition. As far as I know, this has no historical implications. I just think it's interesting.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Jesus Bowl: Another Crock

Well, this is all over the place. Once again, it does not seem to be as big a deal as everyone is saying.

(1) The bowl pretty clearly reads δια χρηστοu, "through Chrestos," not "Christ." Chrestos is a personal name, as well as an adjective meaning "decent" or "useful."

(2) If the bowl is dated from the 2nd century BCE to the early 1st century CE, it cannot in any case refer to Jesus Christ. The epithet Christ was not added to the name of Jesus of Nazareth until after the crucifixion, in the 30's of the first century. And Jesus of Nazareth did not exist in the 2nd or 1st century BCE (unless he was an infant in the closing years of the 1st century BCE, as seems probable).

Not visible in the photo are the words supposed to be "the magician": O GOISTAIS. I don't recognize this form; I know the word γοητής or γόης which can mean magician. I have no idea what GOISTAIS is supposed to be.

In short, this big story is something of a muddle. Perhaps some experts on Greek paleography and lexicography could weigh in. In the meantime, don't get too excited.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Magic and Magicians in the Greco-Roman World, by Matthew Dickie (Routledge, 2003).