In the previous postings we have made a study of the tomb architecture and art associated with rock cut tombs from the late first century BCE to the first century CE.
To date, few have ventured a guess as to the origins of the features on the façade of the Talpiot tomb. The closest comes from James Tabor’s blog (May 5), where there was an non-organized lists of images that various individuals thought related to the façade of the Talpiot Tomb. He said, “Some of these seem to have some real merit and others I think are probably quite far out but I will offer them without comment or interpretation for now, but as a prelude to a full discussion of the tomb symbol and what it likely meant in pre-70 CE 1st century Jerusalem. They are in no particular order.” (Thanks to Prof. Tabor for providing these images to us all to study.)
Which of the images provided by him has merit? Combining the current study with the following rating system we can now arrange the images according to their merit.
The following A, B, C, D rating system of potential parallels has helped to narrow down the options. This method is adaptable to various forms of research and was developed at the University of the Holy Land for its work at Nazareth Village. As a matter of review:
A – A “certain” parallel. Needs to be from the same century, the same locality and the same archaeological context.
B – A “probable” parallel. Needs to be from within a hundred years of the same century, the same general region and a related archaeological context.
C – A “plausible” parallel. Needs to be from within two to three hundred years of the same century, the Mediterranean world, and a somewhat relevant archaeological context.
D – An educated guess. Needs to be from the pre-Medieval ancient world, the Old World, and a remotely relevant archaeological or ethnographic context.
N/A – Not applicable. Items which are traceable to the Medieval, Renaissance or modern periods. Items of unknown or untraceable origins. Items lacking a relevant archaeological or ethnographic context.
To achieve an “A” rating where should we look for relevant parallels?
Since the Talpiot Tomb façade is from first century Jerusalem, then only items of similar description are totally valid or “certain” relevance. The only item among these images matching that description is from the Sanhedriya tombs:
Facade of the 1st century CE “Tomb of the Sanhedrin” in Sanhedria, Jerusalem
“B” rating: probable relevance:
Coin of Herod Philip II (4 BCE to 34 CE) with a common Temple facade, in this case possibly the Nicanor Gate in Jerusalem.
The single round item below the gable of the temple shows that pediments could in fact be found on temple representations of the first century, in the same region.
Ossuary Lid Reflecting the Idea of a Roof or Temple/House for the Bones
There are a number of ossuaries from the Jerusalem region with a single round, normally rosette, symbol on either or both sides of a gabled ossuary lid.
A “C” rating goes to:
Pilate Washing His Hands, Early Christian* Fresco (sic)
Gravestone of a Christian* named Datus, 3rd Century CE, Catacombs, Rome: Jesus Raising Lazarus
*NB, A wreath under a gable may be a relevant parallel to the same combination found at the Talpiot Tomb. The Christian nature of these “C” rated items should not be taken as relevant for understanding the symbolism of the wreath and the gable, since numerous examples of both of these elements are found in Jewish settings in Jerusalem and in non-Christian, pagan settings.
A “D” rating goes to
Coptic* Grave Stele from Upper Egypt
*NB, Again, although the gable/wreath combination may be an intriguing and perhaps relevant combination, the Coptic nature of this “D” rated item should not be taken as relevant for understanding the symbolism of the wreath and the gable of the Talpiot tomb. This is especially true since numerous examples of both of these elements are found in Jewish settings in Jerusalem and in non-Christian, pagan settings .
All other proposed parallels fall outside the acceptable parameters and thus must be listed as “Not applicable “N/A” including:
Popular art at Pompeii: 1st Century CE triclinium Mosaic at Pompei
Christian art from more recent times: Early Christian Fish Symbol, Various Forms of the All-Seeing Eye: Here Carucci’s Supper at Emmaus with Resurrected Jesus, Stonework at Mary Magdalene Church in Suffolk, England
Medieval to modern amulets:Hamsa Symbols for Protection from the Evil Eye, or the All-Seeing Eye
Masonic symbols: General Masonic Symbol, General Masonic Builders Symbol, Master Masonic Apron from Europe
What can we actually say?
This survey and practical application of the A, B, C, D rating system has left us with the likely existence of a simple gable and wreath motif in the Roman world and now in a Jewish setting of first century Jerusalem. The wreath was an honorific symbol for individuals, noted for their military or academic accomplishments. Can we venture a guess as to the symbolism of the items above the door of the Talpiot “Wreath” Tomb? Utilizing the contemporary parallels, perhaps we can venture to say that one of the heads of the family may have been an accomplished statesman or scribe. However, no “chevron” with an “all seeing eye” belongs anywhere in this time and locality.
Please feel free to visit the modern and reconstructed ancient Talpiot Tomb site in 360 degree VR developed by our CGI/digital reconstruction expert (S. Pfann, Jr.)
UHL Staff Report