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Demythologizing the Talpiot Tomb: Family groups IIa-IIc (updated)

“Chip-carved” ossuaries

IIa-c. 80.500, 80.501, 80.506, 80.507, and 80.508 were “chip carved”, i.e., both smoothed and with deeply incised or carved designs on one long side. In all five cases, the design was comprised of two rosettes which were surrounded by frames composed of rippled lines. Of the three subcategories below, the differences were not significant enough at this point to define clear separations among them. However, the fact that one of these was inscribed in Greek and another in Aramaic is worthy note. In general, it has been generally held that those who could afford such decorated ossuaries were of a higher social class or economic bracket. That being the case, it might then be assumed: “the more detailed and the more beautiful the design, the higher the economic bracket.” Since chip-carved ossuaries are almost exclusively decorated on one long side of the ossuary alone, it has been suggested that these were intended to be displayed sideways in the tomb. This was confirmed in one Akeldama tomb where such an ossuary was found in situ inside an arcosolium with its decorated side facing outward. (Cf., G. Avni and Z. Greenhut, eds., The Akeldama Tombs, IAA Reports I (1996) cover photo.)

IIa. CJO 701 (IAA 80.500) was chip-carved, decorated with rosettes and inscribed in Greek documentary and cursive scripts. This is the MARIAME KAI MARA ossuary, inscribed on the back, that has been held as being so significant for identifying this tomb with the family of Jesus. The article “Mariamne is Now Missing” and connected summary and Ringo blogs, including the autopsy of the ossuary, are readily available here on the UHL web site.

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To what extent this ossuary and its occupants are connected to those in the other chip-carved ossuaries is difficult to say. Just the same, what distinguishes this ossuary from the others is that, besides having a Greek inscription, the rosettes are smaller and more elaborately cut. Like ossuary CJO 707, it has six eyelettes (some say these are prophylactics against the “evil eye”). Unlike others, the lid is gabled, although some have questioned whether this lid might not have been intended for another ossuary, since it doesn’t quite fit this ossuary and the stone-cutter’s mark on the ossuary body does not match the one on the lid.

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IIb. CJO 702 (80.501) was chip-carved, decorated with rosettes and inscribed in Aramaic. This is the YEHUDAH BAR YESHUA ossuary, inscribed on the front. The ossuary shares similarities with the remaining chip-carved ossuaries including two rosettes that have both been carefully carved to stand erect (a feature that is less common than one might expect). The outer border of the design has a single row of decoration, while at least two of the other chip-carved ossuaries have double rows. This may be due to the fact that its height is less than all others that have been recorded from the tomb (27 cm.). Unlike the remaining ossuaries, it has a cut groove for the lid.

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Translation: “Yehudah the son of Yeshua” The lettering was clearly and deeply inscribed in the standard square Jewish script of the day on an ornately decorated ossuary. This style of script, although not uncommon, is not written in the standard lapidary script but although it is still lapidary in form, it rather emulates the formal script used with pen and ink on papyrus and parchment documents and literary works. In this case the he and the waw are easily distinguishable. The left downstroke of the he is inscribed separately from the rest of the letter. The bottom stroke of the bet finishes well to the right of the vertical down-stroke. The ayin is rotated counter clockwise 45 degrees due to the constraints of the space left for its execution between the waw and the decoration. The form of the bet and the ayin resembles those of the mid to late first century CE.The first name YEHUDAH was written clearly and spaciously. The patronym BAR YESHUA is inscribed in a cramped fashion since the scribe was running out of room before a line of decoration immediately to the left. There is no apparent reason, however, not to believe that all three words were inscribed by the same person and at the same time.The father’s name does not necessarily have be identified with the Yeshua of ossuary 704.

IIc. CJO 707, 708, 709 (IAA 80.506, 80.507 and 80.508) were chip-carved, decorated with rosettes and were uninscribed. These each have two rosettes which have been carefully carved to stand erect. Although the border design varies on each, CJO 707 and CJO 708 have a double outer border. CJO 709 has a double row top border and a significant bordered margin separating the two rosettes. All three ossuaries were discovered in a broken condition and have been repaired at the museum.

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