Where in the world is St. Peter's body?

Based upon the extant historical sources there appears to be unanimous agreement that Peter--Simon bar-Jonah--died in Rome during the persecutions of the Roman emperor Nero which took place during the years 64/65 C.E. The same sources agree that he was buried in Rome, where his grave was commemorated by a monument.

Clement Bishop of Rome (88-97 C.E.): There was Peter who by reason of unrighteous jealousy endured not one but many labors, and thus having borne his testimony went to his appointed place of glory. (1 Clem 5:4) He was the first to mention Peter and Paul's martyrdom at Rome.

Dionysius, bishop of Corinth (c. 180 C.E.): "Both of these (Peter and Paul) having planted the church at Corinth, likewise instructed us; and having in like manner taught in Italy, they suffered martyrdom about the same time."

Tertullian (c. 180 C.E.), writing in Latin, mentions the martyrdom of Peter and Paul under Nero in Rome.

Attributed to Origen (c. 230 C.E.): "Peter appears to have preached through Pontus, Galatia, Bithynia, Cappadocia, and Asia, to the Jews that were scattered abroad; who also, finally coming to Rome, was crucified with his head downward, having requested of himself to suffer in this way" (in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3:1).

Eusebius bishop of Caesarea (c. 325 C.E.): "Thus Nero publicly announcing himself as the chief enemy of God, was led on in his fury to slaughter the apostles. Paul is therefore said to have been beheaded at Rome, and Peter to have been crucified under him. And this account is confirmed by the fact, that the names of Peter and Paul still remain in the cemeteries of that city even to this day" (Ecclesiastical History 2:25).

More extensive accounts of the events which surrounded his death and burial are filled in by various apocryphal sources. These stories have forged much of the legends that have been used to inspire the imagination and faith of believers over the centuries. The historicity of these stories are now left in the hands of modern historians to interpret and evaluate their likelihood. The most important of these stories is the second century Acts of Peter, where Peter insists on being crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy to die in the same way that Jesus did.

In the early fourth century, the Emperor Constantine built a basilica in honor of St. Peter at the site of his grave, today known as St. Peter's in Rome. It has been traditionally understood that his relics (his bones) lay buried below the high altar of the Basilica. Another tradition placed his skull in the Basilica of St. John Lateran on the Lateran Hill in Rome. All traditions without exception place his remains in Rome.

On December 23, 1950, Pope Pius XII announced to the world that the ancient grave and relics of St. Peter had been located in the "Red Wall" below the high altar and confirmed the authenticity of the relics: "New investigations, most patient and accurate, were subsequently carried out with the results that we, comforted by the judgment of qualified, prudent and competent people, believe are positive. The relics of Saint Peter have been identified in a way we believe convincing."

Under subsequent investigation by a physical anthropologist, the bones of several individuals (including a woman and certain farm animals) were identified, bringing into question the authenticity of the find.

Not long after this, what appeared to be an amazing and conflicting discovery was made in Jerusalem by the Franciscan Father Bellarmino Bagatti in the area of the Dominus Flevit Church on the Western slope of the Mt. of Olives overlooking the Kidron Brook and the Temple Mount. Among the burial caves at the site numerous ossuaries were discovered with what he considered to be early Christian symbols including the Christogram (Chi Rho). Even more shocking to his mind was the discovery of the remnant of an ossuary bearing the Hebrew name of St. Peter, Shimeon Bar Yonah "Simon, Son of Jonah". He first published the find in 1953 in Liber Annuus III, 149-184. This, of course, caused some concern since the discovery ostensibly contradicted the finds that were announced in Rome.



Fr. Bagatti left the final publication of the ossuary in the hands of Jozef Milik and asserted that the inscription might be of someone from Simon Peter's extended family, where such a repetition of names might be considered normal practice. Milik published the final report of the inscriptions of Dominus Flevit in 1958, Gli Scavi del "Dominus Flevit" parte I. The following is a translation of Milik's treatment of the ossuary in question.

J. T. Milik did not oppose Bagatti's earlier reading, but pointed out some other options:


A decade later, Pope Paul VI announced afresh the finding of the relics of St. Peter, this time in the adjacent "Grafitti Wall" below the altar. The Pontiff held the relics for nearly 14 years before he made the announcement. Why the delay? "According to officials the reason for keeping the discovery secret is that the Pontiff, before making the announcement which, they said, will certainly be of tremendous interest for both Roman Catholics and non-Catholics, wants his archaeological experts to gather proofs so incontrovertible that no one will be able to challenge their authenticity. Accordingly, tests were said to have been made, the nature of which was not disclosed." Finally the Pope released the following to the press, "We believe it our duty, in the present state of archaeological and scientific conclusions, to give you and the church this happy announcement, bound as we are to honor sacred relics, backed by a reliable proof of their authenticity. In the present case, we must be all the more eager and exultant when we are right in believing that the few but sacred mortal remains have been traced of the Prince of the Apostles, of Simon son of Jonah, of the fisher-man named Peter by Christ, of he who was chosen by the Lord to found His church and to whom He entrusted the keys of His kingdom until His final glorious return." Text of Announcement by Pope Paul VI Concerning the Relics, The New York Times, 27 June 1968.

Recent Resurrections of the of the Dominus Flevit St. Peter:

Assumptions and Challenges in Film and in Ink

The authentication of the tomb and its bones has not convinced everyone. This includes the makers of the Lost Tomb of Jesus, who believe that, in spite of the lack of any ancient literary support, the fragmentary bone box of Dominus Flevit contained the remains of Simon Peter who was buried, they assert, not in Rome, but in Jerusalem.

Transcripts from the Film:

Film consultant James Tabor: "Now, I don’t know if everybody will recognize that immediately but Jesus said to Simon Peter, who’s venerated later as the Pope and the head of the Church, 'You are Simon Bar-Jonah, blessed are you Peter'. See his name is not Peter; that’s a Greek word. His name was Shimon--Shimon Bar-Yonah."

Narrator: Today, only a piece of the ossuary remains. The Franciscans have stored it in a small museum beside their church. It bears an indisputable inscription; the only one ever found spelling the name “Simon Bar-Jonah”. (bold added by UHL Staff)


Narrator: Simon was one of the twelve original apostles of Jesus. According to the Gospels, Jesus renamed him Peter, in Aramaic, Kepha, which means rock. He’s considered a saint by many Christians and the first pope by the Roman Catholic Church. According to tradition, Simon Peter was crucified and buried in Rome. So how could his coffin be here in Jerusalem? The fact is there has never been any credible archeological evidence found in Rome underneath the Vatican that points to Simon Bar Jonah, Simon Peter. And here sits an ossuary discovered at Dominus Flevit bearing his name. So if this is a Judeo-Christian necropolis, it is part of a network of cemeteries and tombs that belonged to the early followers of Jesus, including Jesus’ Family.


Is Simon Bar Jonah really in this tomb? We shall see over the next days.

Judah son of Jesus, Jesus son of Judah

Posted by admin on May 22, 2007

Is it unusual to find a Jesus ("Jesus (?) son of Joseph") and a "Judah son of Jesus" in a Talpiot tomb? What are the chances that there might be another one like this in Talpiot? Not too likely?

Until we find the next one, perhaps this one will suffice:

CJO 113 is inscribed in Greek: IHSOYS IOYD(OY), "JESUS SON OF JUDAH"; ornately chip-carved.

CJO 114 is inscribed in Greek: IHSOYS ALOTH, "JESUS, WOE" (according to Sukenik); plain, roughly dressed with crosses inscribed in charcoal on all four sides


Both are from a single tomb in Talpiot (published in Rahmani's catalogue), located not far from the "Lost Tomb of Jesus." What are the odds?!

"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.


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.


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.


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.


"Yoseh" or "Yosah"?

Posted by admin on May 19, 2007

Recently, the BAR website provided an article coauthored by Craig Evens and Steven Feldman which enumerated a number of holes in the "Lost Tomb" hypothesis. It is good to provide surveys of the study every so often. There are so many holes in the hypothesis that it is hard to take inventory of them all. With a few exceptions, the list is basically correct. Here are two suggested modifications:

"Some epigraphers think the Greek inscription on the ossuary actually reads “Mariamne and Mara.”

This must be a mistake. The revised readings for the so-called "Mariamene" ossuary that have been set forth are actually MARIAME KAI MARA "Maryame and Mara" (Pfann, Puech. et al.) and MARIAM H KAI MARA "Mariam who is also (called) Mara" (Tal Ilan et al). The name "Mariamne" has not been suggested as a reading.

"The filmmakers also misunderstand another of the names found in the Talpiot tomb. The name YWSH should be pronounced 'Yosah' (as Professor Tal Ilan in fact does in the documentary), not “'Yoseh', as the documentary consistently does. 'Yosah' is not the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek form Joses, the name of Jesus’ brother (as in Mark 6:3 and elsewhere). The Hebrew equivalent is YWSY (and is found on a number of ossuaries in Greek and in Hebrew). The documentary’s discussion of this name is very misleading."

The quotes of experts presented in the film should not be taken at face value or as being definitive. It is important to recheck the quotes of any expert, especially against their own work.

In Tal Ilan’s treatment under YWSF, the sole form in the ossuaries is spelled Y(W)SH (cf. T. Ilan, Lexicon, p. 152 no. 89 [Ilan rightly corrects this reading], p.154 no. 118, 133). In the early second century Murabba'at papyri, YWSH, but not YWSY, is found (papMur 46). In most of the tannaitic manuscripts, YWSY is simply an alternative spelling of YWSH, both pronounced the same. YWSH (pointed Yoseh in vocalized versions) is by far the predominant form of the word in the superior Kaufmann manuscript of the Mishna. Prof. Ilan (p. 157 note 3) infers that YWSH is the Palestinian form of the name since it is found in the Vienna manuscript of the Tosefta in place of YWSY (found in the Erfurt manuscript). Unfortunately, Ilan’s numerous examples of YWSY come primarily from the handy concordances of Kasowski which have been the standard source for scholars up until only very recently. The manuscripts that formed the basis for Kasowski’s concordances of the Mishna, the Tosefta, the Mechilta, the Sifra and the Jerusalem Talmud, are today considered inferior and are currently being replaced by electronic concordances which rely upon better manuscripts (e.g., Accordance Bible software now provides the Kaufmann manuscript of the Mishnah). According to Ilan (p. 159 note 96) YWSH is the predominant form used in Galileen synagogue inscriptions (10x) over against YWSF (1x) (cf. Naveh’s corpus in On Stone and Mosaic, p. 152).

We really don’t have any compelling evidence for the use of YWSY, as opposed to YWSH during the Second Temple Period (or even for some time later). In the case of the Talpiot tomb, YWSH should probably be pronounced “Yoseh” following the contemporary Greek pronunciation of that name (which preserves no examples of “Yosah”).

There are so many holes in the film there is no need to add this one to the list. We can, on the other hand, challenge the assertion of the filmmakers that the name Yoseh is so rare. What comes down to us is in Greek. The Gospel of Mark passage is unique with respect to providing this shortened Greek name for Jesus’ brother. However, in Greek inscriptions, the shortened form "Iose/Ioses" is more popular than "Iosepos".


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CJO 703 (80.502) MATTIAH.

Surface condition and measurements: The ossuary was found in a broken state. Repaired at museum.

The surface of this ossuary was roughly dressed with an adze or chisel.

The ossuary was measured and the deeply incised inscription was traced.

Ossuary height: 35.6 cm

Outer dimensions of rim of ossuary: 25.4-28.3 cm x 55 cm

Interior dimensions of rim of ossuary: 22.5-27 cm x 48.6 cm

Interior dimension of ossuary floor: 15.4-18.3 cm x 41.3 cm

Inscription length: 9.7 cm

Letter height: he is 2.7 cm high

Vertical depth of inscripition lines vary: 1 to 2 mm

UV light test

There was no apparent distinction between the UV florescence of the incisions of the inscription and other outer surfaces on the ossuary (except where modern repairs, chips and abrasions were apparent).

CJO 705 (80.504) YOSEH.

Surface condition and measurements: The ossuary was found in a broken state. Repaired at museum.

The surface of this ossuary was roughly dressed with an adze or chisel.

The ossuary was measured and the deeply incised inscription was traced.

Ossuary height: 34.2 cm

Outer dimensions of rim of ossuary: 26.5 cm x 59.5 cm

Interior dimensions of rim of ossuary: 20.4 cm x 48.4 cm

Interior dimension of ossuary floor: 14-15 cm x 40.5 cm

Inscription length: 8.3 cm

Letter height: he is 2.8 cm high

Vertical depth of inscripition lines vary: 1 to 2 mm

UV light test.

There was no apparent distinction between the UV florescence of the incisions of the inscription and other outer surfaces on the ossuary (except where modern repairs, chips and abrasions were apparent).

CJO 706 (80.505) MARIAH.

On exhibit in the United States.

Ossuaries CJO 703, 705, 706 (IAA 80.502, 80.504, 80.505)

The surfaces of three of the ossuaries were roughly dressed with a chisel. Dissimilarities in the scoring patterns left by the chisel marks indicate that a different chisel was used for carving each ossuary.



These three ossuaries were also similarly and beautifully inscribed and were readable without additional lighting. The names MARIA, YOSEH and MATTIYAH were deeply inscribed with beautiful large letters (2.5-3 cm high and 1 to 2 mm deep) by a practiced, almost certainly professional, scribal hand. On the spot, and without any further need for examination, it appeared that all three may well have been inscribed by the same individual. They all contain similar features including open heads or serifs on the letters in the common lapidary script of the day (engraved on stone buildings, plaques, ossuaries as well as metal plaques and scrolls), yet each with a peculiar individual style similar to the other two. Of the other, less than twenty ossuaries that are written in Hebrew lapidary script in the State of Israel Collection (L. Y. Rahmani, A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries, Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities [Jerusalem: 1994]) and Dominus Flevit collections, few are as beautifully and well inscribed as these.

Curiously, in all three cases the names that were used were common abbreviated forms of a known Jewish name.



MATIYAH (for MATITIYAH); Rahmani 703.

Translated: "Mattiyah" or "Matthew". The space between the left downstroke and the horizontal head of the letter heh first starts to appear during the first century, but only in lapidary script, intermittently, on ossuaries and in the Copper Scroll. It is unusual that it is found on three of the six inscribed ossuaries from this burial cave (Rahmani ossuaries 702, 703 and 705). This space does not become an essential part of the letter in the written pen and ink scripts for yet another few centuries. This inscription was added to the side of the ossuary where it would be readily visible if placed in one of the loculi.

MT[Y]H (First two letters are cursive) was lightly inscribed on the interior. This was likely done by the stone mason or a family member to assign the ossuary to this individual before the permanent inscription was added to the exterior of the box.


Another ossuary, CJO 42, bears both the formal name and the nickname of a single individual named "Matthew." Again, the temporary inscription was first written with less carefully executed letters, some in cursive style, on the back of the ossuary. But the permanent inscription was written on the front, decorated side of the ossuary.



YOSEH (for YEHOSEPH); Rahmani 705.

Of these three inscriptions, this one makes the widest use of the open headed serifs. YOSEH (sometimes transliterated Jose) is a shortened form of the name Yehoseph/Joseph and, although it is found only once in the Hebrew section of Rahmani's catalogue, the Greek form of the name is found an additional three times.

The filmmakers failed to clarify that “Yoseh” (Hebrew) with its equivalent “Iose” (Greek) is by far the most common shortened name for Yehoseph/Joseph from the second century BCE until the first century CE (cf. Yoseh b. Yo'ezer and Yoseh b. Yohanan, the first of the "pairs" who established and ruled the first Sanhedrin in Jerusalem). In second to third century Beth Shearim, among the Greek inscriptions, the name “Yoseh” (7x) is actually more common than “Yoseph” (6x). The New Testament provides both of these names for Jesus’ brother (though Yoseh/Jose occurs in Mark only).

Although the Greek form of the name is more common in the inscriptions, this is offset by the numerous Hebrew examples of the name connected with the leaders of Jewish communites from the second century BCE to the fourth century CE. Cf. the online Jewish Encyclopedia under "Jose"


MARIA (for MARIAM); Rahmani 706.

The first letter "M" is somewhat unusual in that it is a "final form" of the letter normally reserved for the end of words. This is not unique and may or may not have been accidental. The exact same combination of letters for "MARIA" was found by A. Kloner on an ossuary from the Giv'at Hamivtar district of Jerusalem. (Rahmani, no. 428, ).


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It has been pointed out on various occasions that burial caves normally represent the members of an extended family and not a nuclear family. This extended family might incorporate certain individuals who were beloved and not genetically linked to the family. However, it is generally recognized that the named individuals on the ossuaries comprise the names of significant family members: for example, the Benei Hezir tomb, the Kallon family tomb, the Caiaphas family tomb, and the Boethus family tomb, all of which have names of recognized priests or priestly lines in the literature. Tombs of Jewish immigrants from the diaspora are normally inscribed in Greek and include the Simon of Cyrene family tomb, the Ariston family tomb, the Eros family tomb, and the Nicanor family tomb, among others. Indigenous family tombs from Jerusalem, presently numbering close to a thousand, include examples from the Kidron Valley, the Mount of Olives, the Hinnom Valley, Talpiot, and the areas especially to the north, south and west. Others appear to the east in Bethany and in Jericho, especially the Goliath family tomb. Many of these contain clusters of names which help to build a family tree. Some contain one name or none at all.

This raises the question as to whether we can distinguish various sectors of the various families into subdivisions which might in fact comprise nuclear families. In the present tomb from Talpiot, there are a number of distinquishing factors among the ossuaries which might provide a starting point in subdividing this extended family. These distinctions could provide us with hints at the history and self definition of the various facets of this family. (For more a handy and more detailed description of these family tombs see R. Hachlili, Jewish Funerary Customs. pp. 236-310)

A brief list of the most obvious distinctions are as follows:

1) Use of the ossuaries for secondary burial (as opposed to non-use of ossuaries).

2) The presence or absence of inscribed names on ossuaries.

3) The style of the ossuaries and their decorations.

4) Language: Greek versus Hebrew/Aramaic names.

5) The style of script on the ossuaries.

1) Use of the ossuaries for secondary burial (as opposed to non-use of ossuaries).

First of all, if a tomb has ossuaries, the period it was in use for ossuaries would have been some time from about 30 BCE to 70 CE (a bit later outside of Jerusalem). Most such tombs will also have burial niches called loculi and arcosolia. However tombs with loculi and arcosolia extend back to the Hellenistic period (3rd to 4th cent. BCE) and elsewhere (e.g., Beth Shearim) extend forward into the late Roman period .

On an average, more than half of the skeletons in a tomb are found outside of the ossuaries. About 1.7 skeletons are found inside an ossuary. (See A. Kloner's statistics on this tomb in Atiquot 1996). The individual skeletons that are not in ossuaries may be explained in various ways. They may be from outside the century that ossuaries were utilized. They may be from a part of the family that didn't use or couldn't afford to have its own ossuary. They may have been removed from the ossuary to make room for other family members.

2) The presence or absence of inscribed names on ossuaries.

In one extended family tomb on Mt. Scopus (excavated by V. Sussmann and J. Zias) 88 skeletons were found accompanied by 15 ossuaries but with only one inscribed name on an ossuary. On an average, about one in five ossuaries bear names. This makes the present tomb in Talpiot very unusual in that 6 of its 10 ossuaries have names inscribed on them. This may be significant as an indication of literacy in the family, or it can merely be a difference in an individual family custom or preference (like whether they make family movies or exchange Christmas cards).

3) The style of the ossuaries and their decorations.

Ossuary styles vary considerably, as can be seen within the tomb in question.

The surface of three of the ossuaries (80.502, 80.504 and 80.505) were "rough dressed" with a chisel. Dissimilarities in the scoring patterns left by the chisel marks indicate that a different chisel was used for carving each ossuary. (All three of these were inscribed in a deeply cut lapidary script).

One ossuary (80.503) was smoothed but plain, without ornamentation. (It was, however, inscribed with the so-called "Yeshua bar Yehosef" inscription.)

Five ossuaries (80.500, 80.501, 80.506, 80.507, 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 the design was comprised of two rosettes which were surrounded by frames composed of rippled lines. Two of these bore inscriptions (80.500, 80.501).

4) Language: Greek versus Hebrew/Aramaic names.

Five of the six inscribed ossuaries bore names in Hebrew or Aramaic (80.501, 80.502, 80.503, 80.504, 80.505). One inscription was in Greek (80.500). Two had the names of two individuals (80.500, 80.503) overinscribed.

5) The style of script on the ossuaries.

Three were deeply inscribed in large letters in Hebrew Lapidary Script which sports hollow serifs (80.502, 80.504, 80.505). One was written in a smaller Hebrew Lapidary script more reminiscent of manuscript formal style with filled serifs, and not so deeply inscribed as the previous. One was inscribed at first in non-serifed block letters and then the first name was overinscribed in a cursive script (80.503). One ossuary (80.501) was inscribed on two separate occasions in separate Greek styles: documentary and cursive.

Three main ossuary subgroups are apparent:

I. 80.502, 80.504 and 80.505 were "rough dressed" with a chisel. These were also the only ossuaries that were deeply inscribed (1 to 2 mm deep) in a lapidary script with hollow serifs. None of the three names are formal names.

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 the other inscribed in Aramaic is significant to note.

IIa. 80.500 was chip carved, decorated with rosettes and was inscribed in Greek documentary and cursive scripts.

IIb. 80.501 was chip carved, decorated with rosettes and was inscribed in Aramaic.

IIc. 80.506, 80.507 and 80.508 were chip carved, decorated with rosettes and were uninscribed.

III. 80.503 was smoothed and left undecorated. It was inscribed in Hebrew/Aramaic. First hand: semi-cursive to semi-formal script. Second hand: Jewish cursive script. It is the only ossuary with a patronym: "bar/ben Yehosef".

"Chevron" foiled

Posted by admin on May 15, 2007


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 

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Simplified Gables without Decorated Pediments

The gable with a decorated pediment above a moulded door frame remained popular among the upper class. This type of ornamented façade doesn't quite fit any one of Rachel Hachili's typologies (see posting of May 11), outside of the fact that she mentions them and illustrates them as a subcategory under Type 2: "Façade surrounded by moulded frame." However, one might say that these façades are a simplified form of the Type 4: "Entrance façade with moulding and pediment," where the pediment is unornamented, although the gable may or may not have acroteria.(See below, letters a, b-c, d.) Thus we might, for our purposes, call this simplified form "Type 4a". In many cases the gabled entrance is flanked by pilasters. (See below, letters a, b-c, d, f, g, h.) These doorways tend to be internal doors, which separated various chambers within larger tomb complexes. If there is an acroterion at the apex of the gable, it is often fused to the ceiling above the entrance. (See below, letters d, f, g, h; also see the "Cave of Jehoshaphat".) At times, the moulding around the doorway and the bottom has eroded or been chiseled away, leaving an upside down "V" (a.k.a, "chevron"?) above the entrance. (See, b-c, h.) At times, the space under the gable may contain a simple ornament like a wreath (letter h), a shield (on a coin of Philip; letter i), or a star (or rather a rosette (?!) above the entrance to the temple on shekels of the Bar Kokhba period; see letter j).

Concerning the so-called "chevron" of the Talpiot tomb: see the methodology suggested in our post of May 7th: "Chevron Toil." For a proposed parallel to the chevron to achieve an "A" rating, it must be from the same time period, locale, and archaeological context as this first century, Jerusalem tomb façade. Thus, the place to begin a search for relevant parallels is among other first century, Jerusalem tomb façades. It is from these that we should be able to arrive at "A" rating parallels.

Happily, such parallels do exist! We have spent the past few days doing a thorough survey of the tombs of the Second Temple Period in Jerusalem. We have found no examples where an unexpected symbol has appeared above the door of the tomb. Independently, many archaeologists have arrived at very similar conclusions. According to these, the decoration above the door is simply an inelegant, stylized or eroded representation of a gable with an acroterion attached to the ceiling. (S. Gibson, A. Kloner, S. Pfann, S. Cox, et al.). The ring at the center has been interpreted as an eroded rosette (Kloner) and as a wreath (Gibson and Pfann). Shimon Gibson has prepared a detailed and definitive analysis of the decoration on this tomb soon to be published. 


a) Type 4a: Tomb façade in the Hinnom Valley, Jerusalem. (Vincent and Steve, 1954: 343, fig. 93B.)

b-c) Type 4a: Vestibule of Silwan tomb, Jerusalem

d) Type 4a: Entrance to tomb, Hinnom Valley, Jerusalem. (RAF Macalister, PEFQSt (1901) 157, fig. 25b.)

e-g) Type 4a: Tombs of the Hinnom Valley (Hachlili p. 45, fig II-12 b; Avigad 1950-51: fig. 3)

h) Type 4a: The Talpiot Tomb, Jerusalem. (Drawing by S. Gibson)

i) Coin of Herod Philip with façade of temple. (Fontanille, Menorah Project)

j) Silver Sela of the Bar Kokhba revolt. (Meshorer, A Treasury of Jewish Coins, 2001. pl. 66, no. 233)

Summary concerning this study and the decoration on the Talpiot Tomb:

Is the term"chevron" the appropriate term for this tomb façade decoration? Is the "all seeing eye" an appropriate candidate for the circle which appears below it?

Some of the gables and their pediments on the tomb façades are realistic and highly detailed, while others are simplified or stylized, reflecting levels of honor or affluence within society. If a ceiling protrudes from above the doorway, the top acroterion often connects to the ceiling above it. Thus, the appropriate term for this motif is "gable," not "chevron."

Wreaths and rosettes commonly decorate tomb entrances. The ring above the Talpiot tomb entrance is likely one of these, with a preference toward the wreath. (in the May 11th posting cf. the "Frieze tomb", the "Tomb of the Kings" and the "Tomb of the Grapes")

Since this is not the only one in Talpiot, perhaps in the future this particular tomb should be called "The Tomb of the Wreath".

The Simpler Tomb Façades of the Upper Class I

Posted by admin on May 13, 2007

Few families could actually afford to build even the most basic burial cave. Those who could were generally of the upper classes of society, including scribes, priests, builders and landowners. Securing property for a tomb close to the city of Jerusalem would in itself come at a high premium. It would have taken not only substantial financial resources, but also political connections, even before considering the further expense of providing the extras added by stone artisans (who had the among the highest paying jobs of the time).

The simplest tomb would have a plain façade with a simple forecourt for the mourners. Given the existence of expendable space, a vestibule could be added to the forecourt, adding a covered area for the mourners for further privacy and protection from the elements.


Plain façade with forecourt; plain façade with forecourt and vestibule. (Hachlili, p. 44, fig. II-11a)

The most basic ornamentation was to provide a moulding around the tomb door or to the opening to the forecourt.


Tomb façades moulded frame (Hachlili, p. 44, fig II-11b)

At times, ashlar masonry is utilized to build the façade and interior of a tomb. "Herod's Family Tomb" was built in this way. In this case, the masonry was used to beautify the tomb. However, ashlar masonry may be used to reinforce the walls of the burial cave if the stone of the cave is too soft or cracked to stand on its own. This appears to be the case of the "Nazirite family tomb" from Mt. Scopus. In this cave, the sole ossuary is inscribed "Hananiah the son of Yehonatan the Nazirite".


Nazarite family tomb, Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem (Avigad, 1971)

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Not all families, though considered wealthy, could afford the opulent tastes and lifestyle (or burial style!) of the King and other aristocracy. For others, expense was not so much the issue, but, rather, a less audacious image was to be preferred. Whatever the cause, some tombs were not ornamented or were ornamented more simply. In the case of the Benei Hezir tomb (see the May 10th posting) and the so-called "Ananus (the high priest) Tomb," although both were substantially ornate, the priestly state of their owners may have eliminated the option of even placing floral designs on the tomb.


Type 7: "Ananus Tomb", Hinnom Valley, Jerusalem (Avigad, 1950-51; IES 1: 105, fig. 9)

Type 7: Hinnom Valley tomb, Jerusalem. ((in K. O. Dalman ZDPF 62 (1939) 200, fig. 6)

Other tombs are recognized to have been built according to a known design but without ornamentation. Below are two tombs of the distylos in antis style, but which lack the classic entablature or pediment. These may have been tombs of prominent individuals in Jerusalem's social scene who were not members of the aristocracy. The Tomb of Nicanor belongs to a known, accomplished character in history, of whom a legend was once told that survives till today in the literature. Josephus relates the story of a certain Alexandrian Jew who built gates for Herod's Temple. As the story goes, he built the gates in Alexandria and then accompanied the two doors, bound together, on a ship destined for the port of Jaffa (from where the doors would then be transported up to Jerusalem). The ship was wrecked at sea, but the doors floated and Nicanor climbed onto them. Miraculously the doors floated all the way to Jaffa Port and together, the doors and their maker, survived. They made their journey to Jerusalem where Nicanor was able to tell the story upon the doors' installation and dedication. Although these temple doors were subsequently named after their maker and known as "the Nicanor Gates," his story was considered to be a mere legend for many generations. However, in 1902 on Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem, this tomb was opened and, lo and behold!, an ossuary was discovered inside bearing a Greek inscription: "These are the bones [of the sons] of Nicanor the Alexandrian who built the gates. Nicanor the Alexandrian."


Type 6: Sanhedria Tomb VIII. North Jerusalem. (Rahmani CJO. fig. 3)

Type 6: "The Nicanor Tomb", Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem. (Avigad 1967a; 125, fig. 5)

Reconstructing Herod's Tomb III

Posted by admin on May 11, 2007

What about exterior decorations of tombs?

The following typological list of "Tombs with Ornamented Façades" was provided by R. Hachlili:

1. Tomb entrance plain façade, unornamented

2. Tomb entrance moulded façade with the addition of a vestibule

3. Entrance façade ornamented with entablature and antae

4. Entrance façade with moulding and pediment

5. Columned porch (distylos in antis) façade with ornamented entablature

6. Columned porch (distylos in antis) façade with unornamented entablature

7. Tomb façade with three entrances

If you were someone of royal blood or were incredibly wealthy, the façade of your tomb might contain decorations that resembled temples and honorific public buildings of the period. Any one of types 3 through 7 might house the remains of your family. Entablature: generally stretching across a row of columns (e.g., nos. 10, 32 below), an element called the entablature may also be decorated with motifs. In the Jerusalem area, rosettes, wreaths, grape clusters, palm trees, vessels, metopes, medallions, shields, alternating between triglyphs are common elements. Since Herod's tomb was obviously ornamented with triglyphs, at least an ornamented entablature would have had to be present somewhere (e.g., types 3 and 5; entablatures may also exist around the sides of freestanding monuments like Absalom's pillar.) Certain motifs such as wreaths (e.g., nos. 4, 10, 32) may reflect the lifetime accomplishments of the owner of the tomb or "master of the tomb" (which is a term found in several tomb inscriptions). More commonly, the former livelihood of the deceased may be provided in the inscriptions themselves found on the tomb walls or on the ossuaries.tomb-entablatures-blog1.jpg

Type 3: "Frieze Tomb", Jerusalem (Avigad 1950-51; IEJ 1. p. 10, Fig. 5)

Type 5: "Tomb of the Kings", Queen Helene of Adiabene. (Avigad 1956; 340, fig. 18)

At times, instead of an entablature, a pediment surmounted by a gable was used.



Type 4: 4 "Tomb of the Grapes", Jerusalem. (RAF Macalister, PEFQSt (1900) pl. 3.)

Type 4: "Sanhedrin Tomb", Jerusalem

Type 4: "Cave of Jehosaphat" (associated with Absalom's Pillar), Jerusalem (adapted from Avigad, 1954; 13, fig. 77)

<>This motif is actually connected with the the form of a gabled roof. Gabled roofs are architectural features normally connected with temples or monumental buildings, which were familiar to most inhabitants of the the first century Roman world. On the façade of the building above the entrance, the triangular or inverted "V" shape of the roof edges is called a "gable" in monumental architecture. At each corner of the triangle, and at the apex of the gable, floral or pointed decorations often arise vertically, which are called acroteria (e.g., nos. 1, 2, 4). The triangular area formed by the gable is called the "pediment" and is often richly ornamented on actual buildings and on the glyptic friezes often associated with exteriors of tombs and interior doorways in monumental buildings. In Jerusalem, floral designs including grape vines and acathus leaves were popular on the pediments and acroteria. Although, less commonly, urns and wreaths were also found (e.g., the side acroteria of the "Tomb of the Grapes".