Summary of Inherent Problems in the Original Reading of CJO 701 by Rahmani and Di Segni: Mariamenou/Mara

By Dr. Stephen Pfann 

I. The first points have to do with the now familiar lexical problems. Based on my research:

1. The name MARIAMNH is unattested before the third century CE (aside from CJO 108 and 701, which are in question here).

2. MARIAMHNH is nowhere else attested for MARIAMNH.

3. The retrograde reading of nu is nowhere else attested in legible inscriptions of the late Second Temple Period.

4. According to Rahmani, an unattested lexical form MARIAMHNH is here expressed in a diminutive form MARIAMHNON. He suggests that this would explain the otherwise unattested neuter genitive MARIAMHNOU. However the diminutive endings, as a rule, should be for masculine nouns -iskos/iskou; feminine -iska/iskas and neuter -ion/iou (Smyth, Greek Grammar, §852). In this case, hypothetically, a neuter diminutive form in the genitive should produce MARIAMHNIOU (not MARIAMHNOU). The problem here being that none of these irregular forms are attested elsewhere

5. James Tabor quotes an email from Leah Di Segni in his blog: "I well remember that, while here and there I had some suggestions about interpretation of a particular form (for instance, Mariamenon being an hypochoristic (sic) form of Mariam), I could not but confirm all his readings. I have not changed my mind now." If the name was actually a hypocorism of the name (i.e., MARIAMHNH) there would be no need to change to the neuter endings.

6. A ligature for OU, is epigraphically problematic since it begins to appear regionally (and only sparingly) during the early second century (and, even then, does not resemble this form at all, cf. P. Yadin mss).

II. The second points have to do with the suggested elements of the signum formula.

1. The vertical stroke that Rahmani suggests "probably represents an eta," is unattested elsewhere. In the parallel inscription suggested by Rahmani, Beth Shearim 101, SARA H MAXIMA, the etais written in full. On the basis of Beth Shearim 101, Rahmani suggests that the presumed eta would represent the full formula, h kai.

2. The earliest inscriptional use of signa comes from the beginning of the second century (Schwabe) or from the end of the first century (Tabor as quoting Di Segni).

III. The problems with the basic grammatical rules for the signum and appositives create even more difficulties for this reading.

1. To accept the reading MARIAMHNOU [H] MARA, with the stroke/eta theoretically representing H KAI, one must overlook the improper use of Greek grammar with respect to the signum (and appositives in general) which, by definition, requires agreement in inflection and case endings, both as to the noun and its article.

2. Since the first name, according to Rahmani's reading, is in the genitive case, standard Greek grammar would dictate that both the noun MARIAMHNON and its appositive/signum H MARA should agree with respect to the inflectional form (Smyth, Greek Grammar, §976ff). In this case, both should be in the genitive i.e., MARIAMHNOU THS KAI MARAS (cf. Schwabe, Beth Shearim II, p. 85, no. 199: TOPOS THEODOSIAS THS KAI SARAS TUROU). Or, if a relative pronoun were used (e.g., Abel, 1913, 276, no. 13) then MARIAMHNOU OU KAI MARAS, would be the expected reading, with the relative pronoun agreeing with the preceding noun in both inflection and the neuter gender.

3. The example provided from CJO 868 ALEXAS MARA MHTHR IOUDAS SIMON UIOS AUTHS does not provide a parallel. There, the anarthrous MARA, rather than carrying the genitive inflection of ALEXAS which precedes it, is grammatically bound to agree with the nominative inflection of MHTHR (this parentherical string of nominatives ultimately gains their inflection from UIOS AUTHS, which presents a type of casus pendens at the end of the inscription).

4. One might suggest an alternative reading for MARIAMHNOU MARA as "Mara, (daughter) of Mariamhnos", however the reversed syntax of this type would be unusual among the ossuaries. (N.B., not to forget the morphological problems mentioned above.)

IV. Finally, epigraphic observations concerning the two parts of the inscription must be taken into consideration.

1. The inscription bears two writing styles, documentary and cursive, each being characterstically clear, distinct and consistent for each of the two parts of the inscription (bringing into question the proposed unity of the inscription). Both of the scribal hands preserved on the ossuary betray writers who are both practiced and comfortable in writing Greek.

2. The second part of the inscription KAI MARA was written with an instrument similar to that of the first, but with a comparably sharper point.

V. It has been assumed that irregularities on ossuaries is commonplace. However, the frequency of variants and errors among the corpus of ossuaries is quantifiable. On the corpus of ossuaries from Beth Shearim a certain number of orthographic variants are relatively common, especially iotacisms (about 1 in every 5 inscriptions), actual spelling errors are few (about 1 in 25 inscriptions). Grammatical/syntactic errors are relatively rare among these inscriptions (no more than 1 in every 45 inscriptions). The count of variants and errors are somewhat less among the published ossuaries of the Second Temple Period. Odds that ten or more anomalies should be found in an inscription on a single ossuary is highly suspicious, that it is not an acceptable transcription.

It is difficult to imagine that an apparently literate Hellenistic Jew of first century Jerusalem could produce such an extraordinary list of anomalies, lapses in basic Greek grammar and writing errors, all within the space of two words.

Accordingly to normal methodology, the reading to be preferred is the one that accounts for the greatest amount of elements with the least number of difficulties.