Has St. Peter returned to Jerusalem?

The final resting place of Simon Peter and the family of Barzillai

By Dr. Stephen Pfann

 

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 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.) was first to mention Peter and Paul’s martyrdom at Rome: “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).

Dionysius, bishop of Corinth (c. 180 C.E.) wrote: “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.

The following is attributed to Origen (c. 230 C.E.) by Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea (ca. 325 C.E.; Ecclesiastical History 3.1): “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.”

Eusebius himself adds: “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 that surrounded his death and burial are supplied 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 historical value of these stories today is left in the hands of contemporary historians to interpret and evaluate. 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 (that is, 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 of St. Peter’s Basilica. He confirmed the authenticity of the relics with these words: “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.”

However, under subsequent investigation by a physical anthropologist, the bones of several individuals (including a woman and certain farm animals) were identified, bringing into serious 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 Bagatti 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, pp. 149-184. This, of course, caused quite some concern since the discovery ostensibly contradicted the finds that had been 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 would be considered normal practice. Milik published the final report of the inscriptions of Dominus Flevit, Gli Scavi del “Dominus Flevit” parte I, in 1958. Below is a translation of Milik’s treatment of the ossuary in question. In the end, 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 “Graffiti Wall” below the altar. The Pontiff had 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.” The New York Times, 27 June 1968.

Today there is a general consensus among scholars that some of the relics of St. Peter are in fact below the high altar at the Vatican. However, not everyone agrees.

Assumptions and Challenges in Film and in Ink: The Lost Tomb of Jesus

The authentication of the tomb and its bones has not convinced everyone. In fact, interest in his final resting place has recently been resurrected, so to speak. Interested parties include the makers of the Lost Tomb of Jesus, who believe that, despite 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.

The following transcript from the film presents their position:

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)

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.

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The reading of the first word, the proper name Shim'on (Simeon/Simon), remains undisputed, although certain of the letters exhibit some peculiar features.

J. T. Milik finished his work on this inscription as follows:

"11. locus 79, ossuary 19. In the upper corner on the long side, confidently sketched using charcoal with very fine features; name (length. cm. 9,5; letters 11 - 0,8 - 1,5), fot. 81 and fig. 22,1;

... rb Noemu

The reading of the patronym, as luck would have it, is not sure. The reading proposed in Liber Annuus III, p. 162 (hnoi) remains possible, but other possibilities for it can equally be proposed, such ashniz correspondent to Zhna of n. 21. The two cases of a supposed nun are both a little unusual and the he is rather abnormal although it has an affinity to "Palmyrene". Alternatively, these last two letters can be considered as a single one, that is, a he with a bifurcated left leg, that would have been inexpertly executed with a piece of charcoal; notice the double feature in the charcoal tracings in fig. 22,7 and 6; fot. 80; LA VII, p. 247, fig. 16. In this case it would have to be read hizhoz, etc.

The writing is cursive. The shin was made with charcoal by a single stroke; Another unique feature is the curves of the mem and of ‘ain, like a cross formed from two oblique features; beth + resh is a ligature. On the frequency of this name Simeon, see n. 5."

Having read Milik’s assessment, let us examine the inscription more closely. Late cursive features are present. Yodhwawbeth, reshayin and shin are written as straight or slightly curved lines, without the serifs or hooks that are typical of lapidary or pen-and-ink traditions.

Charcoal on stone allows for certain mimicking of the pen-and-ink traditions including shading, especially with respect to the zayin, the lamed and the alef. These letters that have exhibited shading are closer to forms which are typical Syriac and Seleucid Aramaic forms.

Seleucid Aramaic Cursive Script

According to Joseph Naveh a cursive form of the Aramaic script developed under Seleucid rule, similar to the event that an Aramaic cursive script developed under the Ptolemaic rule in Egypt.[1] the Seleucid features include what appears to be a mixing of elements which appear both in Syriac and in Palmyrene scripts. However, in the end, the script is apparently derived from what eventually evolved to become the Pamyrene and Syriac scripts of the late Roman and Byzantine periods. The inscriptions that share these characteristics evidently is a form of the Seleucid script which survived the fall of the Seleucid empire in an independent vestigial until the second century C.E. All inscriptions written in this scripts have survived in stone on monumental inscriptions. The best known example of Seleucid Aramaic script in Jerusalem is that of  Queen Helen of Adiabene.

It is now apparent that Dominus Flevit inscription 11 is the only surviving inscription in this script that is not incised in stone. Instead it is written upon the stone surface with a stick of fine charcoal. This allows the inscriber to create shading in the lettering that would otherwise be possible only with pen and ink. In this case the tip must be sharpened and looses its sharpness as it is used (similar to a carbon pencil or a pastel). This may explain why the lines appear to be thicker and more heavily shaded in the second part of the inscription. Double stokes appeared to have been drawn to create shading in the parts of the shin, the resh, the zayin, the lamed and in particular the alef. This mode of writing also allows certain cursive features to arise that do not in monumental stone cut inscriptions.

Resulting cursive letter forms

Where cursive writing in ink or charcoal exists among the national Aramaic scripts, including Jewish, Nabatean and early Syriac scripts, certain tendencies appear to be universal. The hooks andserifs that form the tops of waws and yudhs are reduced or deleted. The left down stroke of the shin forms an extended tail. The lamed is often formed by a simple vertical down stroke with a leftward turn at the bottom of the stroke.[2]

The following is an updated drawing of the inscription after viewing it at the museum and in updated photographs.

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Aramaic became the lingua franca, or dominant language, of the Middle East from the Persian Period (5th cent. BC). Over time, the parent Aramaic script developed independently among the different nations and peoples who utilized it. Each of these developed forms of Aramaic script that are called national scripts. These national Aramaic scripts include Jewish (the square script used today in Hebrew publications), Syriac, Palmyrene, Nabataean, and Hatran, among others. In addition, each of these scripts has lapidary (engraved), formal, semiformal, and cursive forms, depending on the writing material being used. Due to the hazards of preservation, the lapidary forms of the scripts are often the primary writing style to have survived. Stone-cut inscriptions last much longer than texts written on parchment or papyrus, and, with the exception of Jewish Aramaic script, we have only meager examples of the other national scripts written on these more fragile materials. Ossuary inscriptions present a special category, especially when they are inscribed in charcoal, as this one is.

Bellarmino Bagatti originally read this inscription from right to left, as one would normally approach reading a Semitic inscription. He assumed that the national script that he was reading was the normal Jewish Aramaic script (with cursive tendencies), that was the predominant script among the ossuary inscriptions he had read thus far. He could quickly read the first name shin - mem - ayin - waw - nun = SHM‘WN, “Shimon” or “Simon” (although mem and ayin were a little unusual). The next word that would naturally be anticipated was “the son of” normally the Aramaic word beth - resh = BR, “bar”, and so it was, (but, again, with an unusual resh).

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Pushing on, he had to make sense of some unusual letter forms which, combined, and with a bit of imagination he took to be: yodh - waw - nun - heh, YWNH, “Yonah” or “Jonah” (in which case, as it turns out, not a single letter was read correctly).

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In 1958, the final editor J.T. Milik, was more cautious. And although he did not reject outright the earlier reading as possible, he did suggest some alternatives for the patronym (i.e., father’s name; the third word in the inscription).

“The reading of the patronym, as luck would have it, is not sure. The reading proposed in Liber Annuus III, p. 162 (YWNH) remains possible, but other possibilities for it can equally be proposed, such as ZYNH corresponding to Zena of n. 21. The two cases of a supposed nun are both a little unusual and the heh is rather abnormal, although it has an affinity to ‘Palmyrene’. Alternatively, these last two letters can be considered as a single one, that is, a heh with a bifurcated left leg, that would have been inexpertly executed with a piece of charcoal; compare the double feature in the charcoal tracings of fig. 22,7 and 6; photo 80; and Liber Annuus VII, p. 247, fig. 16. In this case it would have to be read ZYH, ZWH, etc.” (Dominus Flevit, p. 83.) Milik, not correctly recognizing the form of the final letter, made the curious proposal that the last two letters should be combined and read as a defectively executed heh.

The initial problem in reading this ossuary inscription began when Bagatti assumed that the inscription was written in the Jewish script normally utilized by the local Jewish population. However, Jerusalem of that day was an international city. A survey of the names preserved on the inscribed ossuaries of Dominus Flevit and the holdings of the Israel Antiquities Authority indicates that least 35% of the inscribed burials were of Jewish immigrants from other nations, as is noted by the languages found in the inscriptions. In Milik’s reading of the inscription, he noted that at least one letter bore an affinity to the related national “Palmyrene” script.

How should one read this inscription? First of all, because the inscription is written with charcoal on stone, and not carved into the stone with an engraving tool, comparison should be made with letter forms written on parchment or papyrus where shading and more graduated curves are employed. Secondly, it is important to note that many of the letter forms of the first name should not be used for determining the identity of the national script. This is because a comparison of cursive handwriting of many national scripts reveals that a number of the letter forms are quite universal. In particular, the letters yod, waw, bet, resh, ayin and shin are often written as straight or slightly curved lines, without the serifs or hooks that are typical of lapidary or pen-and-ink traditions.

As a methodological principle, one must identify those letter forms which are distinctive in order to assign a national script, and in this case, where charcoal was used, especially those letters where the writer spent the extra effort to add shading to the strokes. At the end of the day, it would have been far better for Bagatti and Milik to have started by reading from the end of the inscription. It is in the last letters of this inscription that the national script can be identified and the reading of the patronym can be ascertained.

Beginning with the last letter, this is apparently the most significant letter for identifying the national script of this ossuary inscription. The precursor of this form of alef can be found in the script known as “Seleucid Aramaic” script which was introduced above (cf. J. Naveh, Early History of the Alphabet: An Introduction to West Semitic Epigraphy and Palaeography. Jerusalem, Magness Press, (1982), pp. 147-151; “An Aramaic Inscription from El-Mal – A Survival of the ‘Seleucid Aramaic’ Script”, Israel Exploration Journal 25 (1975), pp. 117-123).

At least one other inscription written in this script has been discovered in Jerusalem. The most important witness was found on the sarcophagus of Queen Helene of Adiabene: reading “Sadan the Queen,” engraved in both Seleucid Aramaic and Jewish Aramaic.[3]

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Queen Helene of Adiabene’s tomb in Jerusalem and the sarcophagus with her inscription.

image016.jpg  image018.jpg

 

Queen Sadan’s (Helene’s) inscription according to J. Pirenne and J. Naveh.

The inscription, which was drawn at least twice, reads: “SDN MLKTA.” This inscription shares several letters in common with the Simon ossuary from Dominus Flevit (DF 11), including alef, mem, nun, and dalet/resh. In the drawings of both Pirenne and Naveh, the final letter, the alef, is strikingly parallel to the alef in the Dominus Flevit ossuary. The mem does bear some resemblance to that of the Dominus Flevit exemplar, but the left stroke pierces through the top of the right stroke. Dalet in the Syriac family of scripts is normally identical to resh. That being the case, the form of thedalet of the Sadan inscription is quite similar to that of the resh of the Dominus Flevit inscription. The final nun resembles that of DF 11, in that its tail curves or tilts backward under the word, as is typical of the Seleucid family of scripts, including Syriac and Palmyrene. The main difference between the two drawings has to do with the reading of the lamed (“L”, the second letter in the second word). The lamed is a diagonal line, (potentially ending with a curve leftward - Pirenne).

Other examples from the Seleucid script family also provide valid parallels, as do examples from the Nabatean and Jewish national scripts. In the following table, the three script families: Syriac, Seleucid and Nabatean, are separated by double lines, respectively. The letters from DF 11 are included with the Seleucid script.

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Bagatti’s reading of YONAH in DF 11 was problematic for a number of reasons. If the word were truly YONAH, the short stroke of the yod should be followed by the long stroke of the waw. However, the reverse is actually the case on this ossuary; the longer stroke is first and the shorter stroke is second.

When we compare the letters to the exemplars from the Seleucid family of scripts above, a new reading emerges that is not beset by problems. The first letter of the patronym has a shaded head and form similar to the zayin of other exemplars from this script family. The second letter is clearly a yod, and is too short to be read as a waw. The third letter of the patronym appears closest to the lamed of the Seleucid Aramaic script and does not resemble the nun of the local Jewish Aramaic script nor of any other contemporary script. And the final legible letter, as noted above, is actually alef.

The zayin has a thickened upper body (unlike its form in typical Jewish Aramaic), in which a single stroke curving obliquely (distinguishing itself from the waw and the yudh which are formed in this inscription to curve the opposite direction.). This upper thickening persists in Syrian Aramaic in the Estrangelo tradition.

The lamed is produced by a single diagonal stroke which bends gently downward and to the left, as is typical of the Seleucid, southern Syria tradition. This is in contrast to the northern, typically Syriac tradition, where the letter has a vertical stoke with a sharp leftward bend at its base.

The alef distinctively reflects an evolution of the letter found in the "Seleucid" tradition of the letter, where the short upper diagonal arm of the Aramaic alef has evolved into a significant diagonal to horizontal stroke, which foreshadows and then persists in the Syriac Estrangelo tradition.

The bet/resh ligature of "bar" is atypical of the Judean Aramaic cursive tradition since, although the bet and the down stroke of the resh are drawn with one continuous looping stroke, (in this way it resembles the form as it is found in the Jewish script; cf. Mur 18 image023.gif and Dominus Flevit image026.gif). However, the head of the resh has been added is fully formed with an upper cross stroke. The bet is connected to the resh in such a way that it thus appears to be rotated slightly clockwise. It, however, appears as such in Judean Aramaic cursive. In Seleucid Aramaic script the bet is often rotated, as can be seen in the Seleucid Aramaic inscriptions of el-Maj and Dura Europas.

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The patronym, based on Seleucid Aramaic script, should then be read as “ZYLA’ ” and the full inscription as “SHM‘WN BR ZYLA’,” “Shimon Bar Zilla.” However, photos indicate some surface erosion exists to the left of the alef, which may allow for another letter, for example a yod, which would yield the reading SHM’WN BR ZYLA’[I], that is, “Simon Barzilla(i)”.[4] Etymologically the word ZYLA’ conveys the sense of being of low value which, if read BR ZYLA’ would convey a derogatory sense to the individual. [5] However the name may actually have been derived from the word BRZL "iron" which would convey a stronger image, perhaps of a family who was involved in the manufacture of iron. The restoration of the name as BRZYL’[Y] "Barzillai" would potentially link this Simon with a famous Jerusalem family which had its roots in Gilead, and possibly even link him to the priestly branch of that family. Whether he is connected with the priestly family Barzillai or simply the non-priestly descendents of the family remains to be determined. Thus, we must address the next obvious question: “Who was Simon Bar Zilla/Barzillai?”

The Family Name "Barzillai"

This Jerusalem family has its roots deep within Biblical history.

During the reign of King David, in the midst of his turmoil with Absalom, a rich Gileadite by the name of Barzillai came to David's aid. He provided David and his weakened troops with food and supplies, allowing David's troops to gain the upper hand and defeat the army of Absalom (2 Sam 17:27–29). David, deeply indebted to Barzillai, invited the aged man to take up residence near his palace in Jerusalem so he could be looked after in an honorable way. However, Barzillai asked the king to convey his offer to a younger member of his family, Chimcham by name, and David complied (2 Sam 19:31–40). David directed Solomon to make sure that the family would continue to be provided for in perpetuity (1 Kgs 2:7). Later, a member of one of the priestly families married one of the descendents of this family, one of the "daughters of Barzillai," and adopted (or was ascribed) the name for his family. After the return from exile in Babylon, the Barzillai priestly family was denied their right to be inscribed in the priestly register because of the current issue over ethnic mixture (Ezra 2:61-63 = Neh 7:63-65).[6] However, the priestly (and likely non-priestly) descendents bearing the Barzillai name continued to live in Jerusalem.

This ossuary offers the first archaeological and epigraphic evidence of the family name "Barzillai" being used during the first century C.E. Other Barzillais of note include Judah ben Barzillai (Albargeloni), also known as "Ha-Nasi." He was a Talmudic scholar from Barcelona at the end of the 11th and the beginning of the 12th century C.E.

"Barzillai" continues to be a common and respected family name among Jews in the world today.

This new reading does, of course, exclude “Simon Bar Jonah” as a reading for this ossuary inscription, and returns the discussion of the potential location of Simon Peter’s bones back to their traditional place, Rome.


BIBLIOGRAPHY 

Bagatti, P.B. and Milik, J.T. Gli Scavi del “Dominus Flevit”, Parte 1. Jerusalem. Franciscan Printing Press. 1981.

Benoit, P., Milik, J.T., and de Vaux, R. Les Grottes de Murabba’at. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert II. Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1961.

Cotton, H.M. and Geiger, J. Masada II: The Latin and Greek Documents. Jerusalem. Israel Exploration Society/The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 1989.

Cotton, H.M. and Yardeni, A. Aramaic Hebrew and Greek Documentary Texts from Nahal Hever and Other Sites. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert XXVII. Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1997.

Ilan, T. Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity: Part 1: Palestine 330 BCE-200 CE. Tübingen. Mohr Siebeck. 2002.

Hachlili, R., Jewish Funerary Customs, Practices and Rites in the Second Temple Period. Brill: Leiden and Boston. 2005.

Rahmani, L.Y. A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries in the Collections of the State of Israel. Jerusalem. The Israel Antiquities Authority/The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. 1994.

J. Naveh, J. Naveh, Early History of the Alphabet: An Introduction to West Semitic Epigraphy and Palaeography. Jerusalem, Magness Press, (1982).

J. Naveh, "An Aramaic Inscription from El-Mal–A survival of  'Seleucid Aramaic' Script." IEJ 25 (1975), pp. 117-123.

J. Pirenne, "Aux Origenes de la graphie syriaque", Syria 40 (1963), pp. 101-137.

A. Yadeni, Textbook of Aramaic, Hebrew, and Nabataean Documentary Texts from the Judaean Desert and Related Material. Jerusalem, Magness Press, (2000).


[1] J. Naveh, The Early History of the Alphabet, pp. 149-150. "An Aramaic Inscription from El-Mal–A survival of  'Seleucid Aramaic' Script." IEJ 25 (1975), pp. 117-123.

[2] In all cases the bottom of the down stroke turns leftward if it connects to the next letter as a ligature or in connected writing.

[3] Adiabene was a small kingdom in Mesopotamia. Josephus tells the story of a king Izates and of his exploits and of his royal family who converted to Judaism and moved to Jerusalem.( Jewish Antiquities 20.2.1, 3; 20.4). The tomb is mentioned in the Jewish Wars 5.4.2.147 in Josephus' description of the third wall of Jerusalem: "The beginning of the third wall was at the tower Hippicus, whence it reached as far as the north quarter of the city, and the tower Psephinus, and then was so far extended till it came over against the monuments of Helena, which Helena was queen of Adiabene, the daughter of Izates; it then extended farther to a great length, and passed by the sepulchral caverns of the kings, and bent again at the tower of the corner, at the monument which is called the “Monument of the Fuller,” and joined to the old wall at the valley called the “Valley of Cedron.”

[4] Milik’s suggested reading “Shimon bar Zinah” is closest to our reading. However, he neglected to note the Seleucid Aramaic alef and the lamed.

The fact that the normal cursive ligature for "bar", "son of" (which should have a reduced resh) is not used here may provide additional support for the suggestion that the name was read as one word "BARZILLA[I]" and not as "BAR ZILLA[I]" 

[5] The name Zilai does occur once in Rabbinic sources, the Babylonian Talmud, but without the word "bar": "Our Rabbis taught: The absence of oil is a bar to the saying of grace. So said R. Zilai. R. Ziwai said: It is no bar. R. Aha said: Good oil is indispensable. R. Zuhamai said: Just as a dirty person is unfit for the Temple service, so dirty hands unfit one for saying grace. R. Nahman b. Isaac said: I know nothing either of Zilai or Ziwai or Zuhamai, but I do know the following teaching, viz.: Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: some say it was taught in a Baraitha, Sanctify yourselves: this refers to washing of the hands before the meal; And be ye holy: this refers to washing of the hands after the meal; 'For holy': this refers to the oil; 'Am I the Lord your God': this refers to the grace." (Soncino Talmud. bTalmud Ber. 53b; underlining SJP)

[6] In the Bible the accepted spelling of the name as found in Ezra 2:61 is בַּרְזִלַּי. However the name was also spelled in other ways as can be seen in other Biblical manuscripts:ברזילי KENNICOTT mss 4, 48, 80. 89, 224; ברזלאי KENNICOTT ms 93.

By Dr. Stephen Pfann
© 2007 University of the Holy Land (www.uhl.ac), all rights reserved.