The Israel Exploration Journal (Vol. 61) recently published an article by Zissu and Goren which summarizes the importance of and confirms the genuineness of a decorated ossuary bearing an engraved inscription. The Israel Antiquities Authority Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery acquired the ossuary three years ago from antiquity robbers who had plundered a Jewish tomb from the Second Temple period. Although the provenance of the ossuary is unknown investigations have led the IAA to determine that the ossuary came from a burial cave in the area of the Elah Valley.
The front of the ossuary that was found is decorated with a stylized floral motif above which is a long Aramaic inscription engraved in Jewish script:
מרים ברת ישוע בר קיפא כהן דמעזיה דבית עמרי
‘Miriam Daughter of Yeshua Son of Caiaphas, Priest[s] of Ma’aziah from Beth ’Imri’
or, an alternative reading
‘Miriam, Daughter of Yeshua Bar Qayafa, Priest of (the course of) Ma’aziah of the House of ‘Omri’
In the conclusion of their study Zissu and Goren write, “the prime importance of the inscription lies in the reference to the ancestry of the deceased – Miriam daughter of Yeshua – of the Caiaphas family, indicating the connection to the family of the Ma’aziah course of priests of Beth ’Imri”. Caiaphas is the name of Yeshua’s father, and Miriam‘s grandfather.
Ma’aziah is the last of the twenty four priestly courses (service shifts) that served in the Temple in Jerusalem (the list of courses was formulated during King David’s reign and appears in I Chronicles 24:18). This is the first reference to the Maʽaziah course in an epigraphic find from the Second Temple period. For the first time we learn from an inscription that the Caiaphas family was related to the Ma’aziah course.
The ending “from Beth ’Imri” can be interpreted two ways:
- The first possibility is that Beth ’Imri is the name of a priestly family – the sons of ’Immer (Ezra 2: 36-37; Nehemiah 7:39-42) whose descendents include members of the Maʽaziah course.
- The second possibility is that Beth ’Imri is the place of origin of the deceased or of her entire family. The name of the ancient settlement was probably preserved in the name Beit ’Ummar, a village in the northern Hebron Hills. In that village and in nearby Khirbet Kufin, remains of a Jewish settlement were identified from the Second Temple period and the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt. It is possible that the village of Kufin preserves the name of the Caiaphas family.
Since the ossuary in question was not found in a controlled archaeological excavation and because of the importance of its inscription, it was subjected to microscopic examinations using an environmental scanning electron microscope/energy dispersive spectrometer (ESEM/EDS), the purpose of which was to evaluate its authenticity. The patina covering the sides was checked, with emphasis on the patina covering the inscription. The examinations determined that the inscription is genuine and ancient.