Wednesday, February 29, 2012


A Christian inscription? /

Χριστιανική επιγραφή;


“I divine Jehovah raise up”,
“O Divine/God Jehovah, raise up”

or “I exalt [you] O divine Jehovah”

“Εγώ, ο θεϊκός Ιεχωβά, εξ-/υψώνω/εγείρω”,
“Ω Θεϊκέ/Θεέ Ιεχωβά, εξ-/ύψωσε/έγειρε”,
ή “Σε εξυψώνω, ω θεϊκέ Ιεχωβά”

The following excerpt is taken from a larger article published by Dr. James D. Tabor, who was the licensed Israel Antiquities scholar
investigating the Talpiot Tomb B by remote camera
It is used by permission with thanks to Dr. Tabor.

"5. Ossuary 5:3=Kloner 5:2. This ossuary is has a highly ornamented front façade with twin rosettes and an elaborate frieze border. In the narrow curved blank space between the rosettes there is a four line Greek inscription written in uncial letters (Fig. 19). The final two letters of line 4 are uncertain, both in their formation and due to the limitations of remote autopsy by camera. The following variations appear possible:
We are convinced that each line of the inscription is a separate and discrete word, yielding the following word divisions. I include here the variables of line 4:
3. ΥΨΩ

All the letters of lines 1, 2, and 3 are quite clear although we did consider the possibility that l.1 might be a zeta rather than an iota but ΖΑΙΟ seems to make no sense either in isolation as part of another combination of words from lines 1-3. There is an obscure word in Pliny’s Natural History—ΖΑΙΟΣ, that refers to some kind of fish—apparently of the sea urchin variety, which interested us greatly considering the iconography on ossuary 6, described below. However, there is no sigma in l. 2 or beginning of l.3. Taking these words one by one, based on our line-by-line breakdown, we have the following:

ΔΙΟΣ is an adjective (masc. nom/voc. sing.) likely modifying what we take to be the proper noun in line 2. It can be variously translated as “heavenly,” “divine” “wondrous”–but here in this context it seems to clearly refer to God.

ΙΑΙΟ we take as a Greek representation or transliteration of the Tetragrammaton: י ה ו ה ‎ (Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh)—that is Yahweh. It is unusual in that it has four letters rather than the common three-letter form ΙΑΩ. Josephus says the divine name is represented by four “vowels.” It is possible that this writer intended it as a precise transliteration—since the Hebrew name of God also has four letters.

Accordingly, the inscription, though written in Greek letters, is purposely bilingual first a Greek representation of God—the “Divine one,” followed by a Hebrew presentation—Yahweh—but represented in Greek letters.

ΥΨΩ is the present indic. act. 1st person singular of the contract verb ΥΨΟΩ, to “raise,” “lift up” or “exalt.” As literally written it could then be translated “I divine Jehovah raise up” or “I exalt [you] O divine Jehovah” (taking ΔΙΟΣ as a vocative). This verb is most interesting in the context of early Christianity and late 2nd Temple Judaism. Paul uses the intensified verb ὑπερυψόω in Philippians 2:9, speaking of Jesus’ exaltation or “super-lifting up” to heaven. He then applies a text from Isaiah 45:23 about “every knee bowing” to Yahweh, equating it to Jesus in his new heavenly status. Most scholars agree that Paul here is drawing upon a very early Christological hymn. John 12:32 uses the verb ὑψόω to refer to both Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and his exaltation or “lifting up” to heaven: “And I, when I am lifted up out of the earth (ὑψωθῶ ἐκ τῆς γῆς), will draw all people to myself.” The thought here is identical to that of Paul in the Philippians hymn, as an echo of Isaiah 45:23. Jesus is taken up from the earth to heaven and in his new status draws all of humankind in homage as Yahweh’s representative and one who bears Yahweh’s name. John repeats this theme often using the same verb, referring to both Jesus being lifted up on the cross—and thus exalted to heaven (Jn. 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34). Acts 5:31 echoes a very similar thought, using again the verb ὑψόω: God lifted up this one at his right hand ( ὕψωσεν τῇ δεξιᾷ αὐτοῦ) as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” This “lifting up” of Jesus “embraces resurrection, reception, ascent, enthronement, and royal dominion.” In the New Testament there are many passages in which Jesus knows, bears, and reveals God by his “Name” Yahweh—that is the four-letter Tetragrammaton. Accordingly, depending on the wider context of this tomb, if it does indeed relate to early Jesus followers, they might be appropriating the divine name Yahweh in referring to Jesus, as Paul does numerous times in his authentic letters.

In the LXX the verb is also used for one being “lifting up” from the gates of death: Psalm 9:14 (13 English) ὁ ὑψῶν με ἐκ τῶν πυλῶν τοῦ θανάτου. This should be compared to Psalm 29:2 (Psa 30:2 Hebrew/ 30:1 English) Ὑψώσω σε, κύριε, ὅτι ὑπέλαβές με. The writer, in context, is celebrating deliverance from Sheol: “O Yahweh, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.” These kinds of strong parallels with some of our earliest Christian materials about the exaltation of Jesus, involving heavenly ascent and enthronement at the right hand of God, provide a very convincing background to the use of the verb ὑψόω among Jesus’ earliest followers.

We are inclined to argue that in this inscription, even though the three-letter verb ΥΨΩ can be read as a 1st person singular present indicative active, when crammed into this small space, it is most likely suspended or abbreviated. When first working on the inscription we considered that it might be a shortened form of the dative superlative ΥΨΙΣΤΩ, which is so commonly found in dedicatory inscriptions “to the most High God.” However, the ending in omega strongly argues against this possibility. Even though one finds suspended forms of ΥΨΙΣΤΩ they never drop the third letter iota and substitute it for an omega. Also ΔΙΟΣ is clearly either nominative or vocative, not dative, as would be required in such a case.

We propose that what we have here is ΥΨΩ[ΣΕΝ] (aorist indic. Act. 3ms “he has raised up”), ΥΨΩ[ΣΕΙ] (future indic. Act. 3ms “he will raise up”) or more likely, as I will explain below, ΥΨΩ[ΣΟΝ] (aorist Imperative, 2ps “Raise up!”). Given the cramped space the omega ending would be enough to carry the meaning in this context. If so this inscription would be a plea to “God/Yahweh,”called upon in bilingual fashion, to raise someone up: “O Divine/God Jehovah, raise up!—or alternatively a call to Jesus as Yahweh’s representative.

Much depends on the transcription of the last line with its three letters since the final two are difficult to read. If we take the final line as ΑΠΟ, that is, the preposition “from,” it is possible that it might be an abbreviated plea for resurrection “from [the dead].” If we read it as ΑΠΒ it makes no sense as a word but it could perhaps be either initials or some kind of apotropaic cipher.

In looking at both the photos and the previous three words we are inclined to argue that we have here either ΑΓΙΩ or more likely ΑΓΒ. If line 4 reads ΑΓΙΩ (taking the last letter as a ligature) in the dative case, it could mean “to the holy,” perhaps referring to God/Yahweh to raising up to the “holy place” or the “holy one” (i.e., throne of God)—or being raised up to the holy place. This notion of ascent to heaven or heavenly exaltation we know from many Jewish and early Christian texts of this period. For example, Clement of Rome writes of Paul who “thus departed from the world and went to the holy place” (1 Clement 5:7).

If it reads ΑΓΒ, which seems quite likely, there are several possibilities. It might be a Greek representation of the rare Hebrew name Hagab (Ezra 2:46; Neh 7:48), which in Greek appears as Agabas (Ἅγαβος). We do in fact know of an early Christian prophet from Jerusalem mentioned in Acts 11:28 and 21:10 by this name. In which case the inscription would read either “I Hagab exalt [you] O Divine Jehovah,” or “I Divine Jehovah raise up Hagab.” Although this reading is possible we do not find it compelling in this context. In the first reading it seems more natural to take ΔΙΟΣ ΙΑΙΟ as asimple nominative—as the subject of the declaration—and thus there is no need to supply the personal pronoun object “you.” But beyond the grammar we have no examples on ossuaries of personal statements of praise to God, or alternatively 1st person utterances by God. This inscription isunprecedented and it likely is intended to affirm much more than the utterance of an unknown Hagabor God’s utterance about him. It is true that names are the most common phenomenon on ossuaries, as “tags” representing the name of the deceased, but this intriguing inscription seems to represent something quite beyond recording the name of the deceased. In this case context is everything and we have to remember we are talking about an inscription in a tomb written by a Jewish family bold enough to write the letters of the name of God in a tomb while declaring a message about “lifting up” or resurrection.

Another possibility is that ΑΓΒ might be read backwards as an Aramaic word written in Greek (bagah) a phenomenon we find on other inscriptions, and thus would be referring to God Yahweh raising up “from it [the tomb].”

We are inclined to take ΑΓΒ as a transliteration of the Hebrew Hiphil imperative hagbah (hbgh) from the verb hbg, to “lift up.” In which case we would have a double imperative—Raise up! Raise up!—once in Greek (line 3), repeated in Hebrew with Greek letters (line 4). This seems to parallel lines 1 and 2 in that we also there have first Greek, for God, followed by the Hebrew Yahweh represented in Greek letters. If such is the case we would have a cleverly balanced bilingual inscription with a plea for God/Jehovah to raise someone up, or alternatively, depending on how the Greek verb ΥΨΩ is understood, a declaration or celebration of God having so acted. There is a remarkable parallel to this idea in Ezekiel 21:31 [v. 26 English]: “Thus says the Lord Yahweh: Remove the mitre, and take off the crown; this shall be no more the same; exalt that which is low, and abase that which is high.” Here the Hebrew phrase is הַשְׁפִּֽיל וְהַגָּבֹ֖הַ הַגְבֵּ֔הַ הַשָּׁפָ֣לָה , using the verb hbg and the LXX parallels this with forms of ὑψόω—thus “ἐταπείνωσας τὸ ὑψηλὸν καὶ τὸ ταπεινὸν ὕψωσας.” The context of this passage in Ezekiel is quite remarkable as it has to due with abasing one branch of the messianic Davidic lineage and exalting another. There is also a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls from cave 4 that uses the same verb for heavenly exaltation, most likely of the leader of the community: “to [the eternal height and to the cl]ouds of the heavens and He shall exalt him in stature. With the heavenly beings in the congregation of [the Yahad] 4) לרום עולם ועד ש]ח֯קים יגביה בקומה. ועם אלים בעדת Q431 f2:8 ).

I will discuss the further implications of this preferred reading of the inscription in my concluding analysis below but prior to that I want to describe what we discovered inscribed on the next ossuary. We believe it provides further context to the tomb as a whole, and thus how the inscriptionmight best be read."

* James D. Tabor,
"A Preliminary Report of a Robotic Camera Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem",
Προκαταρκτική Έκθεση της Εξερεύνησης μέσω Ρομποτικής Κάμερας ενός Σφραγισμένου Τάφου του 1ου Αιώνα στο Ανατολικό Ταλπιότ της Ιερουσαλήμ»]
pp./σσ. 14-20.
at The Bible and Interpretation, February 2012.
[English/Aγγλικά, PDF]

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