In Jerusalem and Judah, ancient limestone burial boxes containing skeletal remains — called ossuaries — are fairly common archaeological finds from the 1st Century BCE to the 1st Century CE. To increase their value, forgers often add fraudulent inscriptions or decorations.
Thus, when the Israel Antiquities Authority confiscated from antique looters an ossuary with a rare inscription they turned to Prof. Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology to authenticate the fascinating discovery. It was imperative they rule out the possibility of a hoax.
Prof. Goren, who worked in collaboration with Prof. Boaz Zissu from Bar Ilan University, now confirms that both the ossuary and its inscription are authentic. The ossuary’s inscription, which is unusually detailed, could reveal the home of the family of the biblical figure and Jewish high priest Caiaphas prior to their exodus to Galilee after 70 CE.
Caiaphas is infamous for his involvement in the crucifixion of Jesus. In the New Testament he was the Roman-appointed Jewish high priest who is said to have organized the plot to kill Jesus after the raising of Lazarus. According to the Gospel accounts, Caiaphas was the major antagonist of Jesus.
Most ancient ossuaries are either unmarked or mention only the name of the deceased. The inscription on this ossuary is extraordinary in that the deceased is named within the context of three generations and a potential location. The full inscription reads: Miriam daughter of Yeshua son of Caiaphus, priest of Maaziah from Beth Imri.
The Maaziah refers to a clan that was the last mentioned order of 24 orders of high priests during the second temple period, Prof. Goren explains. While there are some records of the clan in Talmudic sources that detail their lives after they spread into the Galilee in 70 CE, the reference to Beit Imri gives new insight into the family’s location prior to their migration. Though it is possible that Beit Imri refers to another priestly order, say the researchers, it more probably refers to a geographical location, likely that of Caiaphus’ family’s village of origin.
The ossuary is thought to come from a burial site in the Valley of Elah, southwest of Jerusalem, the legendary location of the battle between David and Goliath. Beit Imri was probably located on the slopes of Mount Hebron.
In the Laboratory for Comparative Microarchaeology, Prof. Goren conducted a thorough examination of the limestone box, declaring, “Beyond any reasonable doubt, the inscription is authentic.”
Sources: Israel Expedition Journal and EurekaAlert.com