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Updates on the Ossuary of Ya'acob bar Yosef and the Temple Tablet

    The use of this straight-minim/oblique-line shin is consistent on ossuaries throughout the relevant time period on boxes from the Jerusalem area. The familar "round" designs date to BCE or post 70 CE. The “shin” on the "James" ossuary was not used on ossuaries from Jerusalem in this period at all. The shin on the ossuary is a variation of the very common curved-arm shin of business cursives in use during the BCE period and after 70 CE. The ossuary shin has a straight minim; the curved-arms are obscured by the extra thick patina over that part of the inscription but are quite clear in the inverted digitized scan. As the curved-arm shin is so common, we would not be able to say which was the model if it were not that the ossuary shin uses precisely the same curved-arms as those of Rahmani number 488.

    Rahmani 488 comes from a large group found in 1974 in a double-cave system with five chambers. The shin indicates that this box is from the earliest levels. (Fig. 3) The shin on Rahmani 198 is not the model, which again is of the same family of script designs that were in standard use except during the great majority of the 1st century CE.

Figure 3: Right: Rahmani 488 shin; Left: Ossuary shin


    The Hebrew/Aramaic graph that most closely resembles the "dalet" inscribed in "achuid" on the ossuary is an “ayin.” In Greek, the graph is an upsilon. At no point in the history of the dalet graph, from Ebraeo-Phoenician down through square letter, do we find a dalet of this form. The Paleo-Ebraic and Square script dalet always have some kind of "cup" on the top cross-stroke. This can vary from a straight line to an open “4” (fig. 4).

Figure 4: Paleo-Hebraic and Square script dalets across the centuries. Left: Hebraeo-Phoenician; (2) Paleo-Hebraic; (3) DSS; Right: modern cursive and print type-font

    M. Lemaire has cited Rahmani number 801 as another example of a dalet written in the manner of the dalet in the ossuary. He states that the dalet on the ossuary has an upper stroke that lowers on the right. The dalet on Rahmani 801 bears no resemblance at all to the supposed "dalet" on the ossuary. (Fig. 5) The dalet on the ossuary is either an ayin or an upsilon.

Figure 5: Left: Rahmani 801 dalet; Right: Ossuary "dalet"

    The model for the "dalet" is Rahmani number 568 and, as suspected, is an “upsilon” that has been confused with a dalet. (Fig. 6) The name, written on the narrow side in Greek, is IOYDAS (ioudas); in English and the Romance languages the name is "Judas." The final sigma on 568 looks like a reflected resh. A very similar upsilon is found on Rahmani 32, only written IOUDAC. That “C” is a sigma, but only scholars very familiar with early Greek scripts know that is a sigma.

Figure 6: Left: Rahmani 568 upsilon; Right: Ossuary upsilon/"dalet"

    Rahmani 35 is from the same cave-tomb as 32; this one is a bilingual Greek- Hebrew inscription reading: IOYDA C [iouda s] HDWHI <-- [yehuda] HRWPS <-- [shappira*][* possibly "the beautiful" to distinguish this yehuda from the other one in the same cave-tomb???]

    The inscription on number 35 is the same graph but not quite as neatly inscribed as that on 32. On Rahmani 35, the sigma looks disconnected, leaving the name as IOYDA and the graph is only partial. In any case, the third letter, the upsilon in IOUDAS was taken for a delta or “dalet.” The forger's Greek is either non-existent or is very weak indeed.

    The decorations on 32 and 35 place them to the time of Herod, that is, 37 BCE to ca. 5 CE. “Judas” on Rahmani 568 is the second name on the box; the first name, MARKEOC is mentioned in Josephus and also at Masada before 73-74 CE and may be the reason for the choice of number 568 as the model.


    The aleph is an "antique" form. The script model for this font design is from a coin script used during the Hasmonai'im period (2nd-1st BCE). This cursive font design is not a Jerusalem script; it was used in Jericho. The aleph used in "brother" [ach] is, in fact, from Rahmani number 783 (Fig. 7). The specificity of this particular font design as tied to Jericho can be seen on Rahmani numbers 796, 797, and 803. The Jericho aleph can be seen in five different hands on Rahmani 797. [Rahmani 777 is from Jericho, but the deceased is from Jerusalem (Pelatya, from Jerusalem), and the font used to inscribe number 777 is, naturally enough, a Jerusalem font.]

Figure 7: Left: Jerusalem alephs; Middle: Jericho alephs; Right: Ossuary Aleph


    The ayin in "Yeshua," as has already been noted, is not the same as the ayin in "Ya'acob," although it clearly is an attempt to imitate the authentic ayin in Ya'acob. The ayin in Ya'acob is a formal bookhand design. The attempt at imitation led to a composite ayin: it is a weird mixture of a chancery round-lobe and a cursive angled-foot. (Fig. 8)

Figure 8: Left: ayin in "yeshua"; Right: ayin in "ya'acob"


    As the form of the yod has been used to claim the date of 63 CE for the ossuary, we do have to take a look at the forms. An inscription from the period cannot be dated from the vav; it can be dated from a peculiar elongation of the yod. This design feature, the elongated “yod,” while it appears in scrolls produced from a certain group of scriptoria during the BCE period, dates an ossuary inscription to post 70 CE and later. Without exception, prior to the very end of the 1st century or beginning of the 2nd century CE, every inscription on an ossuary written in Aramaic or Hebrew in Rahmani from Jerusalem makes a clear distinction between the vav and the yod. Even Rahmani 572, which uses the elongated yod and the 4-shaped dalet, dates to between the last quarter of the first century and the early part of the second. Further, the elongated yod in "achuid" [his brother of] is a result of the amateur carving on the second half; it is a slip of the chisel.15 The yod in "achuid" is actually a normal yod as in "yeshua." As the elongated first yod in the second part of the inscription is merely a slip of the chisel, one cannot date anything by the form of these yods.

    This yod is in the same script design family that was in use at Elephantine in the 6th-5th century BCE. Hence, the yods on this part of the inscription date to between the 6th century BCE and the 1st century CE. The two yods in the first half are quite consistent, made at the same angle, are distinct from the vavs, and have the mini-wedges that are part of this formal script design. This script design can be dated to between ca. 2nd BCE and the first quarter of the 1st CE. The two yods on the second part are inconsistent, made at different angles, and as the elongation of the yod in “achuid” is merely a slip of the chisel, are still distinct from the vavs. These two yods do not have wedges. The vavs and yods in "achuidyeshua" cannot be assigned to any one ossuary. These two graphs are too common to pin down.

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