Friday, August 07, 2015

More on those cave wall paintings

NEWSER: Archaeologists Find Rare Writing, Then It Disappears. INSCRIPTIONS ON PLASTER IN RITUAL BATH HAVE NOW BEEN SEALED (Arden Dier). This report has some details that I have not seen before. Also, some statements that have already been circulated require some comment.
"The wall paintings are so sensitive that their exposure to the air causes damage to them," the IAA says, per Ynetnews. Crews quickly removed and sealed the plaster so the graffiti, along with a few carvings, can be preserved. Archaeologists say the Aramaic inscriptions are particularly special as few such writings have been found, though the script is hardly legible now. They guess at a few words, including what translates to "served" and the name "Cohen." Still, the inscriptions back up the argument that Aramaic was commonly used at the time and perhaps even the language of Jesus. The plaster also holds drawings of a boat, palm trees and other plants, and what might be a menorah—portrayals of which were then considered taboo.
My comments:

1. This is the first time I have seen references to specific words that are possibly in the Aramaic inscriptions: "served" and the name (name? title?) "Cohen" (the Hebrew word that means "priest"). I don't know where Ms. Dier got this information or how reliable it is. It seems as though it may be a bit garbled.

2. We already knew that "Aramaic was commonly used at the time" and that Jesus spoke Aramaic. That doesn't need any backing up. The point is that it is very exciting to have new Aramaic inscriptions from this period.

3. The contention that the portrayal of a menorah was " considered taboo" in this period is an overstatement. I might go with (as per earlier reports) "exceptional." For some portrayals of menorahs in the Second Temple period, see here, here, here, and here. They do seem to be more common in the Byzantine period.

4. Given that the ink started fading as soon as the cave was opened, I hope someone had the presence of mind to whip out their iPhone and take photos immediately. This article links to an Haaretz video that shows some of the drawings and inscriptions.

Background here. Cross-file under Aramaic Watch.

UPDATE (10 August): Joseph Lauer points me to this Haaretz article, which seems to be the source of Ms. Dier's information (see #1 above): Mysterious Ancient Mikveh With Aramaic Graffiti Found While Building a School in Jerusalem (Nir Hasson and Ruth Schuster) [Dead link now fixed. Sorry!].
Cohen woz 'ere?

Finding a decently-preserved concentration of inscriptions and symbols from the Second Temple period is rare, the IAA notes, while admitting in the same breath – see the pictures – that the writing is not legible any more.

Some of the inscriptions might indicate names. Or they might not. One word might be the name "Cohen," suggests Prof. Hagai Misgav of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Another word looks like it might be "avad" (as in "served" - e.g., served the Lord, not "worked").

"The symbols we see are familiar to us from coins, sarcophagi and graves, but a concentration like this is certainly unusual," Re'em said. "It is possible that writing on mikveh walls was common, but was not usually preserved."

At this point the archaeologists have no theory as to who wrote and carved the words and images, or if there was a message the artist wanted to convey.

While the symbols that can be discerned are common elements in the visual arts of the Second Temple period, says the IAA – it adds that the drawing that might possibly be construed as a menorah is exceptional because back then, it was taboo to portray this sacred object located in the Temple.