Tomb References John the Baptist's Father (The Guardian)
Monday July 7, 2003 12:29 AM
By KARIN LAUB
Associated Press Writer
JERUSALEM (AP) - The discovery was a stroke of luck: the light of the setting sun hit an ancient tomb at just the right angle and revealed hints of a worn inscription, unnoticed for centuries, commemorating the father of John the Baptist.
``This is the tomb of Zachariah, martyr, very pious priest, father of John,'' the inscription of 47 Greek letters reads.
The inscription probably does not mean that the father of the biblical figure is actually buried in the 60-foot-high funerary monument at the foot of the Mount of Olives, say the text's discoverers. But it does give new insight into the local lore surrounding the early figures of the Christian Church.
Scholars say the words were probably written several hundred years after Zachariah's death - and after the tomb's construction - by Byzantine Christians.
There's more writing on the monument and it may include a reference to the Simeon who blessed Jesus in the Temple according to Luke 2:25-35. The discoverers, osteologist Joseph Zias and epigrapher Emile Puech (Emile was at the Enoch Seminar last week), promise an article publishing the inscription in the next issue of Revue Biblique. This inscription gives us some interesting information about Byzantine Christian traditions but everyone recognizes that it doesn't necessarily follow at all that those traditions preserve accurate data from the early first century.