Tuesday, December 22, 2015

More on the Kursi inscription

THE KURSI INSCRIPTION (that Aramaic text found recently on a marble tablet near the Sea of Galilee) continues to receive attention in the media and two recent articles add some information and thoughts on the content of the inscription.

From the Daily Mail: Is this where Jesus performed The Miracle of the Swine? 1,600-year-old Hebrew slab points to the site of Kursi where Christ exorcised a man possessed by demons (Sarah Griffiths).
So far, experts have identified the words 'amen' and 'marmaria' inscribed into the stone, which could either refer to marble, Mary or Rabbi.
That's a bit cryptic, but the Times of Israel explains the proposal more clearly: Ancient inscription points to Jewish past for early Christian site. Marble slab with 7 lines of Aramaic and Hebrew text found at biblical town on banks of Sea of Galilee may be from Byzantine-era synagogue. ‘There’s been nothing like this before,’ says archaeologist (Ilan Ben Zion):
More impressive, however, were seven lines of Hebrew and Aramaic text carved into a large slab of imported Greek marble. It includes the words “marmaria,” “amen,” “the holy king” and “the merciful,” researchers said.

Excavations at the site are funded by the Avery-Tsui Foundation, and headed by Cohen with the collaboration of the Israel Antiquities Authories and the Israel Parks Authority. High school student volunteers also took part in the dig.

Cohen was reluctant to reveal much about the inscription until experts had a chance to study the text more thoroughly. He did suggest, however, that “marmaria” could refer either to a type of marble, or — more intriguingly — “the rabbi of Mary.”
Apparently someone is suggesting that the word "marmaria" could mean mar "the master of" plus maria, an Aramaic transliteration of the Greek or Latin form of the name Miriam/Mary. This strikes me as possible, but very speculative, although I would have to see the word in the full context of the whole inscription to be sure. Pending more information, I am going to apply Frank Cross's epigraphic principle that the more banal reading is to be preferred and stay with the interpretation of the word as an Aramaic transliteration of the Greek word for "marble." As usual, this question can only be decided definitively, if at all, in a complete peer-reviewed publication of the inscription with good photographs.

Background here and here.

UPDATE: Richard Bauckham e-mails the following:
The form מריה is actually quite well attested for the late Second Temple period (ossuaries etc), but not at all for the rabbinic period, when the name Mariam itself becomes much less popular (presumably because of Christian usage). I suppose if it were a Jewish Christian synagogue, the use of מריה c. 500 CE would not be so surprising, but in my view it would be very surprising if this was a Jewish Christian synagogue. And "the master of Mary" seems a rather odd phrase, even if it can mean "Mary's rabbi" - for which we need evidence. I see from Jastrow it could also mean "Mary's pick-axe".