Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Conflict over the Jewish catacombs in Rome

ARCHAEOLOGICAL COMPROMISE: Religion, Science Clash as Archaeologists Restore Ancient Jewish Catacomb in Rome. New finds in the 2,000-year-old underground cemetery include the first Hebrew inscription at the site, as well as signs that Christians and Jews may have shared the burial space (Ariel David, Haaretz premium).
Archaeologists racing to save a vulnerable and rapidly disintegrating 2,000-year old Jewish catacomb in Rome gave in to pressure from an ultra-Orthodox Jewish group and let them rebury the bones found within, not allowing their study. The decision spurred outrage among some scientists who protested in frustration as the bones were resealed in their tombs, putting the remains beyond the reach of curious researchers forever.

The Italian authorities and the archaeologists involved rebut that the compromise was necessary in order to save the site, which had begun to decay rapidly after its exposure.

This sounds disappointing, but it may have been a necessary political compromise. The archaeologists are divided on the question. I was not involved and will not presume to judge.

In any case, I take the longer perspective. This is a temporary setback. In twenty years it will be possible to do unobjectionable non-destructive molecular scans of the bones.

On that Hebrew inscription:
The preliminary work has meanwhile turned up new discoveries, such as the only Hebrew inscription found in the catacomb. Most of the writing in the cemetery is in Greek – the lingua franca of early diaspora Jews and Hellenistic-era Israel – and some is in Latin.

Actually, the new-found Hebrew text was first noticed by one of the rabbis working in the catacomb, Rossi says.

The text is fragmentary but is believed to spell out “Clodius shalom shalom” – likely the equivalent of a rest-in-peace blessing for a man named Clodius.
That is "Claudius." There is a photograph.

The article also advances a surprising hypothesis about the origin of the menorah as a Jewish symbol.

For past PaleoJudaica posts on the Jewish catacombs at the Villa Torlonia (the subject of this article) and elsewhere in Rome, start here and follow the links.

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