We present the text as published by Émile Puech and Joseph Zias, and reprinted in CIIP 1/2, albeit it has been questioned by a number of scholars. The actual contents of the inscriptions are not clear.
τόδε μνεμεῖον Ζακκαρίας μάρ(τυρος)
πρεσβητ(έρου) θεοσεβε(στάτου) παππέας Ίοά(ννου)
2. παππέας SEG and later editions, παππέα(ς) Puech & Zias 2003
'This is the tomb of Zechariah, martyr, most pious priest (presbyter), father (?) of John.'
+ ἡ ψυχή
'+ The soul.' (probably used in the meaning 'tomb', as an equivalent of the Hebrew nephesh)
ὁ θάφος Συμεών, ὃς ἦν (?)
καὶ γέρ[ω]ν εὐσηβήστατος
5. λ[α]οῦ SEG, Puech & Zias 2003
'The Tomb of Symeon who was a most righteous man and a pious elder and who awaited the consolation for the people (of Israel).'
Text: CIIP 1/2, no. 959a-c. Translation: L. Di Segni, lightly modified.
Saint NameZechariah, father of John the Baptist : S00597
Symeon (the God-receiver), elder of the temple of Jerusalem : S00285
James the Brother of the Lord, also known as James the Just, ob. 1st c. : S00058
Saint Name in SourceΖακκαρία
Type of EvidenceInscriptions - Funerary inscriptions
Evidence not before340
Evidence not after1000
Activity not before340
Activity not after1000
Place of Evidence - RegionPalestine with Sinai
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcJerusalem
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Jerusalem
Cult activities - PlacesBurial site of a saint - tomb/grave
SourceThree inscriptions of low quality, incised on the outer wall of a rock-hewn tomb in the Kidron Valley/the Valley of Josaphat, below the Temple Mount. Its lower part is squarish, 6.80 m wide, with Ionic columns, a Doric frieze and an Egyptian cornice. On top there is a conical roof laid on a drum and supported by large ashlars. The inscriptions are cut around the doorway of a burial chamber, high in its south wall.
Inscription 1: carved above the doorway. H. 0.20 m; W. 1.22 m. Letter height 0.065-0.09 m.
Inscription 2: to the left of the doorway; the text runs vertically, from bottom to top. W. 0.40 m; Letter height 0.08-0.12 m.
Inscription 3: to the right of the doorway; the text runs vertically, from top to bottom. H. 0.67 m; W. 1.40 m. Letter height unspecified ('irregular').
The text is weathered and in several sections scarcely legible. Some letters are inverted. The stonecutter used uncommon abbreviations.
The inscriptions were first published in two papers, respectively in 2003 and 2004 by Émile Puech and Joseph Zias. Puech used an epoxy cast made from a silicone mould, and sprinkled with red chalk, to decipher the hardly legible letters. His readings and interpretations were, however, contested by Denis Feissel and Leah Di Segni who having examined the cast said that: 'After autopsy of the cast, the reading can hardly be justified. If the sequence of letters in Puech's copy is accepted, other difficulties arise'.
In 2012 Leah Di Segni published a new edition of the three inscription in Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae. She uses the transcription as established by Puech and Zias, but expresses her doubts in the commentary.
DiscussionThe tomb, where the inscriptions were found, is a 1st c. AD rock-cut structure, traditionally called the Tomb of Absalom by the Jews, at least since the times of Flavius Josephus. The monument is mentioned also by a number of early Christian travellers and pilgrims (Pilgrim of Bordeaux, 4th c., bishop Arculf, 7th c., etc.), but is differently identified by them, for example with the tomb of the prophet Isaiah, of the Jewish king Hezekiya, and of Joseph, Mary's husband, and is known in the 6th to Gregory of Tours (E00491) as the shared tomb of Zechariah, high priest and father of John the Baptist, Symeon the Righetous, an elder living in the Temple, that was promised by God to see the Messiah before his death (Luke 2.25), and was reportedly buried together with Zechariah by James the Just, the first leader of the Christian community in Jerusalem, himself also buried there. A feast of the three, celebrated at the site, is recorded in the Georgian version of the Lectionary of Jerusalem on 1 December (E03449). For a detailed description, see the comments by Leah Di Segni in CIIP 1/2, 332.
The first editors, Puech and Zias, argued that the inscriptions refer to this tradition. They suggest that Inscription 1 names Zechariah, and that Inscription 3 refers to Symeon the Righteous in a near perfect quotation from the Gospel of Luke. This interpretation has been questioned, both on the grounds of palaeography and in the context of early Christian writings. First of all, Denis Feissel challenged the readings of the editors, pointing out that the inscription is scarcely legible. The word παππεας which appears in line 2 of Inscription 1 and which was understood by the editors as the genitive case of πάππας, 'child's word for father', is actually very dubious. Feissel adds that the reading of a passage closely following Symeon's description (Luke 2, 25) in Inscription 3 is also far from being certain. In his conclusions, Feissel suggests that the inscription might commemorate the tomb of an ordinary cleric.
In the most recent edition, Puech and Zias' theory was criticised anew by Leah Di Segni. She suggests that their interpretation was influenced by the description of the discovery of relics of the three New Testament characters in the mid-4th c. and their translation to a nearby chapel (EXXXX and Di Segni 2005-2006, 382-383). She also points out that the first editors inappropriately use 6th c. and later sources to argue for the association of the Tomb of Absalom with the said three figures already in the 4th c. We admit that the doubts concerning the texts and their actual nature are justified, as it is very unclear if the inscriptions were read correctly.
Dating: Puech and Zias dated the inscription to the 4th c. on palaeographical grounds. Di Segni argues that their dating is incorrect, and that the characters used, and spelling errors, suggest a 'late Byzantine' period.
Cotton, H.M., Di Segni, L., Eck, W., Isaac, B., Kushnir-Stein, A., Misgav, H., Price, J.J., Yardeni, A. and others (eds.), Corpus inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae: A Multi-Lingual Corpus of the Inscriptions from Alexander to Muhammad, vol. 1, part 2: Jerusalem, nos. 705-1120 (Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 2012), no. 959a-c.
Puech, É., Zias, J., "Le tombeau de Siméon et Zacharie dans la vallée de Josaphat", La Revue biblique 111 (2004), 563-577, and fig. 1, Pl. II; fig. 1, Pl. III.
Puech, É., Zias, J., "Le tombeau de Zacharie et Siméon au monument funérarire dit d'Absalom dans la vallée de Josaphat", La Revue biblique 110 (2003), 321-335, and fig. 1, Pl. VI.
Di Segni, L., "On the development of Christian cult sites on tombs of the Second Temple Period", Aram 18-19 (2006-2007), 381-402.
Puech, É., Zias, J., "The Tomb of Absalom Reconsidered", Near Eastern Archaeology 68/4 (2005), 148-165.
Bulletin épigraphique (2004), 395; 2005, 536.
Chroniques d'épigraphie byzantine, 743.
Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 53, 1856a-c.