An Ancient Convert’s “Cursed” Tomb

June 10, 2022 | Amanda Borschel-Dan
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Located in the Galilee, the ancient town of Beit She’arim is home to one of Israel’s most significant historical cemeteries, where some of the great rabbinic figures of the 2nd and 3rd centuries are buried. Recently, archaeologists found a tombstone there belonging to a less famous individual from that era, that nonetheless is of great historical interest. Amanda Borschel-Dan writes:

Dating from the late Roman or early Byzantine period, the inscription idiomatically states, “Jacob (Iokobos) the convert swears upon himself that any who open this grave will be cursed.” Following that statement, there is a thick red line drawn and another scribe wrote, “age sixty.”

While it is very common to have a formulaic curse warning against the opening of a grave—which were generally shared by several corpses—this marker was composed in “odd,” redundant Greek, said the Tel Aviv University professor Jonathan Price, who deciphered the inscription. “That’s how he spoke, apparently,” Price told the Times of Israel.

“I’m sure he prepared his stone before he died. Whether he wrote with his hand or not, we can’t know,” although the shape of the letters is “pretty good relative to other homemade inscriptions,” said Price.

Beit She’arim is considered the final resting place of Judah ha-Nasi, the leading 2nd-century CE rabbi who is credited with redacting the Mishnah and was head of the Sanhedrin. Following his burial, Jews from all over the region made huge efforts to be buried there as well, said Price, . . . including from Yemen, Palmyra, and all over the ancient Holy Land.

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