BMCR 2005.02.23

Inscriptiones Judaicae Orientis. Vol. III: Syria and Cyprus. Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism 102

, Inscriptiones Judaicae Orientis.. Texts and studies in ancient Judaism, <99, 101-102> = Texte und Studien zum antiken Judentum. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004-. volumes 1-3 ; 24 cm.. ISBN 3161481895. €89.00.

This outstanding collection of the Jewish Inscriptions of Late Antiquity in Phoenicia, Syria, Osrhoene, Dura-Europos and Cyprus by David Noy and Hanswulf Bloedhorn concludes the updating of Frey’s Corpus Inscriptionum Judaicarum (ξι indispensable for anyone working in the field of early Judaism, Christianity or religious studies in the Late Antique Middle East. The long awaited substitution of CIJ has been almost finished.1 Only Palestine/Judaea, Arabia and Yemen, regions not covered by Frey, still need to be treated in similar collections.2

The justification of a new collection is simple. Compared with CIJ, 68 new inscriptions have been included. Certainly there is an overlap with the recent work of Roth-Gerson.3 However, her Hebrew book is not easily accessible for many users (regretfully), and she did not include most inscriptions in languages other than Greek: Noy and Bloedhorn’s collection has 70 Syrian inscriptions not included in Roth-Gerson. Indeed, the scope of languages is impressive: not only Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew and Latin, but also Middle Persian, Palmyrene, Parthian and Phoenician. This reflects not only the polyglot collectors but also the variety of contexts, in which Syrian Judaism developed.

As the other volumes of the series, the collection has been organized geographically. A useful introduction opens each of the geographical areas and cities and includes brief discussions of other evidence for Jewish presence in a city or town and a reference to the Tübinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients (TAVO). Each entry includes the usual rubrics (previous editions, illustrations and discussions; findspot, details, language, date, text, variant readings, English translation) and a concise discussion. The photos and drawings are excellent (exceptions are the useless reproductions of Syr28 and Syr44-Syr47). Three maps (the synagogues at Apamea and Dura-Europos as well as a map of the Middle East) end the collection.

The rich list of indexes (material, language, provenance, personal names, notable features, relationships, joint donations, age at death, epithets and qualities, occupations, ranks, secular titles, place names, religion [Jew/Samaritan/proselyte], Jewish titles, synagogues and parts thereof, prayers and invocations, biblical quotations, biblical figures, angels and demons, symbols, dates, funerary formulae, benefaction formulae, Greek, “Semitic”, Iranian und unidentified words), a concordance with CIJ and Roth-Gerson 2001 and an extensive bibliography make the collection easily accessible. I would love to have also a chronological list of the dated inscriptions.

The collectors define their field with geographical, chronological and ethnic criteria. Geographically, the area covered agrees roughly with the boundaries of the Roman provinces of Cyprus, Syria and Mesopotamia in the second to third centuries CE, with certain adjustments in order to avoid overlap with the Corpus Inscriptionum Judaeae / Palestinae defined by the borders of the modern state of Israel. Chronologically, the deadline is around 700 CE. Ethnically, all inscriptions are included that answer to at least one of the following criteria: use of Hebrew, Jewish symbols, Jewish terminology or designations, Jewish names, provenance in a synagogue or in a Jewish cemetery. Samaritan inscriptions are included as well (Syr3, Syr4, Syr11, Syr42).

All of these criteria are naturally tricky. As in JIBRE,4 inscriptions have been included which have been discovered outside of Syria or Cyprus but speak about Jews coming from these areas. These twenty inscriptions form a substantial part of the collection. In principle, this is a welcome decision. However, the editors of IJudO iii decided to discuss them in the relevant chapters. This will lead to confusion. For example, a funeral inscription from Beth Shearim of a Jew who lived in Beirut is analyzed in the chapter on Beirut. Moreover, this principle is not applied strictly. The seven inscriptions from Beth She’arim in Palmyrene are confined to a separate appendix, but two Greek inscriptions from Beth She’arim about Palmyrene Jews (Syr51 and Syr52) are discussed in the chapter on Palmyra. While the inclusion is helpful for scholars working on defined geographical areas, the external inscriptions are not recognizable as coming from a different provenance in the indexes. The procedure to give even inscriptions already edited in JIWE new abbreviations (IJudO iii Syr33=JIWE ii 568) entails the danger of further mix-ups. The solution in JIBRE to confine the external inscriptions to an appendix makes the index easier to use and will lead to less confusion.

The chronological criterion is less problematic though there are some inscriptions that might rather be medieval (Syr44-Syr47).

The ethnical / religious issue is knotty, as Ross Kraemer and others have emphasized time and again. I assume that perhaps many if not most extant Jewish inscriptions are not included in the volumes published. This is, of course, not to blame the editors. It is for the simple reason that numerous inscriptions by or for Jews cannot be recognized as such since they do not show any clearly recognizable signs, either because the surviving fragments did not conserve them or because the inscription never included them to start with. As such, any selection based on ethnic / religious criteria, such as this one, is therefore to be regarded as a collection of mostly “hard-core” texts.

Indeed, the editors have been very careful and included many inscriptions whose Jewishness is less certain in an appendix. Naturally, scholarly opinions will be divided as to whether to include this or that inscription in the main part of the book. One might wonder if the probability of the Jewishness of Syr1, Syr2, Syr14, Syr24, Syr33, Syr38, Syr75, or the Iranian inscriptions Syr111-Syr126 (all included in the main part) is higher than that of App12=CIJ 865, App16, App17, App18, App23=CIJ 737, App25, exiled to the appendix. But the reader will find out that the editors’ judgment is very keen.

Three late antique Jewish Aramaic amulets most probably of Syrian provenance, two of them published by Roy Kotansky and a third one mentioned by him, should have been included.5

Syr 30 is ascribed to a male named Sambathiôn the archon ([Sαμβατ,ι[ων ‘ρ]κωνψτ). Noy and Bloedhorn explain the Hebrew suffix -YT of [‘ρ]κωνψτ as representing the Greek ‐ντ -stem of ἄρχοντες. I do not know of a similar instance of this transcription phenomenon. If the reconstruction is correct, it seems more likely to me that the suffix represents the usual Hebrew female ending. While this would be the only evidence for a Jewish female ἄρχων, we know of at least nine pagan female ἄρχοντες through inscriptions from the coastal islands of Asia Minor and one in Histria.6 However, Milik’s reconstruction used by the editors seems to be problematic. Many readers of the book would have appreciated a reproduction of Renan’s drawing.

Furthermore, I noticed some minor errors and misprints in the transcriptions of the inscriptions:

Syr 17c: 1 εὐμοίρει should be εὐμοίρι.

Syr 27v: 4 ἔτηχκε‐ν should be ἔτηκε‐ν.

Syr 29: 5 ἔχει should be in square brackets.

Syr 32r: 2 Καλιόπε should be Καλιόπη.

Syr 54 p. 94, line 1: the first He in the Aramaic inscription HBWRTH should be Heth (H,BWRTH).

Syr 76: 29 Aramaic has to be ωη’ρψη instead of ωη’ρψμ.

Syr 76: 32 Aramaic has to be QDSW instead of KDSW.

A disadvantage of this volume is certainly its hefty price. Instead of the two volumes of CIJ, we have to invest in six books of the two series from Cambridge and Tübingen, each around 100$. An electronic publication of the collection on a CD or the Internet would not only be able to fulfill the same purposes but also be much cheaper, easier to update and more convenient to be searched. Now, scholars looking for a certain word or topic have to browse six indexes. Hopefully, there will be a single index volume in the future, when the inscriptions from Judaea/Palestine will have been collected.

In the Tübingen collection, references to earlier editions, technical details and bibliography are all in the same font size. In the Cambridge volumes, the bibliography is printed in petit, which makes the technical parts easily distinguishable from the interpretation. Representing the original line breaks of the inscriptions with “|” instead of actually making a line break makes the text more readable. Both suggestions would not only have improved the layout but they would also have saved space (and therefore have reduced the price slightly).

These more or less marginal remarks and corrections only emphasize the significance of the achievement of David Noy and Hanswulf Bloedhorn. Scholars of ancient Judaism and Christianity will be very grateful for the careful, balanced and useful discussion. This is an obligatory and worthwhile acquisition for any serious research library in the field of early Jewish and Christian studies.


1. This enterprise has been undertaken in two projects linked through the name of David Noy: the “Inscriptiones Judaicae Orientis” (IJudO i-iii) at Mohr-Siebeck in the series Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism and the “Jewish Inscriptions Project” published at Cambridge University Press (JIWE and JIBRE). The two other volumes of Inscriptiones Judaicae Orientis deal with Asia Minor (Walter Ameling) and Eastern Europe (Noy, Alexander Panayotov, Bloedhorn). The three volumes at Cambridge University Press cover Western Europe and Egypt (edited by Noy and for the latter also William Horbury).

2. On the work in progress regarding the collection of inscriptions in Judaea / Palestine see H. Cotton, L. di Segni, W. Eck, B. Isaac in ZPE 127, 1999. On the inscriptions in North Africa see G. Lüderitz and J.M. Reynolds, Corpus jüdischer Zeugnisse aus der Cyrenaika (Wiesbaden, 1983) and Yann Le Bohec, “Inscriptions juives et judaïsantes de l’Afrique romaine” Antiquités Africaines 17 (1981) 165-207. On Yemen see Christian Robin “Du Paganisme au Monotheïsme”, Revue du Monde Musulman et de la Méditerranée 61 (1991) 139-155.

3. Roth-Gerson, Ruth, The Jews of Syria as Reflected in the Greek Inscriptions (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar, 2001; in Hebrew).

4. See footnote 1.

5. Kotansky, Roy, “Two Inscribed Jewish Amulets from Syria,” Israel Exploration Journal 41 (1991) 267-281.

6. See the references in Trebilco, Paul R, Jewish Communities in Asia Minor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1991), here p. 237, note 106.