BMCR 2019.12.19

Corpus inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae. Volume IV: Iudaea/Idumaea, 2649-3978

, , , , , Corpus inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae. Volume IV: Iudaea/Idumaea, 2649-3978. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2018. xxvi, 1580 (2 vols.). ISBN 9783110543643/4. $345.98.

Publisher’s Preview

It will not be necessary to once again sing the praise of the CIIP project as a whole; suffice it to point to the reviews of Volume I, II and III on this platform.1 However, Volume IV, covering Judea proper and Idumea, is exceptional even by CIIP standards: its 1580 pages require two separate books, and add more than 1300 items from 172 locations to the Corpus.

Yet again, a great number of distinguished experts have contributed, and yet again, the Corpus offers photos wherever they were available. CIIP is defined as a multilingual corpus, and the new volume certainly deserves this attribute. Most inscriptions are Greek, but there are also (remarkably few) Latin as well as Aramaic, Hebrew and Syriac (Palestinian Aramaic) texts; 4 inscriptions (from the Monastery of St. Theodorus at Bir el-Qutt) are in Georgian, one (from the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem) is in Armenian (no. 3227; however, no sense could be made out of the letters). Chronologically, the distribution is as uneven as one would expect. Nothing in the volume predates the third century BCE; the Hellenistic period is represented by occasional fragments (e.g. an uncertainly dated Aramaic building inscription from Horvat Mazor, no. 2653), some funerary inscriptions from a cave in Khirbet Zaʿaquqa and the rich harvest from Maresha; ossuaries, masons’ marks, some tomb inscriptions and a military diploma allow for glimpses into the Roman period (first century BCE to third century CE). Otherwise, the bulk of the inscriptions come from the fourth to seventh centuries CE, from churches, monasteries and synagogues. Not all numbers correspond to an actual inscription. While no. 3200 is the only number that was “cancelled”, several entries merely report inscriptions that were mentioned (but not published) by earlier authors. Often these could no longer be located; in some cases, publication seems to be planned elsewhere (e.g. the 13 Greek inscriptions from Tomb 500 in Maresha, mentioned in no. 3660). Two entries are on inscriptions mentioned in late antique texts (no. 3190 on the Tomb of Stephanus in Beit Jimal, with an extensive discussion of the literary tradition; no. 3263 on Jerome’s poems for St. Paula’s burial cave). Autopsy has been carried out in a good number of cases, but judging from the respective introductions, it would appear that the majority of texts has been edited on the basis of photos or (where none were available) the original reports.

Among the 172 locations, there are well-known places such as Bethlehem, Jericho or Maresha, but the bulk is made up by individual churches, monasteries, synagogues or burial caves not tied to any known ancient settlement. Accordingly, most locations offer something between 1 and 3 inscriptions, whereas a small number of high-profile settlements makes up for a large portion of the entries. Maresha stands out as it takes up 270 pages and provides 241 entries (a decent monograph in itself!); other heavy hitters (all on a much smaller scale) are Gezer, Jericho, Emmaus, Bethlehem, Herodion, Eleutheropolis, Hebron and Masada. Still, not even a city like Eleutheropolis offers anything like the regular epigraphic harvest of a city of similar importance in, say, Asia Minor, and so the second most important location in the volume turns out to be a burial cave in Choziba (Wadi el-Kelt), with 220 inscriptions re-edited by Ameling on 112 pages (on the basis of reports in the ed. pr.). The example just goes to show how much we are missing. The Corpus certainly values its more prominent settlements. Those places that are known to have been inhabited since biblical times and/or mentioned by Josephus regularly receive detailed historical introductions, but this makes the contrast between the lively history apparent from these pages and the poor epigraphic harvest all the more striking. Lydda’s prominence as a Jewish centre is introduced in 12 pages (with perhaps too credulous a use of Rabbinic sources), but all we then get are 8 short inscriptions; Gibeon merits an introduction of 6 pages, but only offers 2 ossuaries and a fragmentary tomb inscription; El-Qubeibe is introduced at some length (5 pages) because people have mistakenly identified it with Emmaus; the introduction is then followed by one page with no. 3117 (“a string of Latin letters which does not yield any sense”) and 3118 (a meaningless Greek fragment). In cases such as these, the reader may feel somewhat overinformed by the introductions, but the Corpus clearly aims to be usable as a survey of the region’s geography as well—one may sense a touch of Robert here.

The late antique church inscriptions in particular are often formulaic, and the beauty of the mosaics does not quite come across in the small black and white photographs. There is thus much repetition of the same, but the volume is not short of highlights. Readers will have their own interests, so I just single out some of mine. The Graffiti from Herod’s palace in Herodion are re-edited by Ameling (no. 3332-3364), and there are few cases where the reading of the editio princeps is allowed to stand. As some scholarly treatments (e.g. on Jewish literacy) have already incorporated the data, some revisions may be in order (see comment on no. 3340 for an obvious case; no. 3332 turns from “sound the trumpet!” [αὐδέζῃς] into yet another abecedary). No. 3352 (a scratched mule and some unidentifiable other scratches, read by Testa as an abbreviation of Jesus Christ) had been connected to Bar Kokhba’s supposed treatment of Christians; Ameling (who bases himself on Testa’s drawing) justly cautions against such overinterpretations (p. 786: “All this is even more fantastic than usual”). Scepticism against what may be called the most spectacular of all possible readings in fact pervades the Corpus. No. 2763 from Gezer (Πάμπρας Σίμωνος | κατοπάζῃ πῦρ | βασίλειον) has long had some prominence as a contemporary reference to the Hasmonean conquest of the city, with Pampras supposedly wishing for fire to rain down on Simon’s palace; Ameling dismisses this as “sheer fantasy” (p. 197), but does not quite explain what his own solution (Pampras driving away the “royal fire”) would mean.

A highlight of its own is undoubtedly the collection of inscriptions from Maresha – although most of the inscribed material, namely the ca. 1000 ostraca, are not included here (mention is made of a planned CIIP IV.3). Among the texts that are included, the re-edition of the Wünsch tablets stands out (nos. 3689-3729); a magical context can be confirmed only for some of them (not, for example, for the most coherent text no. 3689, which seems to be an actual letter by a prisoner). Another detailed study of its own is Gera’s re-edition of the inscriptions from the Eastern Necropolis: it is based on the photos in Peters & Thiersch (problematic in their own right, as they seem to have been manipulated early on), but makes out a couple of new readings, most importantly the date in no. 3557 (141 BCE, the latest date proposed so far; it has implications for dating the painted animal frieze, which might now move from the Ptolemaic to the Seleucid Period). The famous “Heliodorus stele” (no. 3511, now with an additional copy no. 3512) is discussed at length; Gera repeats his arguments made elsewhere for a ground-breaking Seleucid reform in 178 BCE (this reviewer remains unconvinced). Questions about civic and imperial institutions also make other cases particularly interesting. No. 3640 removes a possible reference to the βουλή in favour of an intercalated month: ἐμβο(λίμου) rather than ἐμ βο(υλῇ), as argued in ed. pr. The commentary on p. 1126 (on no. 3676) notes that in all lead weights of 108/7 BCE, the second letter of the year number (ΣΕ) is “engraved larger and thicker into the mold than the Σ”, presumably because the original date “had been changed later on” – in all of them, just in this year? Perhaps the observation may rather give some weight to Kosmin’s political explanation: on this one occasion ΣΕ, not ΕΣ, as a sign of pro-Seleucid resistance against the Hasmonean campaign.2

While the vast majority of inscriptions have been previously published in some form or other, there are also a number of inedita (72 on my count). The majority of them are too fragmentary to be of any relevance; in some cases, the very existence of letters on a stone is in doubt. But several newly published texts are worthy of note. – While the ossuaries from Modiin had already been discussed in a recent publication, most of them receive their first proper publication here (No. 2714-2723). The inscriptions just give the names, but these are of course of some interest with regard to culturally informed onomastic choices (e.g. Sara the wife or daughter of Menelaus in no. 2722). – Two dipinti on animal bones (no. 3730 from Maresha and no. 3903 from Masada) might relate to ancient magical practice; the first of these interestingly seems to label a sheep’s bone κυνὸς ὀστέα – an act of substitution? – No. 3504 from Maresha is a Hellenistic altar that supposedly reads Ραηιμμυ | Σοήμωι. | Ἴλαιος | ὁ ποή|σας{ξ}. The editor explains the first line (impossible to read on the photo) as a transcription of aram. rḥymw (“love” or “compassion”), hence “compassion for Sohemus”. A very interesting bilingual phenomenon indeed (and not in principle unparalleled: SEG 56.1920 from Gerasa), but in the absence of a legible photo (or a parallel for the formula), it may be wise not to rely on it too much. The transcription as such is somewhat puzzling (ypsilon for waw?). The editor points to no. 3498 from a nearby cave as a parallel for an Aramaic word transcribed in Greek letters; there we find Φιλίνου ναατομια – “the bakers of Philinus”, from Aramaic nḥtm’. The photo again does not really help, but as the ed. pr. (IEJ 2016, p. 65-66) notes that the cave was used as a quarry (and does not seem to have anything to do with baking), one might be tempted to read λατομία (the horizontal hasta of the supposed first alpha is certainly not visible; the N cannot be made out with any certainty). – Several inscribed objects (No. 3273-3276) were “allegedly found in or near Bethlehem”. Among these, a stamp of limestone (3273) is understood by the editors to designate bread as being offered to or given by Demeter, Δημή(τηρ); in the absence of a parallel, one might prefer another solution discarded in the commentary (a baker named Demetrius). No. 3274 is a bronze stamp for “God’s wine” (θεοῦ οἶνος) – the commentary envisages a liturgical context (marking wine used for ritual), but there might be others.3 No. 3277 has a known archaeological context (below the floor of the Church of Nativity); it is a fragment of a late Hellenistic inscription mentioning one Ἀρσάκκης and the word [εὐε]ργέτης. If a Parthian context is considered, the invasion of 40 BCE would be an obvious one, but there may be others, given the little we know, e.g., about Alexandra Salome’s rule. – No. 3731 from Maresha is a limestone tablet featuring an incised portrait of a male figure with a radiate crown and the inscription βασιλέ|ως (the edition reads βασιλέ|ος, but omega rather than omicron is clearly visible on the photo). Unfortunately, there is no information about the findspot (Subterranean Complex 89 as with the preceding item, which was also unpublished?). If the tablet was late Hellenistic (omega is not double-u shaped, and Maresha was destroyed in 40 BCE), one would have to think of an amateurish royal portrait – certainly a more interesting prospect than another portrait of Christ (the editors have no comment on the matter).

The quality of production is good throughout. I have noted only very occasional mistakes in the English (and hardly any relating to the subject matter).4 There is a list of names that covers all four CIIP volumes, and a map detailing the locations – unfortunately it follows a different numbering system than the Corpus itself, which makes it more difficult than necessary to find the right place (e.g. Herodion is CII in the Corpus, but 106 on the map).

All in all, the editors and the individual contributors should be congratulated for a remarkable achievement, one that is rendered even more impressive considering that only eight years have passed between the publication of Volumes I and IV. ​


1. Volume I: BMCR 2011.09.12. Volume II: BMCR 2012.09.17. Volume III: BMCR 2014.11.18.

2. P. Kosmin, Time and its Adversaries in the Seleucid Empire, Cambridge (MA) 2018, p. 81.

3. Is it far-fetched to think of H. Engelmann, ‘Degustation von Götterwein’, ZPE 63 (1986), p. 107-108?

4. In no. 3469 (a poem on mosaic pavement from Eleutheropolis), the commentary makes a valid point for reading the text relating to the dedicator in the third and not the first person (against previous editors), but l. 6 still translates διὰ μαθητῶν as “with the help of my disciples”. No. 3480 is titled “Greek inscription mentioning Doron”, but the translation takes δῶρον as “a gift”, and the commentary does not even mention the possibility of reading a personal name. No. 3560 misspells τυγατέρα (although the majuscule reading is given as ΘΥΓΑΤΕΡΑ). I do not understand the comment on no. 3603 that “… if the inscription documented the family relationship between a woman and her father (…) it would have used the feminine form in the genitive: τῆς”. Surely she would have been Ἀρίστεια τοῦ Ποβᾶ? ​