Hebrew Inscription Provides Oldest Archaeological Evidence of Jews in Iberia

Bible and Archaeology News

Silves

A recent discovery at a Roman villa near Silves, Portugal stands out as the oldest evidence of Jews in Iberia. Photo: Dennis Graen, Friedrich Schiller University Jena.

The recent discovery of a marble plate bearing the Hebrew inscription “Yehiel” in Portugal serves as the oldest archaeological evidence of Jews in Iberia. Dated sometime before 390 C.E., the two-foot-wide marble plate appears to be a tomb slab. Discovered in a Roman-era excavation near the city of Silves, Portugal by archaeologists from the German Friedrich Schiller University Jena, the discovery predates the previous oldest evidence of Jews in Iberia by nearly a century.

The slab was found in a rubble layer nearby antlers, which were carbon dated to 390 C.E. Excavation director Dr. Dennis Graen explains. “we have a so-called ‘terminus ante quem’ for the inscription, as it must have been created before it got mixed in with the rubble with the antlers.”

The history of Jews in Iberia is known from texts documenting interactions between relatively large populations of Jews and Christians around 300 C.E., but until now, there has not been archaeological evidence of the early population. At the time, Jews in Iberia (and across the Roman Empire) wrote in Latin script, making the the Hebrew inscription bearing the Biblical name “Yehiel” (and other still-to-be translated text) a unique find.
It is the first instance of a Hebrew inscription found in a Roman villa in the region.

Inscription

The Hebrew inscription bearing the name “Yehiel” is the oldest archaeological evidence of Jews in Iberia. Thought to be a tomb slab, the discovery adds visibility to the early history of Jews in Portugal. Photo: Dennis Graen, Friedrich Schiller University Jena.

Before the discovery, the oldest archaeological evidence of Jews in Iberia was a late 5th century C.E. tomb slab with a Latin inscription and an image of a menorah, and the oldest known Hebrew inscription appears centuries later. The discovery by the University of Jena archaeologists provides a fascinating look at a unique circumstance of Jewish and Roman populations living together in this period, and provides archaeological context for the history of Jews in Portugal. The site is still under examination, and the Biblical archaeology world eagerly anticipates a further study of the Hebrew inscription and a deeper investigation of the early population of Jews in Iberia.

Read the full press release from Friedrich Schiller University Jena.

Posted in Biblical Archaeology Places, News.

Tagged with , , , , , , , , , .

Add Your Comments

7 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. Joseph says

    This Hebrew find predates any proof in Europe of the Gospels.

  2. David says

    Beautiful looking find!

    Yehiel (also “Jehiel”) means: “God lives,” “God shall live,” or “May God live” for those who don’t know.

    :}

  3. Michael says

    1. I don’t follow you. The find is dated to 390 BCE or so. Since it’s 4 centuries before the events in the gospels are suppossed to have occured, how could it not predate ‘proof in Europe of the Gospels’?

  4. Noah says

    Michael– it is 390 C.E., which is quite some time after the gospels.

  5. Loyd says

    In your article your date is 390 C.E.. Is this the same as 390 A.D.. My question is; What occurrance in history are you dating from.

  6. Roscoe says

    I’m very happy to discover this page. I need to to thank you for your time for this
    fantastic read!! I definitely savored every part of it and i also have you book-marked
    to look at new stuff on your blog.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Hebrew Inscription Provides Oldest Archaeological Evidence of Jews in Iberia - Religious Education Forum linked to this post on May 26, 2012

    [...] Roman Iberia from documents during the time, this is the first material evidence of this presence. Hebrew Inscription Provides Oldest Archaeological Evidence of Jews in Iberia – Bible History D… __________________ Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift a stone, and you will find me [...]


Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.


Enter Your Log In Credentials

Change Password

×