Scholars publish Theodotus inscription and hundreds of other early Jerusalem texts
The first volume includes many well-known early Jewish writings from Second Temple Jerusalem, including the famous Theodotus inscription. The Theodotus inscription is a splendidly preserved dedication by a certain priest and synagogue president named Theodotus, found just south of the Temple Mount. The Theodotus inscription states that he “built the synagogue for the reading of the Law and teaching of the commandments, and the guest-house and (other) rooms and water installations(?) for the lodging of those who are in need of it from abroad.” The Theodotus inscription is a unique dedication, but its very existence indicates that there were more like it that haven’t survived.
The largest group of surviving early Jewish writings from pre-Destruction Jerusalem comes from the more than 600 inscribed ossuaries found in hundreds of burial caves around the city. These writings often consist of no more than a name, but even these short inscriptions yield valuable information about the history of Jerusalem. First, they preserve the memory of hundreds of people who would otherwise have been lost to the oblivion of history. Second, the number of ossuary inscriptions is large enough to suggest meaningful patterns in the social history of Jerusalem in the first centuries B.C.E. and C.E.
Not surprisingly, early Jewish writings come to an abrupt end in the first century C.E. The epigraphic record of Jerusalem markedly shifts at this point: The Roman army and administration, as well as a growing Christian population, were now the primary group documenting themselves through inscriptions. Their epigraphic remains include epitaphs, dedications to Roman emperors and officers, dedications in pagan temples and votive objects, and of course, from the fourth century on (when the city was predominantly Christian), many different types of church inscriptions. These texts, too, contain information not preserved in any other written source, and are thus essential for writing the political, social and religious history of Jerusalem.
To learn more about the Theodotus inscription and other early Jewish writings from Jerusalem, read Jonathan J. Price, Archaeological Views, “Jerusalem in Her Own Words,” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2013.
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