Photo: A ritual cup found in Jerusalem with an inscription in two languages
Credit: Courtesy National Geographic
The National Geographic News is reporting that 2,000 year cup was found in Jerusalem with inscriptions in two different languages. According to archaeologists, the cup was probably used in purification rituals.
The following are a few excerpts from the news release:
It didn’t look like much at first, just a broken, mud-caked stone mug.
But when archaeologists in Jerusalem cleaned the 2,000-year-old vessel, they discovered ten lines of mysterious script.
“These were common stone mugs that appear in all Jewish households” of the time, said lead excavator Shimon Gibson of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
“But this is the first time an inscription has been found on a stone vessel” of this type.
Deciphering the writing could provide a window into daily life or religious ritual in Jerusalem around the time of Jesus Christ (interactive time line of early Christianity).
Working on historic Mount Zion—site of King David’s tomb and the Last Supper—the archaeologists found the cup near a ritual pool this summer. The dig site is in what had been an elite residential area near the palace of King Herod the Great, who ruled Israel shortly before the birth of Jesus.
From the objects that surrounded it, Gibson determined that the cup dated from some time between 37 B.C. and A.D. 70, when the Romans nearly destroyed Jerusalem after a Jewish revolt.
What sets the newfound cup apart is its inscription, which is still sharply etched but so far impossible to understand.
Similar to intentionally enigmatic writing in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the cup’s script appears to be a secret code, written in a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic, the two written languages used in Jerusalem at the time.
“They wrote it intending it to be cryptic,” Gibson said.
In hopes the script can be deciphered, Gibson’s team is sharing pictures of the cup with experts on the writing of the period. The researchers also plan to post detailed photos of the cup and its inscriptions online soon.
One thing the team is sure of, though, is that whoever inscribed the cup had something big in mind—and didn’t want just anyone to know.
“They could be instructions on how to use [the cup], could have incantations or curses. But it’s not going to be something mundane like a shopping list.”
Read the news release in its entirety by visiting the National Geographic online.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Tags: Archaeology, Ritual Cup, Shimon Gibson