Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!

Decoding a Jewish Tombstone

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Students under the direction of Steven Fine, a biblical archaeologist at Yeshiva University, are attempting to decipher the script on a 1,600-year-old sandstone Jewish tombstone taken from the majority Christian city of Zoar in modern-day Jordan. The artifact came to Fine's attention when he was contacted by a pastor at a northern California church and sent a photo of the headstone. He would later travel to California and collect the item for more study. So far the students have translated what they can make out of the Talmudic Aramaic inscriptions. They determined that the tombstone belonged to a woman named Sa’adah, though they don't know her age at death since, according to Jewish custom, it's not written on the artifact. The students are still studying the tombstone, which they were also able to date to the A.D. fifth century by reconciling two dating systems referred to in the Aramaic.