Help with reading Greek inscription

David Meadows posted the following call for help reading the scratched inscription on an ossuary in Jerusalem. Can any epigraphically trained readers help decipher the Greek letters? (We’ve help crowdsourced readings and e-seminars before, so I’m hopeful our readers have the expertise to help with this.)

To begin: the inscription is found one of a number of ossuaries still  in situ in a tomb in Jerusalem, so we’re dealing with a funerary context. The inscription is only seen in photos (of varying quality) because the tomb was explored via a robotic camera. When the tomb was originally excavated back in 1980 or thereabouts,  the inscription itself does not seem to have been recorded (or if it was, it has not been published). Further complicating things is the fact that the ossuaries were moved around and there are plenty of scratches thereon, which may or may not be affecting the reading of this inscription. Amongst the artifacts found in association with the ossuary inscription was this pot:

Figure 1

… such pots are conventionally dated (as far as I’m aware) to the first centuries B.C./B.C.E. to the first century A.D./C.E.. The inscription itself has been presented in a number of photos of varying quality (clicking on the images should bring up larger versions; if not, links to the original photos can be found at the end of this post):

Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4

The one I was working from is a variation on the first (it has some circles); it’s probably identical save for the circles:

Figure 5

The following ‘excerpts’ come from this image and have been zoomed 50% … the first line:

Line One


  • it seems to read DIOS, but why would such a word be on what is likely a Jewish ossuary?
  • it is assumed to be one word in some readings; perhaps it carries over to the next line?
  • might it be connected to a month name in the Seleucid calendar (were those month names still being used?
Line Two


  • does this carry over from the previous line?
  • is the first letter an iota, a tau, or maybe even a gamma?
  • are there only four letters here or are there perhaps more?
Line Three


  • is the first letter a tau, an upsilon, or some combination letter (sometimes referred to as a compendia)?
  • how many letters are there in this line?
  • is that Y-shaped thing an upsilon or a psi (is that a scratch or a branch)?
  • is there a small tau beside that or is that just a scratch?
Line four


  • again, how many letters are here?
  • are those letters alpha, gamma, beta or is the second letter a mu or a pi?
  • is the last letter a beta or something with a ligature?
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6 Responses to Help with reading Greek inscription

  1. John says:

    Raking light, please.

  2. “call for help reading the scratched inscription on a funerary pot in Jerusalem”: sight correction — the inscription is on an ossuary in the tomb, not on the pot. The pot is useful in helping to date the tomb to the early Roman period.

  3. Ah, my careless reading of the original post. Apologies. I’ll fix this above for clarity, but leave this comment here to make it clear that your correction was correct. Thank you!

  4. … and I’ve fiddled a bit with my original to remove the ambiguity there as well; thanks to both MG and GB

  5. I tried to apply some basic image processing. You can find the result here: Being not an expert, I only marked what I’d
    call ‘character-like’ shapes. If this is no help, or worse adds to the ambiguity of the issue, please do ignore this post. :)

  6. thanks … that’s very interesting; it *does* add to the ambiguity but allows more commentary on the difficulty of interpreting inscriptions on the basis of photos of questionable quality. it’s interesting what is seen, e.g., after I first zoomed the image (lord knows what was done to it already), and then you enhanced. When I did my initial readings, I enhanced then zoomed and got somewhat different results …

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