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Scholars Discover Parts of Luke's Gospel


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Scholars Discover Parts of Luke's Gospel




The clue was barely legible. At first, it was just the name that was visible: Simon. It was carved in Greek letters high atop the mammoth and weather-beaten burial monument that dates from the time of Christ.


Emile Puech and Joe Zias, two Jerusalem scholars who credit the serendipity of seeing that almost-faded name in a photograph shot in exactly the right light just as the sun was setting, have also found inscribed on the 60-foot-high tombstone a verse from the Gospel According to St. Luke, specifically Luke: 2:25, that was so faded it was never before visible, reports The Associated Press.


Such archaeological finds are extremely rare. While several Old Testament verses have been found on monuments, this is believed to be the first discovery of a New Testament verse carved onto an ancient Holy Land shrine. Jim Strange, a New Testament scholar from the University of South Florida, told AP that ancient people believed that chiseling verses of Scripture into monuments debased the sacred words. It wasn't until 1000 A.D. that Bible verses became more common on shrines, and then they were found in Europe--not the Holy Land.


What the inscription does not tell us: The inscription declares that the tomb is that of Simon. He was a devout Jew whom the Bible credits with cradling the infant Jesus and recognizing him as the Messiah. However, the experts say it is doubtful Simon is actually buried here. Instead, the monument was built to honor Jerusalem's aristocracy at the time of Jesus. The inscriptions were carved in the 4th century when Byzantine Christians scoured the Holy Land for sacred sites linked to the Bible and then marked them. Often, they relied on local lore to do this. This particular monument is in the Kidron Valley, between Jerusalem's walled Old City and the Mount of Olives.


What the inscription does tell us: The reason this find is significant is that it supports what have always been scant references to a Byzantine-era belief that three biblical figures--Simon, Zachariah, and James, who was the brother of Jesus--shared the same tomb. Earlier this year, an inscription referring to Zachariah, who was John the Baptist's father, was found on the same monument by the two Jerusalem scholars. Now Puech and Zias will continue their close-up examination of the tombstone in the hopes of finding an inscription that refers to James, the brother of Jesus. If they find that, the trio is complete.


It's likely James will be mentioned on the monument, since it is thought he died nearby. James was hurled off the Jewish Temple, bludgeoned to death in the Kidron Valley below and buried near there. Zachariah was a temple priest who was murdered by zealots and then tossed into the valley. It is not known how or where Simon died. There are several historical references to the three men being buried together, but there is no archaeological evidence of this.


The letters are inscribed vertically on the monument and run together. They are of a different height and are actually crooked. The inscription says the monument is the tomb of "Simeon who was a very just man and a very devoted old (person) and waiting for the consolation of the people." Simeon is the Greek version of Simon. The words are identical to Luke 2:25 as they appeared in the 4th-century Bible, also called the Codex Sinaiticus, notes AP. The Zachariah inscription reads: "This is the tomb of Zachariah, martyr, very pious priest, father of John."


The research was presented by the two scholars at the annual conference of the American Schools of Oriental Research in Atlanta.



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