The Righter Report

Ossuaries of First Christians

The first century catacomb, uncovered by archaeologist P. Bagatti on the Mount of Olives, contains inscriptions clearly indicating its use, “by the very first Christians in Jerusalem.”

Jerusalem Burial Cave Reveals: Names, Testimonies of First Christians

by Jean Gilman

Like many other important early Christian discoveries in the Holy Land, these major finds were unearthed and the results published many decades ago. Then the discoveries were practically forgotten. Because of recent knowledge and understanding, these ancient tombs once again assume center stage, and their amazing “testimonies in stone” give some pleasant surprises about some of the earliest followers of Jesus.

The catacombs were found and excavated primarily by two well-known archaeologists, but their findings were later read and verified by other scholars such as Yigael Yadin, J. T. Milik and J. Finegan.

The first catacomb found near Bethany was investigated by renowned French archaeologist Charles Clermont-Ganneau. The other, a large burial cemetery unearthed near the modern Dominus Flevit Chapel, was excavated by Italian scholar, P. Bagatti.

Both archaeologists found evidence clearly dating the two catacombs to the first century AD, with the later finding coins minted by Governor Varius Gratus at the turn of the millenium (up to 15/16 AD). Evidence in both catacombs indicated their use for burial until the middle part of the first century AD, several years before the New Testament was written.

The first catacomb was a family tomb investigated by archaeologist Clermont-Ganneau on the Mount of Olives near the ancient town of Bethany. Clermont-Ganneau was surprised to find names which corresponded with names in the New Testament. Even more interesting were the signs of the cross etched on several of the ossuaries (stone coffins).

As Claremont-Ganneau further investigated the tomb, he found inscriptions, including the names of “Eleazar”(=”Lazarus”), “Martha” and “Mary” on three different coffins.

The Gospel of John records the existence of one family of followers of Jesus to which this tomb seems to belong: “Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick)…” (11:1,2)

John continues by recounting Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus from the dead. Found only a short distance from Bethany, Clermont-Ganneau believed it was not a “singular coincidence” that these names were found.

He wrote: “[This catacomb] on the Mount of Olives belonged apparently to one of the earliest [families] which joined the new religion [of Christianity]. In this group of sarcophagi [coffins], some of which have the Christian symbol [cross marks] and some have not, we are, so to speak, [witnessing the] actual unfolding of Christianity.”

Bagatti also found evidence which clearly indicated that the tomb was in use in the early part of the first century AD. Inside, the sign of the cross was found on numerous first-century coffins.

He found dozens of inscribed ossuaries, which included the names Jairus, Jonathan, Joseph, Judah, Matthias, Menahem, Salome, Simon, and Zechariah. In addition, he found one ossuary with crosses and the unusual name “Shappira” – which is a unique name not found in any other first-century writtings except for the Book of Acts (5:1).

Additional photos and information in the story Here at LeaderU

– The Righter Report

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November 11, 2013 - Posted by | America, Evangelical, God, History, Human Interest, News, Theology, Theology Articles

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