Pt. 2: The discovery of fragment C

The step-by-step researches of Mr. Tuccinardi and myself this summer into the so-called “Ceasarea inscription” have already yielded considerable fruit: (1) we now can say that there was no single plaque which can go by that name—there were, in fact, three different and mutually distinguishable plaques, each possibly constituting a small part of the list of twenty-four priestly courses; (2) no synagogue existed in the vicinity of any of their findspots. This second point presents a triple mystery, for how could even a single plaque of the priestly courses occur in an area where a synagogue never existed, much less three different plaques? The answer is clear: all three fragments of the so-called “Caesarea inscription” came from outside the area.

No two fragments of the Caesarea inscription were found near one other. Fragments A and B were discovered more than fifty meters apart (in Areas D and F respectively). This dispersion is additional evidence that those two fragments did not come from the same plaque. Fragment C’s findspot is unknown (see below).

It should be noted that irregularities attach to each fragment: (a) the findspot is uncertain; (b) no fragment is documented in any “final report” allowing one to establish the context; and (c) contradictions occur in the literature relating to important data. Finally, the three fragments were found at different times and under rather dubious circumstances. What I mean by “dubious circumstances” should become clear in the course of this and the following posts.

Fragment C

Let’s consider each fragment in turn, in the order of “discovery.” The first Caesarea fragment reported in the literature was fragment C. In 1958 a photo of the fragment appeared in an article on the Dead Sea Scriptures authored by S. Talmon. The photo was allegedly taken by Aaron Wegman, a resident of kibbutz Sdot Yam which borders Field O (Area A) in Caesarea. No information on the findspot is anywhere given. The archaeological context in which fragment C was ‘found’ has likewise never been described or itemized in any scholarly report. In 1962 Avi-Yonah reported that the fragment was “lost.” These scant facts are all that we know about this mysterious fragment.

The lost (and largest) fragment C from a photo published by S. Talmon in 1958. It allegedly contains parts of lines 14-17 of the list of priestly courses.

The lost fragment C from a photo published by S. Talmon in 1958. It contains parts of lines 14-17 of the list of priestly courses.

The only thing which even remotely associates this fragment with Field O is the fact that the photographer Wegman lived in the neighboring kibbutz. On this extremely tenuous relation alone, fragment C has been made a part of the ‘Caesarea inscription,’ though its actual findspot, time of discovery, archaeological context, etc. are unknown. Mr. Wegman was an amateur aficionado of archaeology. He could have photographed fragment C anywhere, even outside of Caesarea—assuming that he indeed took the photo.

Given the stunning lack of information regarding fragment C, it is extremely hazardous to conclude that it had anything to do with Field O (where the other two fragments were ostensibly found). Indeed, even its existence is today not provable.

Another question can be raised regarding this fragment: When was it found?

We don’t know. There is no record of its discovery, official or unofficial. Surely it was not found in Avi-Yonah’s 1956 excavation—had he discovered such an important fragment (one which reveals for the first time the presence of a plaque listing the twenty-four priestly courses), he would certainly have noted its discovery in his comments on that excavation season (Avi-Yonah 1956) and in his subsequent 1962 report when he briefly refers to the fragment. But all he tells us there is that fragment C was “picked up on the surface at Caesarea.” This is hardly helpful. Caesarea is a very big area, and “on the surface” is the worst possible characterization for an artifact, a characterization which does not even qualify the artifact as being found in situ, for some further description is required to locate the fragment at a site. Such an artifact could simply have been secondarily placed on the surface “in Caesarea” where it was eventually found. It could have originated anywhere at all.

M. Govaars has shown that no synagogue existed in Area A/Field O. Thus, we can be quite sure that fragment C came from outside that area, for plaques listing the twenty-four priestly courses were placed only in synagogues.

The authenticity of fragment C has also not been established. For now, I shall put aside the questions of possible forgery regarding any of these fragments pending our review of the material evidence.

In sum, we do not know where fragment C was found, when it was found, or even if it exists. If it is indeed authentic, we can affirm the following three things about it: (1) it is a part of lines 14-17 of the list of twenty-four priestly courses; (2) it was ‘discovered’ sometime before 1958; and (3) though its findspot is entirely unknown, we can be sure that it came from somewhere outside Area A/Field O.

Given the incompatibilities of fragment C with the other two fragments, and given the fact that no synagogue existed in Field O (on these, see here) the investigator must jettison fragment C from any possible association with the ‘Caesarea inscription.’

The discovery of fragment A

Fragment A has received the most scholarly attention because it contains the word “Nazareth.” This fragment is considered by many scholars to be the earliest witness to the existence of the town of Nazareth outside of Christian writings. Conservative scholars very early pounced on its 1962 discovery as “proof” that Nazareth existed as early as the First Jewish Revolt, i.e., 70 CE. However, as I showed in my book, The Myth of Nazareth (pp. 275-78) this view is untenable. No northward migration is known after the First Revolt. In fact, the Jews were hoping for a revival of the holy city and did not abandon Judea anytime in the first century CE.

Fragment A with the word "Natsrath"filling the entire second line. (Ameling)

Fragment A with the word “Natsrath”
filling the entire second line. (Ameling)

Mainline scholarship holds a more moderate yet still incorrect view. It sees fragment A of “the Ceasarea inscription” as evidence for the northward migration of priests from Judea to the Galilee after the Second Jewish Revolt (132-35 CE). However, in several articles Dalia Trifon has recently demonstrated that there was no organized migration of priests at all. She shows that the association of various courses (families) with specific residences in the Galilee is a myth—or, at the very least, a retrojection by the Late Roman-Byzantine priesthood which wished to authenticate its earlier existence in the Galilee by ‘creating’ roots going back to villages in the Galilee, most of which already existed in Hasmonean times (Leibner). In other words, recent scholarship has shown that the list of twenty four priestly courses with their places of residence in Galilee is primarily propaganda that may have looked very good on synagogue walls but which has no historical force, even if the fragments can each be shown to be authentic Late Roman / Byzantine artifacts.

The fact that fragment A contains the complete word Natsrath (נצרת), “Nazareth” represents an extraordinary coincidence. After all, the complete inscription (as reconstructed by S. Klein and Avi-Yonah) contains well over one hundred words and twenty-four place names, one for each line. Apparently, through a very fortunate coincidence, “Nazareth” happens to be the single place of residence completely found on any of the surviving fragments. The odds against this are, of course, twenty-four to one. Furthermore, we don’t just have “Natsrath” in broken form, as is the case with most of the words only partially preserved on the fragments. No. The four letters of “Natsrath” are centered in such a way on fragment A that the word is virtually completely represented, only the nun beginning at a break in the marble slab. Thus we are doubly fortunate.

Fragment A was discovered in a very irregular way. Prof. Jerry Vardaman was assisting Avi-Yonah during the 1962 Caesarea excavations and was in charge of Area D where fragment A was found. Vardaman writes:

This fragment of the inscription was found August, 14, 1962, at a depth of 90 cm. below the surface of the sands of Caesarea. It was registered with pottery basket D.V.9. It was found near the end of the season of excavation, and due to fatigue, the men who were working with picks and hoes were becoming careless about spotting some of the objects which were turning up in this area of work. For this reason, as the excavator I gave strict instructions to the workman on the wheelbarrow (whose name was Shalom Attiah) to pay close attention to the debris which was being emptied there by the basket men. This proved to be most fortunate, for the particular fragment mentioned above (no.1) [=Fragment A] was found by Mr. Attiah as he searched through his wheelbarrow before carting the debris away to the dump. The Fragment was quickly washed and at first proved difficult to read intelligibly. (The Teacher’s Yoke, p. 42)

From this revealing passage we learn that fragment A was not found in situ but in the debris of a pottery basket as it was being emptied (or had just been emptied) into a wheelbarrow destined for the debris pile. Obviously, Vardaman was not the person who filled basket D.V.9 or he would certainly have spotted the object. According to Vardaman’s above explanation, the person who filled this particular basket was one of “the men who were working with picks and hoes” and who was “becoming careless about spotting some of the objects.”

First of all, we may wonder why people were working “with picks and hoes.” That is hardly salutary in an excavation where one is careful about breaking up or destroying artifacts. Secondly, it is clear that Vardaman was not closely supervising the digging. Otherwise, he would have noticed the discovery of fragment A in situ before it went into the basket destined for the debris pile—even if someone else wielded the digging tool. If we are to believe Vardaman’s description above, then the workmen were (1) digging with picks and hoes; and (2) working unsupervised.

Vardaman describes a scenario in which unsupervised workmen wielding picks and hoes are careless and tired. He writes that it was “near the end of the season” but this was not the case—a whole week remained for the excavation work, though for some unspecified reason Vardaman left early and this (August 24) was indeed Vardaman’s last day (a chronology of the excavation will be presented in a future post). Apparently, before abandoning the excavation entirely, Vardaman directed Shalom Attiah “to pay close attention to the debris which was being emptied [into his wheelbarrow] by the basket men.” And, lo and behold, Mr. Attiah then found the fragment A…

The point I would like to emphasize is that—according to the description above—Vardaman was himself directly responsible for the discovery of fragment A. It was Vardaman who directed Shalom Attiah to look carefully though his wheelbarrow. Otherwise, Mr. Attiah would not have done so and fragment A with the word “Nazareth” would never have been discovered.

The question to be answered at this point is: How did fragment A get into the debris basket D.V.9 unnoticed? Vardaman would have us believe that the unnamed workman in charge of this basket dug up a sizable marble fragment in the ground, one which is 2.4 cm thick, 15.3 cm high, and 12.4 cm wide, and then placed it in his basket unnoticed. Both (1) the digging up of it and (2) the placing of it into the basket went unnoticed. At the very least this was a terrible lapse in supervision—which was Vardaman’s responsibility.

What becomes clear is that the two critical moments in the discovery of fragment A were both due in one way or another to Vardaman. The first moment is the unearthing and placing of fragment A into debris basket D.V.9. This occurrence—contrary to all excavation procedure—could only take place if Vardaman suspended the proper exercise of supervision. The second moment is when basket D.V.9 was emptied into Attiah’s wheelbarrow. In contrast to the laxity which had just preceded, now Vardaman exercised extraordinary care and prescience. These two contrasting attitudes—extraordinary laxity followed by extraordinary attention— led directly to the discovery of fragment A.

Thus, the discovery of fragment A was extraordinary in every sense. It was directly dependent upon the changing attitude of the area supervisor Jerry Vardaman.

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About René Salm

René Salm is the author of two books on New Testament archeology and manages the companion website

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