At the end of December 1990, one of the most significant New Testament-related archaeological discoveries ever made came to light in Jerusalem. Park construction workers accidentally exposed a Second Temple-period tomb, which archaeologist Zvi Greenhut of the Israel Antiquities Authority was called to excavate. Some of the ossuaries found in the tomb were inscribed with the name “Caiaphas,” and it soon became clear that this was a tomb belonging to the Caiaphas family.
The ossuaries Zvi Greenhut excavated from a burial cave in the south of Jerusalem bear several inscriptions. These are actually graffiti in the cursive style of Jewish script typical of ossuary inscriptions, and were incised with a sharp implement, probably by the relatives of those who were being buried. The language of the inscriptions is Aramaic which, together with Hebrew and Greek, was one of the three languages used by Jews in the Second Temple period.
The detailed description of Jesus’ visit to the Nazareth synagogue found in Luke 4:16-21 provides substantial information about synagogue life and customs in the early first century C.E. An examination of this passage will help us understand Jesus more clearly and accurately. This account in Luke’s Gospel agrees with other contemporary and especially rabbinic sources. Together they provide a complete picture of the synagogue in that period.
According to Jewish religious law, women were allowed in every area of the Temple precincts in which men were allowed. The Mishnah specifies areas within the Temple that non-priests were not allowed to enter, but it does not differentiate between men and women.
According to the gospel of Luke, Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth was of the “daughters of Aaron,” that is the daughter of a priest. It was common in that period to refer to people of priestly stock as descendants of Aaron. For example, a first-century inscription found in Jerusalem in 1971 mentions the heroic exploits of a person who introduces himself as: “I Abba son of the priest Eleaz[ar] the son of the great Aaron.”
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