JERUSALEM — The barely legible name "Simon" carved in Greek letters high on the weather-beaten facade of an ancient burial monument led to the discovery of six inscribed lines of the Gospel verse Luke 2:25, researchers said Thursday.
Archeological finds confirming biblical narrative or referring to figures from the Bible are rare, and this is believed to be the first discovery of a New Testament verse carved onto an ancient Holy Land shrine, said inscriptions expert Emile Puech, who deciphered the writing.
The inscription declares that the 60-foot-high monument is the tomb of Simon, a devout Jew who the Bible says cradled the infant Jesus and recognized him as the Messiah.
It's unlikely that Simon is buried there because the monument is one of several built for Jerusalem's aristocracy at the time of Jesus.
However, the inscription does back up what until now were scant references to a Byzantine-era belief that three biblical figures -- Simon, Zachariah and James, 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 facade. Puech and Joe Zias, a physical anthropologist, continued to study the monument. Applying a "squeeze" -- spreading a kind of papier mache over a surface -- they uncovered the Simon inscription. Now, they hope to complete the trio by finding writing referring to James.
There have been historical references to a Byzantine belief of joint burial of the three, although there is no evidence they were actually buried together.
Zias presented the find at an annual conference of the American Schools of Oriental Research in Atlanta.
The Zachariah and Simon inscriptions were chiseled into what is known today as Absalom's Tomb, one of three large funerary monuments built in the Kidron Valley for the city's rich. It is unlikely that Absalom, a son of King David, is buried there, since it was built several hundred years after his death.
Kidron Valley is located between Jerusalem's Old City and the Mount of Olives.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 a Greek version of Simon.
The passage is identical to the Gospel verse Luke 2:25, as it appears in a 4th century version of the Bible, the Codex Sinaiticus, which was later revised extensively.