Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Tomb of Zachariah Found

With an interesting twist...

From the Star-News Online:

The discovery was a stroke of luck: the light of the setting sun hit an ancient tomb at just the right angle and revealed hints of a worn inscription, unnoticed for centuries, commemorating the father of John the Baptist.

"This is the tomb of Zachariah, martyr, very pious priest, father of John," the inscription of 47 Greek letters reads.

Was John the Baptist's father a martyr? Evidently the early church linked the Zachariah mentioned in the writings of Josephus (or indeed they knew of the actual case) with that of John's father:

The Gospel of Luke describes him as an elderly man from the priestly caste of Abijah who, while burning incense in the Temple one day, was told by an angel that his wife Elizabeth, also advanced in years, would bear a son, who was later to become John the Baptist.

Jewish historian Josephus writes that a priest named Zachariah was slain by Zealots in the Temple and thrown into the Kidron Valley below - which would explain the "martyr" reference in the Greek text.

The inscription suggests that local Christians believed Zachariah was buried at the site of the tomb. But because hundreds of years had passed from his death to the inscription, and with no other corroboration, Zias and other scholars say they'll never know for sure.