Learning from Greek Inscriptions in Tiberias

Learning from Greek Inscriptions in Tiberias

Last year in the Greek immersion workshop in Galilee we were able to view some inscriptions in situ. The inscriptions are fun to read and provide a good learning experience. They can even be viewed over the internet.

I’ve uploaded a picture of a text. Can you read any pieces of it? What can we learn from it? Comments are welcome.

A job well done

Dedicatory Greek inscription at 4th cent. CE synagogue in Hammat Tiberias

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19 Comments

  1. randall June 9, 2011 at 11:04 am

    There are quite a few points of interest in this inscription. The writing is continuous, of course, without spaces between words. The words are all fairly common except for a personal name. As a hint of what is possible to learn:

    Can anyone find evidence that the Greek speakers were pronouncing their ει as ι [that is EI as I]?

    What grammatical features are illustrated?

    What social values or interactions are illustrated?

    Is anything curious about the shapes of some of the letters?

    The last word is Hebrew: shalom. Those that know Hebrew or Aramaic may also want to comment on the content in comparison to other inscriptions in the Galilee.

    One comment per feature will allow several an opportunity to interact.

  2. Ed Cook June 9, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    The beginning of the inscription seems to be equivalent to Aramaic dedicatory inscriptions beginning דכיר לטב.

  3. randall June 10, 2011 at 10:11 am

    yes, μνησθη εισ αγαθον is like דכיר לטב. Perhaps someone on the Greek side would like to put an accent on the verb and/or discuss its grammar/syntax?

  4. Jeremiah June 12, 2011 at 10:52 am

    The nu looks like the English “N” rather than “V”

  5. randall June 12, 2011 at 11:04 am

    Yes, νῦ looks like ‘N’. “μῦ’, too, is the ‘old uncial’ style rather than the miniscule style that developed after the 9th century.

    So after recognizing that the inscription is in what are today called ‘majuscules’ and ‘capital letters’, there are a couple of items that cannot be taken for granted in the shapes.
    Can you deduce why there are two shapes to o-mikron and iota?

    What does this tell you about o-mega?

  6. Jeremiah June 12, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    It seems inconsistent to me, the omicron is large in the eulogian in line two but not in the eulogia in line 4. The smaller vowels tend to occur near tau, upsilon, and pi. Perhaps a clue?

  7. randall June 12, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    Sure. But the clue is the answer. The small letters are made to fit under or above letters that have something stick out. The ταῦ has a bar that sticks out. By putting the omicron under the bar some space could be saved. E-psilon, nu, and iota all have examples of this space saving, too.

    So how about pronunciation and syntax issues?

  8. D June 21, 2011 at 9:52 am

    This is the best I can do:

    ΜΝΗΣΘΗ ΕΙΣ ΑΓΑΘΟΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΙΣ ΕΥΛΟΓΙΑΝ ΠΡΟΦΟΤΟΥΡΟΣ Ο ΜΙΖΟΤΕΡΟΣ ΕΠΟΙΗΣ ΕΝ ΤΗ ΝΕΤΟΑΝ ΤΑΥΤΗΝ ΤΟΥ ΑΓΙΟΥ ΤΟΠΟΥ ΕΥΛΟΓΙΑ ΑΥΤΩ
    MNHSQH EIS AGAQON KAI EIS EULOGIAN PROFOTOUROS O MIZOTEROS EPOIHSEN THN ETOAN TAUTHN TOU AGIOU TOPOU EULOGIA AUTW
    remember for good and for praise
    the greater ??? did/made this roofed colonnade of the holy place
    praise to him
    (I checked “ETOAN” on Perseus but I still don’t know what a “roofed colonnade” is!)

    What are the missing bits and did I get others wrong?

  9. D June 21, 2011 at 9:57 am

    A few typos and mistakes:

    ΜΝΗΣΘΗ ΕΙΣ ΑΓΑΘΟΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΙΣ ΕΥΛΟΓΙΑΝ ΠΡΟΦΟΤΟΥΡΟΣ Ο ΜΙΖΟΤΕΡΟΣ ΕΠΟΙΗΣΕΝ ΤΗΝ ΕΤΟΑΝ ΤΑΥΤΗΝ ΤΟΥ ΑΓΙΟΥ ΤΟΠΟΥ ΕΥΛΟΓΙΑ ΑΥΤΩ
    MNHSQH EIS AGAQON KAI EIS EULOGIAN PROFOTOUROS O MIZOTEROS EPOIHSEN THN ETOAN TAUTHN TOU AGIOU TOPOU EULOGIA AUTW
    might he be remembered for good and for praise
    the greater ??? did/made this roofed colonnade of the holy place
    praise to him

  10. randall June 21, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    ΜΝΗΣΘΗ ΕΙΣ ΑΓΑΘΟΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΙΣ ΕΥΛΟΓΙΑΝ ΠΡΟΦΟΤΟΥΡΟΣ Ο ΜΙΖΟΤΕΡΟΣ ΕΠΟΙΗΣΕΝ ΤΗΝ ΕΤΟΑΝ ΤΑΥΤΗΝ ΤΟΥ ΑΓΙΟΥ ΤΟΠΟΥ ΕΥΛΟΓΙΑ ΑΥΤΩ

    That is a good reading of the text, with one correction needed. The phrase in the middle is ΤΗΝ ΣΤΟΑΝ ΤΑΥΤΗΝ ‘this pillared meeting-room’, ‘stoa’.
    Look carefully at the letters and you will see a little discoloration on one of the tiles but the letter is sigma, not e-psilon.

  11. D June 22, 2011 at 11:51 am

    Oh yes I guessed after finding “STOAN” and not “ETOAN” on Perseus but forgot to change my transcription. But what/who is “PROFOTOUROS”?

  12. Vasiliki June 23, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Perhaps profotouros is not one word but a combination.

    As an Orthodox Christian who is of Greek origin the first thing that jumped to my mind is “pro” + “fotou” the “ros” component is either part of the next string of the sentence or ??

  13. randall June 23, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    I assume that Profotouros the elder is the name of a person.

    Anyone want to comment on o mizoteros? I think that it is quite revealing of the processes at work in the Greek language.

  14. David June 28, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Dr Buth, ΜΙΖΟΤΕΡΟΣ is quite interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    Like you asked at the beginning, most lexicons would spell μιζότερος here as μειζότερος, regarding it as a later comparative form instead of μείζων, which shows I suppose a simplification or regularization (did I make that up?) of the language. And like you said, this is evidence that Greek speakers were pronouncing ει as ι.

    Approximately what year is this inscription from?
    Is this a Christian or Jewish synagogue?

  15. randall June 28, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    χαῖρε Δαυειδ,

    Yes, you are reading the text correctly. μιζοτερος is a funny form, approximately “more bigger/more older” in English. It is something that entered the language and is already attested in 3John 4 in the GNT. And it is evidence that joins thousands of examples of EI=I, I=EI. It provides a sense of solidarity for visiting students who may be reading the inscription with the same pronunciation. I remember the surprised expression of one student visiting the Tsipori synagogue and seeing και “and” written as κε, “Hey, they pronounce Greek like we do!” Well, I guess one could say that.

    As for the Tiberian synagogue, it is Jewish, of course. Probably from the fourth century CE, but this inscription is on a side portico and I don’t know if it is from the time of the synagogue or possibly from a century or two later. One could check the archaeological reports. In any case, it is Byzantine, which in Israel means from the time of Constitine up to the Islamic invasion in the 7th century.

  16. Νικόλαος Nikolaos Adamou August 10, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Randall,
    next to AMHN there are four letters that seem Hebrew to me
    what do they mean?

    Thanks
    Thanks for the picture and the discussion as well.

  17. randall August 10, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    It is “shalom” ΕΙΡΗΝΗ

  18. Nikos the greek August 18, 2011 at 2:48 am

    Εὐχαριστῶ

  19. Achaios May 25, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    I think that the good professor will be delighted to know that the surname “Fatouros” survives to this day in my hometown, of Patras, Achaea. “Profotouros” is a very clearly Latin influenced surname “λατινίζων”, and is what an early Byzantine Greek speaker from the provinces would typically call himself. I imagine though that the surname itself would probably sound funny to contemporary Italians. The “mizoteros” is ofc, a peculiar Greek form and a translation for the Latin “Senior”, or “Sr”. The word itself is no longer extant. Like you said sir, he misspelled that idd, as he ought to have written “ΜΕΙΖΟΤΕΡΟΣ¨”. So, here we have a Greek speaker who thought of himself in Latin terms, e.g. “Profoturus Sr”, lol. 🙂 My respect to you and your work, sir.

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