Chasing 5th-Century Clues From a Woman’s Tombstone

The New York Times Features Students in Dr. Steven Fine’s Ancient Jewish History Class Who Are Deciphering a Unique Artifact 

They figured out her first name, but not her father’s. They know where and when she died, but not her age or the cause of death. They could not tell whether she was married.

Dr. Steven Fine
Dr. Steven Fine with the tombstone

This is a detective story, but not the ripped-from-the-headlines kind. The woman died more than 1,600 years ago, in what is now Jordan. The detectives are a few students at Yeshiva University in Upper Manhattan and a professor who is sometimes called the Jewish Robert Langdon, referring to the fictional Harvard professor of iconology in the Dan Brown books and the movie “The Da Vinci Code.”

All they had to go on was the woman’s tombstone. And at first, they did not even have that, just photographs of it.

Here are the facts of the case:

In March 2012, the professor, Steven Fine, who is also the director of Yeshiva’s Center for Israel Studies, wrote an article for the magazine Biblical Archaeology Review about Jewish tombstones in the ancient city of Zoar, which most scholars say was on the Dead Sea. It was such an oasis, according to one account, that a sixth-century mapmaker drew a grove of palm trees as a symbol for it.

Dr. Fine soon heard from one of the magazine’s readers, the Rev. Carl Morgan of Woodland United Fellowship, a church in Woodland, Calif. Read full article in The New York Times