No less than 1,600 Jewish epitaphs—funerary inscriptions—are extant from ancient Palestine and the Diaspora dating to the Hellenistic and Roman-Byzantine periods (300 B.C.E.–500 C.E.a). They tell us a great deal about the life and ideas of Jews living almost all over the then-known world. This, in turn, sheds considerable light on problems of Jewish history, as well as on Biblical history and exegesis.
New Testament scholars are increasingly studying their sources in the light of Jewish literature of the period, yet strangely enough, the sometimes startling evidence of funerary inscriptions is often ignored. Many scholars simply seem unaware of this evidence. The exceptions stand out: G. H. R. Horsley’s five-volume New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity1 is one; Martin Hengel’s Judaism and Hellenism and The Hellenization of Judaea in the First Century After Christ are others.2