Researchers have deciphered a 1,700-year-old obituary – and its subject has been revealed as a kind-hearted Jewish woman.
The obituary, inscribed on an Egyptian limestone slab roughly the size of a tablet computer, had lain untranslated since its donation to the University of Utah in 1989.
But scholars have now cracked its ancient Greek inscription – a posthumous tribute to a female Jew named Helene.
The obituary reads: “In peace and blessing Ama Helene, a Jew, who loves the orphans, died.
“For about 60 years her path was one of mercy and blessing; on it she prospered.”
Experts have hailed the discovery as a watershed moment in the study of the history of the Jewish community in Egypt.
Jews were subject to harsh reprisals and numbers plummeted after their bloody revolt in A.D. 115-117.
Remarkably, however, Helene lived for more than twice as long as most of her Egyptian contemporaries – whose comparatively meagre innings are said to have amounted to just 25 years on average.
Academics say Helene’s obituary, thought to have been written the following century, provides valuable insight into the diaspora in the subsequent years.
It has also been praised as a “very personal story put to cold stone” by university curator Luise Poulton.