Zev Radovan

“Theodotus, freedman of Queen Agrippina, ossuary.” This inscription from the Goliath family tomb tells a man’s life story in a single line (see close-up of inscription). Theodotus (meaning “gift of God”) is the Greek form of Nathanel, a name found in another ossuary inscription—“Mariah daughter of Nathanel”—in the Goliath family tomb, but not on its own ossuary. Nathanel was probably arrested during some civil disturbance in Judea and transported to Rome, where he was enslaved and his name was changed from Nathanel to Theodotus. There he served Queen Agrippina, the wife of Emperor Claudius, mother of Nero, and patron of the Jewish community. When she freed Theodotus, he automatically gained Roman citizenship and special status as someone who had been associated with the imperial family. Sometime after his return to Jericho, he died and was buried with his family. Written in ink on the upper right-hand corner of the limestone box, his inscription has several interesting features: the rare appearance of the Greek word for ossuary (soros), the only mention found on an ossuary thus far of Queen Agrippina and the only non-Jewish name in the tomb.