A New Jewish Epitaph Commemorating Care for Orphans


Inscriptions; epitaphs; Egypt; Roman period


This article presents an edition of a previously unpublished Greek epitaph in the J. Willard Marriot Library at the University of Utah. The inscription commemorates a woman by the name of Helene who is identified as a Ἰουδαία and who was remembered for showing love to orphans. While Helene is identified as a Ἰουδαία she is also styled as an Ἄµα, a title that otherwise only occurs for certain Christian women in late antique Egypt. Thus, this inscription appears to resist a straightforward classification as it employs terminology that straddles religious categories.1

Keywords: Inscriptions; epitaphs; Egypt; Roman period

In 1989 the J. Willard Marriot Library of the University of Utah was bequeathed a Greek inscription from the collection of the late Aziz Atiya.2 Regrettably, the catalogue record by Atiya is very sparse and only mentions the date of acquisition by the library and provides a very brief (inaccurate) description and analysis of the piece.3While the provenance of the inscription is not given, it almost certainly comes from Egypt where Atiya, a native, frequently visited and procured various Arabic, Coptic, and Greek artifacts.4 Though the inscription is fairly small and only contains a six-line epitaph for a woman named Helene, there are a number of interesting features about the epitaph that make it significant: (1) the deceased, Helene, bears the epithet “Jew” (Ἰουδαία) so that this inscription is one of only a handful of funerary inscriptions that attest this designation;5 (2) the epitaph commemorates Helene’s love for orphans, a noteworthy feature of this inscription that is not attested elsewhere; and (3) Helene is given the title “Ama” (ἄµα). This last point is especially significant because the title is otherwise only used for Christian holy women or monastics (i.e., nuns) in late antique Egypt where it appears with some frequency in Greek and Coptic inscriptions and papyri. Thus, while Helene is identified as a “Jew” she is also identified with a title that only appears in Christian contexts, complicating what otherwise could be a straightforward assessment of this epitaph.

Original Publication Citation

“A New Jewish Epitaph Commemorating Care for Orphans.” Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Periods 47 (2016): 310–329.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


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Religious Education


Ancient Scripture

University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor