By Gordon Franz
Ancient funerary monuments, sarcophagi, and ossuaries can tell much about the dead that can be instructive for the living today. The inscriptions about the dead can tell the living today what life was like in the past and can teach us lessons for life today. A visit to a cemetery can be an interesting, instructive, and a very informative experience.
When I was a student, and later a field trip instructor, at the Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem, I would give tours of the Protestant cemetery located behind the old Bishop Gobat School on Mount Zion. This cemetery contained the graves of the “Who’s Who” of the 19th and early 20th century Protestants living in Jerusalem. Most would recognize the name Horatio Spafford (1828-1888), the composer of the well loved hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.” As an archaeologist, I was keenly interested in the gravestones of Dr. Conrad Schick (1822-1901), an architect and early explorer of Jerusalem; Sir Flinders Petrie (1853-1942), the father of modern Biblical Archaeology; Dr. Clarence Fisher (1876-1941), one of the excavators of Samaria; James Leslie Starkey (1895-1938), the first excavator of Lachish; and other archaeologists and explorers of Jerusalem. As a believer in the Lord Jesus, I was moved by the epitaphs on some of the tombstones that expressed the assurance of eternal life for those who had placed their trust in the Lord Jesus as their personal Savior (I John 5:13).
The Older Women in the Church
The apostle Paul wrote a letter to his co-worker, Titus, who was laboring on the island of Crete that instructed him to “set in order the things that are lacking [in the churches on Crete], and appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5, all Scripture quotes are from the New King James Bible). He also told Titus to instruct the people in the churches about “things which are proper for sound doctrine” (2:1).
Of the older women in the churches, the Apostle Paul says they should be “reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things – that they admonish the younger women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the Word of God may not be blasphemed” (2:3-5). I would like to look at two phrases in this admonition: “to be lovers of (their) husbands, lovers of (their) children (philandrous einai philoteknous).”
The epitaphs on tombstones reveal much about an individual and how people viewed their life. In the graveyard of Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City is the tombstone of Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804). Among other things, he was an army office in the American Revolution, the first Secretary of the Treasury (1789-1795) and lost his life in a duel with Aaron Burr the vice president of the United States. His epitaph reads: “In testimony of their respect for the Patriot of incorruptible integrity, the Soldier of approved valour, the Statesman of consummate wisdom; whose talents and virtues will be admired by grateful posterity long after this marble shall have mouldered into dust.” The one thing we admire about Hamilton today is that we can carry him around in our wallet because he is on the front of the ten dollar bill! I can also report that after 204 years, his marble gravestone is still there. It has survived the air pollution in New York City, as well as the September 11th attack.
A Sarcophagus from Aphrodisias
The ancient city of Aphrodisias is located in the Caria region of southwestern Asia Minor in Turkey today. It was named after its patron goddess Aphrodites, the goddess of love and beauty, and had an impressive sanctuary built in her honor. The city was situated next to a marble quarry and was famous throughout the Greek and Roman world for the marble statues that were sculptured there.
Just outside the entrance of the Museum of Aphrodisias, there is a marble sarcophagus that was found in the area at the end of the 19th century. On it there is a Greek inscription with three panels that describe why this sarcophagus was made and who was placed in it. It said that the city council and the people of Aphrodisias wanted to honor the deceased – Pereitas Kallimedes, and his wife Tatia, because of certain characteristics and virtues they had observed in this couple. On the third panel, on the right side of the sarcophagus, is the dedication to Tatia. It is translated: “The City Council and the People honored Tatia, daughter of Diogenes, son of Diogenes, grandson of Demrtrios Phileman, a woman who was modest, who loved her husband and children and throughout her life was endowed with dignity and virtue, and who was wife of Pereitas Kallimedes, son of Diogenes, grandson of Apollonios a man who acted piously and munificently in his public offices, embassies and public duties and in his capacity as temple overseer” [emphasis mine]. She was known for her modesty, dignity, virtue, and she loved her husband and children. The same Greek words for “loved her husband and children” are used on this epitaph that is mentioned in Titus 2:4. There are hundreds of tombstones and sarcophagi in the Greek and Roman world that has these two phrases on them describing the deceased women, several were even found on the island of Crete.
There is no indication that Tatia was a Christian (her husband was the priest of a pagan temple), but we do know that she exemplified some of the things the Apostle Paul instructed the older women to teach the younger women to do in the book of Titus. Today, the older Christian woman should be modeling by her life and reaching by her lips, so that the younger Christian woman will know how to love her husband and children. Perhaps someday he tombstone will also read, “She loved her husband, she loved her children.”