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Unearthing ancient faith: Byzantine Greek inscription of Psalms 86 found in Hyrcania

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Archaeologists from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Archaeology recently carried out preliminary excavation at the ancient site of Hyrcania in the northern Judean Desert, coming at the heels of increased activity by antiquities looters.

Built upon an imposing, artificially leveled hilltop situated approximately 17 km southeast of Jerusalem and 8 km southwest of Qumran and the Dead Sea, this was one of a series of desert-fortresses first established by the Hasmonean dynasty in the late 2nd or early 1st century BCE—named in honor of John Hyrcanus—and later rebuilt and enlarged by Herod the Great. The most famous and luxurious of these strongholds are Masada and Herodium.


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A 1,500-year-old text recording a section of Psalm 86 — also known as "A prayer of David" — has been discovered in what was a monastery in the West Bank.  The text is written in Koine Greek, a language often used in early copies of the New Testament, the team said in a statement. It was inscribed on a building block located on the floor of the monastery and has a cross drawn on it. The text reads, "Jesus Christ, guard me, for I am poor and needy," which is incorrect. The psalm actually says, "Hear me, Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Guard my life, for I am faithful to you," the researchers said in the statement.

The ancient monastery is located at the site of Hyrcania and was built on the remains of a 2,100-year-old fortress constructed by the Hasmoneans, a dynasty of Jewish rulers that controlled the region at the time. The monastery was built in 492 and was named Kastellion, or "Little Castle," in ancient Greek, according to the statement. 


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Posted (edited)

Not so much "incorrect" as an intentional paraphrase to adapt the psalm for Christian use, I think. There's some support for that idea here, too:



Dr. Ecker was able to identify the readable text as a paraphrase of Psalms 86: 1–2, known as "a prayer of David." While the original lines are "Hear me, Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Guard my life, for I am faithful to you," the Hyrcania version reads:

† Ἰ(η)σοῦ Χ(ριστ)ὲ
φύλαξ<ο>ν με ὅτι
[π]τ<ω>χὸς (καὶ)
[π]έν[ης] <εἰ>μὶ <ἐ>γώ

† "Jesus Christ, guard me, for I am poor and needy."

Dr. Ecker explains, "This psalm holds a special place in the Masoretic text as a designated prayer and is notably one of the most frequently recited psalms in Christian liturgy. Thus, the monk drew a graffito of a cross onto the wall, accompanied by a prayer with which he was very familiar."

The psalm is numbered 85 in the Septuagint (the ancient Greek language translation of the Hebrew scriptures). The ὅτι πτωχὸς καὶ πένης εἰμὶ ἐγώ (for needy and poor am I), starting at the last word of second line and continuing through the end of the inscription agrees with the Septuagint. The opening "Jesus Christ guard me" seems a complete and outright Christian substitution for the longer Jewish "Lord, incline your ear and listen to me," not an incorrect attempt to render the original.

IMO, of course.

Oh, just a bit of off-topic comparative religion trivia, this psalm has the line (85/86:8) "There is none like you, O Lord, among the gods" (both in Hebrew and Greek versions), perhaps a "soft" acknowledgment of polytheism, one of the few salted throughout the Jewish Bible.

Edited by eight bits
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