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The Secret Symbol

The Chevron and the Circle

East Talpiot, Jerusalem. March 30, 1980. The Tomb of the Ten Ossuaries. Excavation Day One.

Upon their arrival, the first thing archaeologists Josef Gat, Amos Kloner and Shimon Gibson noted was the strange symbol over the door to the Jesus tomb, on the south face of the antechamber. They had never seen another like it: a decorative V- or Y-shaped gable or chevron over a prominent circle. It measured more than a meter wide, a quite beautifully rendered stone relief sculpture. All three archaeologists knew that the splendor of the façade, especially in a tomb with no other decorative features, was extremely rare.

Bones had been placed in the antechamber directly underneath the chevron symbol, possibly deliberately. This too was decidedly not typical. In ancient Jerusalem, the dead were placed inside tombs; in tombs, the dead were placed inside ossuaries. What were human bones doing under the symbol? Whose bones were they? Were they connected with the unprecedented symbol over the passage into the tomb?

Symbols are shifty things. A fish, for example, can represent Christianity, depict the sign of Pisces, or stand for a manufacturer's brand of frozen seafood. So it is with the chevron and the circle found on the “Tomb of the Ten Ossuaries.” We can look for other symbols that pre- and post-date it to try to pinpoint influence. We can say what it is like. But we cannot say for sure. That job is for some future historian.

The symbol in question has no precedent, but it is in use today, a diacritical mark used by modern typographers. No connection there. It is used astrologically to represent something called quadruplicity, or the quality of cardinality. And though astrology is ancient—more than 6 000 years old—the symbol of quadruplicity was not used until at least the Middle Ages. No help there either.


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