The Netherbury Tombstone

Articles Image

9 The Netherbury Tombstone.

In Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries, vol. xiv. part cvi. (Sher borne, June 1914), will be found an account of a very curious Tombstone in Netherbury Churchyard, Dorset. The stone dates from 1819 c.E., a date at which country churchyards usually present very little attraction to scholars. But this one is both interesting and puzzling. Its main interest lies in the fact that it has nin^ BHp (Holiness unto the Lord, Exodus xxviii. 36) inscribed upon it in Old-Hebrew Qlbri) characters, and the puzzle is how this bit of Semitic lore should have taken root in a remote nook of rural England.

The inscription runs as follows (Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries, p. 75):

41

The line in Old Hebrew letters, referred to in the above transcript, runs thus :-

42

In the Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries the transcript of the stone is followed by an excellent letter from Dom R. H. Connolly, of Downside Abbey, giving information about the character of the lettering, and pointing out that the person who designed the Hebrew inscription was probably acquainted with the statements in Josephus (Ant. iii. 7, viii. 3). To this letter I commend anyone who may be interested in the stone. My main purpose, however, in writing this Note is to urge that while the Tombstone shows a remarkable knowledge of Hebrew, there is nothing to suggest that the persons buried were Jews, or indeed that they had any connection with Jewish, as distinct from " Old Testament," learning.

In the first place, Daniel Symes seems to have been of a yeoman family long settled in the neighbourhood. The name Symes means the same as Simpson or Simmondson, i.e. Son of Simon, a name quite as often Christian in origin as Jewish. Bettey Symes seems to have been the daughter of Charles and Mary Pain, baptized 8 January 1744. Further, I imagine that a Jew or crypto-Jew would have put some word or words reminiscent of Jewish epitaph forms on his tombstone. Indeed, the employment of the Old-Hebrew Alphabet and of the Tetragramma ton strikes me as un-Je wish: it is a piece of Gentile erudition rather than of Jewish piety.

The question therefore arises whence Mr. and Mrs. Symes derived their curious knowledge. They may, of course, have been helped by the parson, but I cannot find that he was a known scholar; and if it had been his work we might have expected to find it on other tombs in the churchyard. In any case, we ought to look out for something not too erudite, something about Bible-learning in English. Mr. Abrahams' suggestion to Dom Connolly that the source was Josephus, is, I think, on the right track; Josephus was much read in England, especially in Whiston's translation. Unfortunately this type of Hebrew lettering does not occur in any edition of Josephus that I have seen. The nearest

Become a member to read the full article
Become a member today

£7

24 hour access to JHSE online resources

Instant access to over 700 articles View the original articles as a PDF
Learn More

£40

Annual JHSE Membership

Members are entitled to a free copy of the latest Jewish Historical Studies, free access to our online resources and associate membership of the UCL Library in London.  In addition, they receive the JHSE Newsletter, special offers on books for sale and pay less to attend our series of lectures and other public events.
Learn More

£20

Student Membership

The JHSE want to encourage students to engage with Jewish history.  Apply for a Student Membership with your university email account and once we have verified your status you will soon have all the benefits of being a full JHSE member.
Learn More

£80

Associate your Institution with the JHSE

Give your members access to JHSE online resources and special offers on book sales.  Use your institutional email account when applying, and once your status is verified we will explain the scheme.  Preferred payment is by credit or debit card.
Learn More
0

Your Cart