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Professor Translates 1,700-Year-Old Obituary From Ancient Greek

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

An obituary has recently been translated. In peace and blessing, Ama Helene, a Jew, who loves the orphans, died. For about 60 years, her path was one of mercy and blessing. On it she prospered. The death notice is 1,700 years old and inscribed on a small piece of limestone.

It was found in Egypt but written in ancient Greek. The epitaph has been in a rare books room in the University of Utah since it was donated in 1989 and labeled incorrectly as Coptic. But Lincoln K. Blumell, an associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young, saw the inscription a couple of weeks ago, recognized the early Greek alphabet and translated the epitaph.

Professor Blumell says that although Helene is identified as Jewish, the title Ama was an honorific for nuns and other esteemed Christian women at the time and that caring for orphans was selfless and rare.

That Helene lived for about 60 years is remarkable. Life expectancy in those times for women was just 25. Professor Blumell says this is a beautiful remembrance and tribute to this woman and that he wished we could learn more about her. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.