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The Netherlands Tombstone

F. C. Burkitt

<plain_text><page sequence="1">xxxiv MISCELLANIES. 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): agemento Q?oti [Hebrew line : see Facsimile below.] IN MEMORY of Bettey Symes Who flept with the Fathers [Jan.] : the 27th a.d. 1819 aged 75 Years - also - of Daniel Symes who departed this Life Jfyril 18th 1824: zAged 78 Tears. The field of God is fown with the feeds of the Refurrection.</page><page sequence="2">THE NETHERB?RY TOMBSTONE. XXXV The line in Old Hebrew letters, referred to in the above transcript, runs thus :? 7 V&gt; 3-V A W T P 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</page><page sequence="3">xxxvi MISCELLANIES. not occur in any edition of Josephus that I have seen. The nearest is the picture of the High Priest's headband in the original folio edition of Whiston's Josephus, but there the letters are clearly Samaritan, like the Samaritan type used in eighteenth-century printed books. The letters on the tombstone are more like the letters on silver shekels. Still nearer are the letters on the picture of the High Priest's Breastplate in the 1730 edition (French) of Calmet's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. iii. p. 352. In this picture the names of the twelve precious stones are written in cIbri characters very like those on the tomb. All the letters required occur, except vav, and the vav on the tomb is con? spicuously inferior in shape to the rest. I can scarcely claim to have unearthed the actual source of Daniel Symes's erudition; in fact, I should not be satisfied until I could find a picture, accessible to him, of Aaron's Petalon with Tfiivb tSHp exhibited thereon in the required lettering. And further, we need to account for the curious phrases about " sleeping with the Fathers " and the " Field of God." I think the composition was due to Daniel Symes himself, for the three lines recording his own death are quite commonplace ; moreover, the two final lines about the Field of God are in the same lettering as those about the Fathers. It was easy to leave a sufficient space blank for Daniel's own name, to be added afterwards. All the interest therefore of this curious tombstone is in the part commemorating Bettey Symes, erected while her widowed husband was still alive. He must have been an odd character in this Wessex village a hundred years ago ! F. C. Buekitt. April 1915.</page></plain_text>