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Discovery of Ancient Hebrew Tombstone in India

Discovery in Tamil Nadu Reveals Historic Jewish Presence.

A remarkable discovery has been made in southern India—a Hebrew-inscribed tombstone dating back to the 13th century. Unearthed on a coconut farm in Ramanathapuram, Tamil Nadu, this find offers new insights into the historical Jewish presence in the region.

Thoufeek Zakriya, a Jewish history researcher and Hebrew calligrapher, was the first to decipher the inscription. He revealed to The Week, an Indian English-language news magazine, that the tombstone dates to 1224 or 1225 C.E. “This means that it is older than the Sarah Bat Israel Tombstone in Kerala’s Chennamangalam, which was previously considered the oldest Hebrew tombstone ever identified in India,” Zakriya stated.

The tombstone came to light thanks to Hathim Ali, a 32-year-old chemical engineer and history enthusiast. “One of my friends informed me about this tombstone found in the coconut farm owned by Mr. Balu,” Ali shared with The Week. Initially, he could not identify the script, suspecting it was neither Tamil nor Arabic. Upon further inspection, he speculated it could be Hebrew.

Ali’s discovery was first reported in the Tamil-language newspaper Dinamalar. This report caught the attention of Zakriya, who works in the United Arab Emirates. He learned about it through Rajaguru, president of the Ramanathapuram Archaeological Research Foundation. Zakriya then contacted Ali, who sent him photos of the tombstone for detailed analysis.

“The Hebrew inscription bears the date as the 1st of Shvat (Hebrew month) 1536 or 1537 of the Seleucid era,” Zakriya explained. Converting this date from the Seleucid era to the Common Era indicated the tombstone's date as approximately January 1, 1224 AD, or January 18, 1225 AD.

Although Zakriya could not decipher every line due to damage, he identified a partial name that could be read as Nehemiah in Hebrew. “The initial analysis shows a strong Yemeni Jewish influence in the tombstone’s pattern,” Zakriya noted. Unfortunately, the names of the deceased and his father remain unclear due to the inscription's condition.

This discovery not only predates other known Hebrew inscriptions in India but also underscores the historical spread of Jewish communities far beyond their traditionally known settlements. The tombstone provides a tangible connection to the past, revealing the rich tapestry of cultural and religious exchanges that have occurred in India over centuries.

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