Jerusalem hills cave reveals layers of history
During the Bar-Kokhba Revolt (132–136 C.E.), Jewish rebels sought refuge from the Roman army in secret hideouts throughout Judea. One such hideout was the Te’omim Cave, a massive cave complex in the Jerusalem hills west of the city. There, within the innermost chambers of the cave, archaeologists discovered three hoards of Roman, Judean and revolt coins, weapons and pottery evidently hidden by the rebels.
The Te’omim Cave wasn’t just a safe haven for Jewish insurgents. In “Roman Cult, Jewish Rebels Share Jerusalem Cave Site” in the November/December 2017 issue of BAR, Boaz Zissu, Eitan Klein, Roi Porat, Boaz Langford and Amos Frumkin describe the multiple uses of the Jerusalem hills cave throughout antiquity, including its role as a pagan cultic site in the second–fourth centuries C.E.
The first comprehensive survey of the Te’omim Cave was conducted by C.R. Conder and H.H. Kitchener on behalf of the Survey of Western Palestine in 1873. Excavations were subsequently carried out at the cave complex in the 1920s and 1970s. Since 2009, the BAR authors have been studying the Jerusalem hills cave as part of a joint project between the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University and the Cave Research Center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The current researchers of the Te’omim Cave believe they have found evidence that the cave complex, with its deep pit and inner spring, became a pagan cultic site in the Late Roman and early Byzantine periods. Excavations uncovered a large assemblage of oil lamps and coins dating to these periods in the entrance hall of the cave; most of the lamps were even placed in hard-to-reach crevices. The discovery and placement of the oil lamps echo those found in Greco-Roman cultic sites dedicated to the goddesses Demeter and Persephone throughout the Mediterranean. As the BAR authors explain:
Shafts, pits, water sources, wells and caverns were viewed as possible entrances to the netherworld. … Caves and deep pits that were cultic sites were often associated with Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture and the harvest, and her daughter Persephone, the goddess of spring. Greek mythology recounts that Persephone was abducted by Hades, god of the underworld, and made his wife. She spends part of the year (winter) in the underworld with her husband and the rest of the year above ground with her mother. …
If the worshiped deities in the Te’omim Cave were indeed Demeter and Persephone, it could be that the lamps were placed in hard-to-reach crevices as offerings and to assist Demeter in her search for Persephone.
Take a deep dive into the Te’omim Cave in the Jerusalem hills and explore more of the mysterious and fascinating artifacts that have come to light by reading the full article “Roman Cult, Jewish Rebels Share Jerusalem Cave Site” by Boaz Zissu, Eitan Klein, Roi Porat, Boaz Langford and Amos Frumkin in the November/December 2017 issue of BAR.
BAS Library Members: Read the full article “Roman Cult, Jewish Rebels Share Jerusalem Cave Site” by Boaz Zissu, Eitan Klein, Roi Porat, Boaz Langford and Amos Frumkin in the November/December 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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