BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Mikva’ot in Galilean Caves Suggest Lives of Refuge and Religion

Bible and Archaeology News

Recent investigations have identified five mikva’ot (singular: mikveh), or Jewish ritual baths, in caves on the Galilean cliffs of Arbel, revealing the religious orientation of the inhabitants. Priests and others found refuge in remote caves at Arbel during the Great Jewish Revolt against the Romans and after the destruction of the Second Temple. Artifacts found nearby reveal that the inhabitants lived subsistence-level lifestyles in crowded conditions, but the complex construction required for mikva’ot shows that religion took a top priority.

Researcher Yinon Shivtiel told reporters from Haaretz that “the preparation of mikvehs in these places is not amazing just because of the physical difficulty in digging them, but because in doing so one needs to cope with all the specifics of Jewish law that a mikveh demands, primarily a source of flowing water and an immersion area that has a specific volume.”

The mikva’ot at Arbel received their water from stalactites dripping above them or from tunnels dug outside the rock walls of the caves. Shivtiel and Vladimir Boslov have identified over 500 refuge caves in the steep cliffs, as well as the two most recent mikva’ot. Archaeologist Ronny Reich documented the first three mikva’ot and discussed the evidence for mikva’ot at Sepphoris in Biblical Archaeology Review.*

Recent investigations by researcher Yinon Shivtiel (pictured here) and others have identified five mikva’ot, or Jewish ritual baths, in caves on the Galilean cliffs of Arbel, revealing the highly religious orientation of the inhabitants. Photo by Liora Ben Haim, Haaretz

* Ronny Reich, They Are Ritual Baths: Immerse yourself in the ongoing Sepphoris mikveh debate Biblical Archaeology Review, Mar/Apr 2002.

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