Private Lives of Jerusalem Elites Revealed in Mt. Zion Excavations

Bible and archaeology news

A bath chamber with bathtub and adjoining mikveh were found in the remains of a first-century C.E. mansion on Mt. Zion. Only four such bath structures dating to the Second Temple period have been found in Israel. Courtesy James Tabor/UNC.

A recent press release issued by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte details finds from the Mt. Zion excavations that may shed light on the domestic lives of Jewish elites in Jerusalem. The archaeological team, led by Shimon Gibson and James Tabor, uncovered the lower levels of what appears to be a first-century C.E. mansion that may have belonged to a member of the Jewish ruling priestly caste.

Among the structures discovered in this mansion are a vaulted bath chamber with a bathtub connected to a large mikveh. According to the press release, this is only the fourth bathroom dated to the Second Temple period ever found in Israel. An almost identical and contemporaneous bath chamber with attached mikveh from a palatial mansion attributed to a priestly family has been excavated in the Jewish Quarter.

The free eBook Life in the Ancient World guides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and articles on ancient practices—from dining to makeup—across the Mediterranean world.

A dozen murex shells were discovered at this site. Dye may have been extracted from the murex sea snails and sealed in small vessels. Courtesy James Tabor/UNC.

Furthermore, a dozen or so murex shells were found at this Mt. Zion mansion, representing the largest number of such shells found in excavations of first-century Jerusalem. While the number of shells would have been too low to suggest that a dye industry took place at this site, Tabor tells Bible History Daily that dye may have been extracted from the murex sea snails and sealed in unguentaria, small ceramic or glass vessels. The shells were punctured with a hole, leading Tabor to propose that the shells were then tied around the neck of the vessels to indicate the different grades of dye.

Finds from the mansion may also contribute to our understanding of the historical circumstances experienced by the residents during the first century. Inside the mansion’s 30-foot cistern, cooking pots, remnants of an oven and a substantial number of animal bones were uncovered. Gibson hypothesizes that the Jewish residents may have used this cookware while hiding in the cistern during the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.

This mansion may also provide insight into the time of Jesus. Tabor notes:

“If this turns out to be the priestly residence of a wealthy first-century Jewish family, it immediately connects not just to the elite of Jerusalem—the aristocrats, the rich and famous of that day—but to Jesus himself. These are the families who had Jesus arrested and crucified, so for us to know more about them and their domestic life—and the level of wealth that they enjoyed—would really fill in for us some key history.”

Read the University of North Carolina at Charlotte press release.

Read blog posts by James Tabor republished in Bible History Daily

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  1. Students Dig in Style on Mt. Zion Excavation « says:

    […] Read more about the 2013 Mt. Zion excavation season. […]

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