Archaeologists, of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), have recently come across a remarkably well-preserved 2,000-year-old ritual bath, hidden underneath a family’s living room, in Jerusalem. Unearthed during a routine home renovation, in the ancient neighborhood of Ein Karem, the bath – commonly known as “mikveh” or “miqwe” – also contained broken pieces of stone and ceramic vessels, dating back to the first century CE. According to lead archaeologist, Amit Re’em, the discovery is significant, especially since it lends some support to the long-standing claim that the region was historically the birthplace of Jesus’s mentor, John the Baptist.
Located in the southwestern part of Jerusalem, Ein Karem is a quaint hillside village, with a current population of over 2,000 people. The town was first identified as “a city of Judah” in the Book of Luke, in the New Testament. It was here that Saint Mary met her cousin Elizabeth, then pregnant with John the Baptist. Up until now, however, archaeological evidence, linking Ein Karem with such a history, was indeed few and fragmentary. Measuring up to 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) in length, 8 feet (around 2.4 meters) in width and nearly 6 feet (1.8 meters) in height, the newly-uncovered bath is similar to the kinds traditionally used by Jewish people for ritualist immersion. Re’em was reported saying:
All these events took place 2,000 years ago in the days of the Second Temple [in Jerusalem] but until now we didn’t have archaeological evidence supporting the notion that there was a Jewish community in Ein Kerem… The discovery of this mikveh strengthens the hypothesis that in the area of Ein Kerem today, there was a Second Temple Jewish settlement.
Carved entirely out of rock, the miqwe was neatly plastered, in accordance with the laws of purity mentioned in the Halakha, or Halacha, – a set of Jewish rules and regulations derived from the written and the oral forms of Torah. The immersion area can be accessed via a staircase leading to the pool’s bottom. Traditionally, both men and women were required to cleanse themselves, after certain events, as a way of regaining religious purity. Such events include intercourse, childbirth, menstruation, consumption of meat from an animal that died of natural causes or even as a step towards converting to Judaism. The Torah also dictates strict rules regarding the type of water that can be used for ritual immersion. In most cases, a miqwe was filled with the water from a natural spring or any other naturally-occurring water body.
Inside the soil, now filling the miqwe, the archaeologists have found remains of several stone vessels, likely belonging to the Second Temple Period. This is in keeping with the Jewish belief that stone does not get contaminated easily and therefore remains pure for a longer period of time. Furthermore, the bath contains traces of destruction, caused by fire, that could have occurred during the first Jewish-Roman War. Also known as The Great Revolt, of 66 – 73 CE, the war eventually resulted in the seige of Jerusalem by the Roman Army. Speaking about the significance of the find, Re’em said:
Such instances of finding antiquities beneath a private home can happen only in Israel and Jerusalem in particular. Beyond the excitement and the unusual story of the discovery of the miqwe, its exposure is of archaeological importance.
According to homeowners Oriah and Tal Shimshoni, the miqwe was discovered by workers during the renovation of the family’s living room. Initially unsure about the importance of such a find, the couple decided to conceal the wooden doors, leading to the 2,000-year-old, with a rug. In the end, however, they informed the authorities about the discovery, thus winning a certificate of appreciation for being good citizens. They said:
Initially, we were uncertain regarding the importance of the find revealed below our house and we hesitated contacting the Israel Antiquities Authority because of the consequences we believed would be involved in doing so. At the same time, we had a strong feeling that what was situated beneath the floor of our house is a find of historical value and our sense of civic and public duty clinched it for us. We felt that this find deserves to be seen and properly documented. We contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority at our own initiative in order that they would complete the excavation and the task of documenting the discovery. Representatives of the IAA arrived and together we cleaned the miqwe. To our joy and indeed to our surprise, we found them to be worthy partners in this fascinating journey. The IAA archaeologists demonstrated great professionalism, interest and pleasantness. They were solely concerned with preserving and investigating the finds.
Image Courtesy: Times of Israel
Source: Israel Antiquities Authority