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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Explore Caves Near the Dead Sea


call has gone out to help explore two mysterious caves near the Dead Sea in Israel.

Hidden within desert desolation near the Dead Sea region of Ein Gedi, Israel, are two caves that at least one archaeologist suggests may possibly contain what remains of the lost archive of the Jewish Second Temple. The famous temple became one of King Herod's greatest architectural achievements and was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. at the time of the First Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire.

Led by Dr. Haim Cohen, a team plans to continue excavating a cave known as "Cave 27", a cave where Cohen had previously conducted excavations in 2003 under the auspices of Haifa University and again in 2006, as well as exploratory investigations of a sealed cave discovered by Cohen during a 2007 survey.  
Cave 27, also called the "Mikveh Cave" or Cave of the Pool at Nahal David, is best known for the Second Temple period (530 BCE to 70 CE) mikveh, or ritual cleansing pool, dated to the time of the first centuries B.C. and A.D.  It was discovered and excavated just outside the cave entrance. The cave is located in a cliff approximately 400 meters above the Dead Sea and is accessible from a plateau above the cave. Among the many other finds were Early Roman period potsherds, flint tools, remains of straw matting, textiles, date pits, ropes, olive pits, animal bones, two coins of Agrippa I, a glass bottle, an iron trilobate arrowhead from the Early Roman period, a pottery seal with a geometric decoration considered to be from the Chalcolithic period, and an ashen hearth. The most intriguing questions, however, surround the presence of the mikveh at the entrance to the cave, a relatively unusual location for such a feature.

The location of Cave 27: The rough, challenging desert terrain of the "Judean wilderness" near the Dead Sea. Photo courtesy Origins Discovery Project. 

Explorers at work in cave 27. Photo courtesy The Origins Discovery Project

View of a portion of the mikveh outside the entrance to the cave. Photo courtesy The Origins Discovery Project

Coin found in the cave showing grape vine leaf and chalice with the words: year 2 for the liberation of Zion on one side, and Holy Jerusalem, on the other - circa 67CE. Photo courtesy Origins Discovey Project

"During the Second Temple period (and at other times)", reports Cohen, "a man could not touch anything sacred without first undergoing the ritual cleansing process prescribed by the priests. It was a very strict rule, and the presence of sacred items and the need to handle them, can be the only reason for this mikveh being built up in a cave, in the cliffs 400 meters above the Dead Sea. A man (or woman) must climb up one side of the steps, be completely immersed in water, and then exit from another set of steps without ever touching the dirty steps." [1]

"Not only was the cleansing process strictly proscribed", Cohen adds, "but also the building process had very specific rules too: No metal could be used in its construction because metal may have been used to kill someone. No pottery could be used to make the plaster because that pottery may have been used in a sacrifice to another God.The water must be part rainwater and part spring water. And there were many more rules, all of which make the presence of the mikveh in this very inaccessible place even more remarkable. It must have taken a lot of resources and time to build; the temperatures in the desert seldom drop below 40c, the climb is extremely dangerous, water is scarce, carrying building materials was difficult and so on." [1]
According to Cohen, the location of the mikveh therefore begs the question about why a facility like this was built here. 

"This is the question we are hoping to answer when we excavate the cave in the 2012 season (beginning October 28)," says Cohen. "Academia have now accepted that what was previously thought to be a cistern or a pool is, in fact, a mikveh, and we must build from there. We want to know what was in this cave that meant a mikveh was necessary. Scrolls? Temple artefacts?" [1]

Cohen suggests that the cave may possibly have been, like the caves that harbored the Dead Sea Scrolls, a repository for sacred documents or artifacts, such as the lost archives of the Jewish Second Temple, possibly hidden away for protection and safekeeping from the Roman forces during the unrest of the ist century A.D. Revolt. Among the finds was additional evidence of possible priestly activity -- a leather scroll cover. 
Equally interesting is a sealed cave that was discovered in a steep ravine not far from Cave 27 by Cohen during a 2007 survey. Cohen and his team hope to further explore this cave concurrent with their excavations of the Mikveh Cave. He and his colleagues ae requesting additional funding and participation to make it possible.
Says Cohen: "After so many real and metaphorical mountains to climb - we are now committed to a dig starting on the 28th of October and ending on the 16th of November this year. Licences have been granted by both the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Park Authority, allowing an expedition to excavate one cave, and survey another." 

For more information about the expedition and how one can support and participate in the effort, see the website, Origins Discovery Project

Photo Top: Looking out from within Cave 27, the Mikveh Cave.  Photo courtesy The Origins Discovery Project

[1] Source: The Origins Discovery Project

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