Jerusalem: Ancient 'Mikveh' bath discovered by archaeologists
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The tomb is the first to be discovered in the Necropolis of Beit She’arim — a UNESCO World Heritage site located 10 miles south-east of Haifa — in more than 65 years. Beit She’arim was an important Jewish town following the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, — but it declined with the onset of the Islamic period. The necropolis, located on a hill, is home to more than 30 cave systems carved out of the limestone bedrock, however most were broken into by grave robbers in the 8th and 9th centuries. The inscription on the stone blocking the entrance to the newly-found tomb, which is thought to be 1,800 years old, reads: “Yaakov Ha’Ger vows to curse anybody who would open this grave, so nobody will open it. 60 years old.”
Archaeologist Professor Adi Erlich of the University of Haifa explained that the tomb’s occupant likely intended to ensure that his resting place really was eternal. She said: “It was to prevent others from opening the tomb at a later point.” This, she explained, “happened quite often, re-using tombs through time.” The inscription seems to have largely served its intended purpose, at least for now — with the archaeologists not intending to study the tomb at present.
Prof Erlich said: “No excavations are planned at the moment.
“We just took care of the inscription and blocked the cave to keep it safe for the time being.”
Even without plans to study the tomb proper, the inscription is already causing a stir among members of the archaeological community.
This is partly due to the fact that the tomb is the first to be discovered in the necropolis in more than six decades — but also because the inscription is the first to explicitly identify the deceased as a convert to Judaism.
According to the archaeologists, the name “Yaakov Ha’Ger” translates to “Jacob the proselyte” — the name given to someone who adopts the Jewish faith.
Jacob arguably chose an unlikely time to find Judaism — for at the time he lived, another religion was on the rise.
Prof. Erlich said: “The inscription is from the late Roman or early Byzantine period, in which Christianity was strengthened.
“And here we find evidence that there are still people who choose to join the Jewish people.
“We know of converts in the Roman period mostly from funerary context, such as first-century AD Jerusalem, or third to fourth-century AD Rome.
“But this is the first proselyte from Beit She’arim, and they are not well attested from that time in Galilee. So this is real news.”
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The cave system containing the newly-discovered tomb was discovered serendipitously last year by one Yonatan Orlin, a conservationist with Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority, which manages the necropolis site.
It was within the innermost cave that the curse inscription was found — shrouded in complete darkness.
Alongside Jacob’s inscription was one for a second tomb that translated to “God will bless Judah, the owner of this tomb.”
Both inscriptions, the archaeologists reported, had been penned in Greek.
With the initial study of the curse inscription complete, the stone tablet has been transferred over to the Israel Antiquities Authority for preservation and potentially public display in the future.
Additional reporting by Michael Havis.
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