Ancient Mikveh With Rare Inscriptions Found in Jerusalem

Arutz Sheva reports the finding of a 2000 year old mikveh in Jerusalem. A mikveh is a Jewish ritual bath used for purification purposes. The newspaper article has a video and many photographs.

Many mikva’ot – Hebrew for ritual baths, mikveh in the singular, – have been excavated in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel.
A mikveh usually takes the form of a stepped pool carved out of the rock with a small dividing wall built on the upper steps. The purpose of this was to allow users of the mikveh to descend on one side and, after immersion, ascend on the other side, thus preventing contact with those who were not yet purified. Most synagogues had ritual baths attached to them.
Washing and bathing are important parts of Jewish ritual and are referred to in the Gospels, e.g. Matthew 15.2 and John 9.7.

Among the many mikva’ot that have been found in Jerusalem, this one stands out as it features a unique inscription and other interesting decorations.

As was customary at the end of the Second Temple period when the Romans occupied the Jewish state of Israel, the writing was in Aramaic and written in cursive Hebrew script. The symbols drawn on the wall include a boat, palm trees and various plant species, and what looks to be a menorah.

The Aramaic inscription has not yet been deciphered. Photo: Shai Halevy, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The inscriptions remain largely a mystery at this point, with some apparently indicating names. The drawing that might be a menorah is exceptional because in Second Temple days, Jews largely abstained from portraying the sacred object which was located in the Holy Temple.

A representation of a menorah, painted on one of the walls of the mikveh. Photo: Photo: Shai Halevy, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The most well-known depiction of a menorah dating from the Second Temple period was found in the Jewish Quarter Excavations:

The menorah graffito was found in between two floors of a Herodian building that stood above the Broad Wall. This depiction of the Lampstand (menorah) probably decorated one of the walls of a priestly family home in Jerusalem. Apart from the Lampstand, it shows the Table of Shewbread (bottom right), the Altar of Incense (top right) and the three-stepped stone (bottom left) which the priest would stand on to light the lamps of the Lampstand in the Temple.

The wall paintings are so sensitive that air exposure damages them, and therefore the IAA started conservation measures as soon as they were found.

After initial treatment at the site, the images were removed in their entirety and transferred to the conservation laboratories of the IAA for further treatment and stabilization.

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