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.

A second Arch of Titus found

The Arch of Titus which stands at the entrance to the Roman Forum draws huge crowds who want to see this well-known monument that was erected in memory of the Roman siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple in 70 AD.

The Arch of Titus. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

The interesting part is the scene portrayed on the southern intrados (inner curved side of an arch) that shows Roman soldiers carrying away the spoils of the Jerusalem Temple, i.e. the Lampstand (menorah), the Table of Shewbread and two trumpets.

The south panel showing the spoils taken from the Jerusalem Temple. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

Today it was reported in the Telegraph newspaper that another monumental arch dedicated to Titus was found in Rome at the southeast entrance to the Circus Maximus.

Although these remains have been known for some time, they have now been more fully excavated.

The Circus Maximus. The original ground level of  was 6 meters (20 feet) lower down. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

The remains of a triumphal arch built in honour of the Emperor Titus have been unearthed from underneath Rome’s Circus Maximus chariot-racing arena.

The arch, which was built immediately after the emperor’s death in 81AD, would have formed a magnificent entrance to the Circus Maximus, where charioteers competed against each other in races that were depicted in the 1959 Hollywood epic Ben Hur.

View of the Circus site from the south-east. The remains of a column base and parts of fluted columns that belonged to the Arch of Titus had been visible in the near foreground before the excavation took place. The tower in the foreground is part of a medieval fortification. Photo: Wikipedia

The bases of four giant columns were found underground in an area that is prone to flooding. This picture shows one of them:

The excavated remains of the great Arch built for Emperor Titus at the Circus Maximus. Photo: Handout
A CAD drawing of how the great Arch at Circo Massimo may have looked.

The excavation site is now covered up until funds can be raised to reconstruct this monumental marble arch.

Sodom and Gomorrah

Many people in the UK saw the episode of “The Search for Sodom” (see previous post) and it was apparently well received (in the USA it was shown on AHC). The identification of Tall el-Hammam with Sodom was made by Dr. Steve Collins.

A view of Tall el-Hammam at the south-eastern end of the Jordan Valley with the Upper Tall on the right and the Lower Tall on the left of the centre in the picture. In the foreground, dolmens can be seen that belonged to a huge megalithic field. (Clicking on all of our images takes you to our Image Library where you can download Powerpoint size copies for a small fee).

As we have shown previously, the geographical data preserved in the Scriptures, especially in Gen. 13, strongly point to the eastern side of the circular alluvial plain north of the Dead Sea for the location of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim. Archaeological excavations have shown that the site of Tall el-Hammam was terminally destroyed in the Middle Bronze Age, which was the time of Abraham.  As Tall el-Hammam is the largest site (62 acres) of the pentapolis, this makes it the best candidate for Sodom. In Gen. 14, the King of Sodom appears to be the spokesman of these cities, indicating its leading role. Additionally, Sodom is also the only kikkar city that has been mentioned in its own, for example in Ezek. 16 and in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

However, according to Gen. 19, Sodom was not the only city that was destroyed. If Tall el-Hammam is Sodom, then it is necessary to be able to identify the other cities of the Kikkar, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim (Gen. 10.19; Gen. 13, etc). Geographically these cities were named from south to north, i.e. Sodom is the southernmost and Zeboiim the northernmost of these cities. This is apparently reminiscent of ancient “Map lists”, especially those of ancient Egypt, where the direction of Transjordan routes are mentioned from south to north, i.e. viewed from Egypt. The names are also grouped in two doublets: “Sodom and Gomorrah” – “Admah and Zeboiim”.

The southern end of the Jordan Valley widens out into an almost circular area. This area is called in Gen.13 the Plain (Hebrew: Kikkar – circle or disk) of Jordan. The Kikkar ends where the Jordan flows into the Dead Sea. The Cities of theKkikkar, Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim were located in the eastern part of the Kikkar, as that is the area that can be seen from Bethel/Ai.

One mile (1.6 km) northeast of Tall el-Hammam is a smaller tall,  (Tall Kafrein), which was the largest satellite city of Tall el-Hammam (there are other smaller sites in the vicinity of Tall el-Hammam, also belonging to this Canaanite city-state). Dr. Steve Collins identifies the site of Tall Kafrein with Gomorrah. This site was also destroyed in the Middle Bronze Age and has the same archaeological profile as Tall el-Hammam and Talls Nimrin, Bleibel and Mustah (see below).

The archaeological site of Tall Kafrein viewed from Tall el-Hammam. This site in the centre of the picture has been identified as Gomorrah, as it is the largest satellite city of Tall el-Hammam. The fertile area in front of the tall is part of the well-watered Plain (kikkar) of the Jordan.

Sodom and Gomorrah are usually mentioned together as, for example, Bethel and Ai are mostly mentioned together. As Bethel is larger than Ai (Joshua 7.3), it reasons that the first site mentioned should be the largest.  Tall el-Hammam is indeed much larger than Tall Kafrein.

There are three other sites a little further to the north, of which Tall Nimrin (identified by Steve Collins with Admah) is the second largest of the five cities of the kikkar and nearby are two smaller twin satellite talls, Tall Bleibel and Tall Mustah (Zeboiim). Admah was probably the capital of the second Canaanite city-state in this area. Zeboim means two gazelles and these two sites straddle a valley through which the road from the highlands to the Jordan Valley runs.

A view of the archaeological site of Tall Nimrin, which has been identified with Admah by Steve Collins. The modern road in the foreground has destroyed part of the archaeological site.

A view of the eastern part of the archaeological site of Tall Nimrin. The building of the road exposed remains of ancient walls and stratigraphic layers.
The two small talls of Bleibel and Mustah, which can be seen respectively to the left and right in the centre of the picture. They have been identified collectively with  Zeboiim. Tall Bleibel corresponds to Zeboiim north and Tall Mustah to Zeboiim south. The road that descends from the highlands plateau to the Jordan Valley runs in between these two sites. The artificial lake in the foreground was created by the modern Kafrein Dam.
A view of Tall Mustah, the southern of the two Zeboiim sites.  It is located on the south side of  the road that descends from the highland plateau. Even today, an army post is located at the site of Tall Mustah.

The small hill in the foreground is an archaeological site that has been identified with Zeboiim north.  It is located on the north side of  the road that descends to the Jordan Valley.