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July 20, 2022 11:39 am

Israeli Archeologists Discover 2000-Year-Old Jewish Ritual Bath Used by Jerusalem’s Wealthy

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

A ritual bath and surrounding remains of Herodian-period
structures discovered by Israeli researchers in Jerusalem. Photo: Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority.

Archaeologists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have unearthed artifacts near the capital’s Western Wall that include a Jewish ritual bath dating back to the late Second Temple period, thought to have been used by the city’s elite.

Zeev Elkin, Israel’s Minister of Construction and Housing and of Jerusalem Affairs, said the rare finds “provide proof of a continuous Jewish presence in Jerusalem for millennia.”

The discoveries, dating from the Second Temple, Roman-Byzantine, and Ottoman eras, also include a network of plastered pools and channels. They were revealed during a project to install an elevator and improve access for disabled people between Jerusalem’s Old City and the Western Wall.

The 2000-year-old mikveh, or Jewish ritual bath, was likely used by wealthy residents until the eve of the Second Temple’s destruction in 70 CE. Archeologists said the structure is part of a private villa hewn into the bedrock and displaying a vaulted ceiling with masonry typical of the Herodian period. The ritual bath will be preserved and incorporated into the new Western Wall elevator complex, Israeli officials said.

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Hebrew University archeologist Michal Haber described the mikveh as the “highlight” of the archaeological dig.

“During the Herodian period, the area in question was home to the city’s wealthiest residents,” Haber commented. “While several other ritual baths have been unearthed in the area, the importance of this particular discovery stems from its striking proximity to the Temple Mount — raising the question of who lived in this grand villa on the eve of the city’s destruction.”

“It may well have been a priestly family,” she said.

Near the villa, a plastered water cistern was also discovered holding the remains of nearly 40 cooking pots, some still intact.

Oren Gutfeld of the Hebrew University, who oversaw the excavations, explained that the “amount of water channels, cisterns and pools discovered in the area reflect the central role played by Jerusalem’s water supply throughout the ages.”

Other excavations near the Temple Mount uncovered an industrial pool built by soldiers from Rome’s 10th legion, stationed in Jerusalem, and a fragment of a Byzantine ceramic oil lamp inscribed with the Greek phrase: “The light of Christ shines for all.”

“This phrase may have its source in the ceremony of the Holy Fire, part of the Orthodox Easter celebrations in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,” according to Hebrew University researchers. “Such oil lamps, dated primarily to the 6th and 7th centuries CE, may have been purchased by Christian pilgrims thronging to the Byzantine city — by now known as ‘Hierosolyma.'”

Also among the finds was a terra-cotta pipe dating from the Ottoman era, built into a 2000-year-old aqueduct that transported water from Solomon’s Pools, near Bethlehem, to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

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