JUDEAN DESERT CAVES


Following the discovery of the *Dead Sea Scrolls in the *Qumran caves, frantic searches for additional documents were carried out by Bedouin in all the caves of the valleys in the area of the Dead Sea. As a result of evidence of such activities by Arab infiltrators from Jordanian territory into the territory of Israel, an expedition directed by Y. Aharoni set out to survey the area (November–December 1953). This was followed by a full-scale expedition, divided into four groups, which was undertaken jointly by the Hebrew University, the Israel Department of Antiquities, and the Israel Exploration Society, assisted by the Israel Defense Forces. In two campaigns (March 24–April 5, 1960; March 15–27, 1961) caves were explored in the valleys between Masada and En-Gedi as far as the Jordanian border. The investigations revealed two major periods of occupation in the Judean Desert Caves – during the Chalcolithic period and as shelters at the time of the Bar Kokhba War (132–135); some had also been inhabited during the First Jewish War (66–70/73). Expedition A, directed by N. Avigad, explored the vicinity of En-Gedi, clearing burial caves from the Second Temple period (including one which contained a wooden sarcophagus inlaid with bone ornaments) and the "Cave of the Pool," which had been inhabited by refugees who had constructed a reservoir to ensure a sufficient water supply; they apparently survived and left the cave when the danger had passed. Expedition B, directed by Y. Aharoni, investigated the caves of Naḥal Ẓe'elim where they discovered several biblical texts and Greek papyri containing lists of names. They also explored the "Cave of Horror" on the southern bank of Naḥal Ḥever where some 40 fugitives took refuge at the end of the Bar Kokhba War. A Roman camp was perched above them on the cliff. In the end the besieged succumbed from lack of water; they buried their dead and made a bonfire of their possessions, apparently choosing to die rather than surrender. Expedition C, led by P. Bar-Adon, explored the "Cave of the Treasure" in the Mishmar Valley. The main finds dated to the Chalcolithic period and consisted of a cache of 429 objects, 416 of copper, six of hematite, six of ivory, and one of stone. These included 240 mace heads of metal, six of hematite, one of stone, about 20 metal chisels and axes, 80 metal wands, ten metal "crowns" ornamented with birds and gate-like structures, five sickle-shaped objects made from hippopotamus teeth, and a box of elephant tusks. These were apparently ritual articles and may represent the treasures of a temple which were hidden from or by robbers. Other finds in this cave include plant remains, among them grains of emmer, which is the "missing link" between wild emmer and durum wheat. Expedition D, under Y. Yadin, worked in the "Cave of the Letters" on the northern bank of Naḥal Ḥever. In this cave, also guarded from above by a Roman camp, Jonathan b. Bayan, one of Bar Kokhba's commanders at En-Gedi, took refuge together with his family which included a woman named Babatha. Objects found here included 19 metal vessels (a patera, jugs, and incense shovels), apparently booty from the Romans; several glass plates, a great number of keys, clothing, sandals, etc., as well as palm mats, a hunting net, and wool for working. Together with these articles were hidden 15 letters from Bar Kokhba to the commanders of En-Gedi, and an archive of 35 documents (17 in Greek; 6 in Nabatean; 3 in Aramaic; and 9 in Greek with Nabatean or Aramaic subscriptions). They are dated to 93/4–132 and represent the family and property archives of Babatha who was related by marriage to the Jonathan mentioned above. The absence of jewelry or coins in the cave together with the meticulous care with which the objects were cached suggests that the inhabitants of the cave survived and left it in the end.

Along with the finds at the Murabba'at caves these discoveries have revolutionized the conception of the Bar Kokhba War and have opened new vistas on the material and religious culture of the Chalcolithic period. By providing precisely dated material they are of great significance for the archaeology of the Roman and talmudic periods.

[Michael Avi-Yonah]

Further Exploration

The archaeological exploration of the Judean Desert, made possible following the victory of the Six-Day War, was continued in subsequent years by a joint expedition headed by Pessah Bar-Adon on behalf of the Hebrew University, the Government Department of Antiquities, and the Israel Exploration Society, and with the assistance of the Military Government. A preliminary archaeological survey of the Judean Desert, the Jericho Plain, and the Jordan Valley revealed large numbers of hitherto unknown sites which have completely changed the previous historical-archaeological picture. Additional information has been gained of the Chalcolithic period as well as settlements, a planned defense system of strongholds, and secret water supplies, belonging to the periods of the First and Second Temples, These strongholds were used to protect flocks and herds, agricultural and manufactured products as well as caravans, Among the important discoveries on the shore of the Dead Sea mention should be made of the uncovering of a large house, 20 × 45 m., consisting of a hall and two rooms, in 'Ein al-Ghuweir. In the area which served as the kitchen were found stoves, granaries, and large vessels in cavities surrounded with stones. An additional floor had been built on a layer of ashes, 10–20 cm. thick. Coins of the reigns of Herod, Archelaus, and Agrippa I were found and earthenware vessels identical with those found at *Qumran. The building seems to have served as a communal one for the Qumran sect, a supposition reinforced by the discovery of a cemetery to the north. Twenty graves were excavated which were in every respect identical with those in the cemetery of Qumran. On a potsherd in one the name Jehohanan could be deciphered.

In the area of 'Ein al-Ghuweir and 'Ein at-Turaba sites were uncovered belonging to the 8th–7th centuries B.C.E. A building was uncovered typical of the Israelite period, but unique in that it had a square chamber, divided in three by inner walls. The utensils discovered, all of the Israelite II period, were similar to those found at Tel Goren in En-Gedi, which have been ascribed to the manufacture of balsam perfume. There was evidence of more houses. A defense wall, to which were attached rooms, suggests that they were part of a general defense system extending from the stronghold of Rujm al-Baḥr to Qumran and south and west. Three such fortresses have been excavated. One of them, on which only experimental soundings had previously been made by I. Blake, has now been excavated in its entirety. It contains eight rooms with sloping walls built of large unhewn stones. The entrance, to the north, was approached by a sloping ramp. Utensils were found belonging to the Israelite II period. A small fortress was found at Rujm a-Sejra, and another fortress, 33 × 55 m., was discovered at the sources of Wadi Mezān = Wadi al-Nār. The excavations revealed a tower 7 m. high containing four rooms and two plastered water cisterns, more than 5 m. in depth. In it were found typical Herodian ashlars, and an adorned frieze or capital. Also found were fragments of plaster in red and black paint, with diagrammatic figures. The utensils found were similar to those of Qumran and coins of Alexander Yannai were also found. All these discoveries raise the interesting question of whether these settlements were founded by the *Dead Sea Sects in view of the statement of Josephus as to their simple and modest way of life. It seems probable that they settled in former estates which had been established as part of a royal network of defense and agriculture in the desert which may be ascribed to John Hyrcanus or to another ruler of the Hasmonean dynasty, and the question is how these sects fitted in with this system.

[Pessah Bar-Adon]

During the 1980s and early 1990s new surveys of caves in the Judean Desert were made by Hanan Eshel and others, and these brought to light Bar Kokhba period remains, as well as fragments of written documents. In 1993 a new project consisting of surveys and excavations was conducted within caves in the northern Judean Desert ("Operation Scroll"). The project was undertaken by the Israeli Antiquities Authority and their stated goal was to find new scrolls. This IAA survey was undertaken by a large numbers of archaeologists at the time when the first Oslo Accords were being agreed upon; as a result the timing of the survey by the IAA was heavily criticized and the survey was seen by some to be an act of opportunism. The survey was undertaken along the eastern cliffs of the Judean and Ramallah anticlines, from Wadi ed-Daliya in the north to Nahal Deregot in the south. A total of about 650 caves and sites were surveyed, and 70 were excavated. Finds were made dating from all periods from the Neolithic through Ottoman times, including numerous finds dating from the time of Bar Kokhba.

[Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Avigad et al., in IEJ, 11 (1961), 1ff.; 12 (1962), 176ff.; Y. Yadin, The Finds from the Bar Kokhba Period in the Cave of Letters (1963); Aharoni et al., in Atiqot, 3 (1961), 148ff.; P. Bar-Adon, in: Seker Yehudah, Shomron ve-Golan, Seker Arkheologi 19678 (1972); idem, in: Eretz Israel, 10, Sefer Ha-Nasi Shazar (1971); I. Blake, in: Illustrated London News, 4/3 (1967), 27–29; P. Bar-Adon: Revue Biblique, 79 (1972), 411–13. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: H. Eshel and D. Amit, Refuge Caves of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (1998); L. Wexler (ed.), Surveys and Excavations of Caves in the Northern Judean Desert (CNJD)1993,Atiqot, 41, parts 1–2 (2002).


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.