An archaeologist collects material in an underground chamber that may have been a hideout for rebels during the Bar Kokhba Revolt of the 2nd century AD.

Remnants of a Revolt: What Did Israeli Archaeologists Find Hidden Under Second Temple Period Homes?

Some Israeli high school students have excavated a hiding place for Jews who rebelled against the Romans about 1,860 years ago in the town of Ramat Bet Shemesh. The complex includes cisterns, ritual baths attached to every home, and hidden rebel hideouts underneath the settlement.

The Jewish people rose up against the occupying, overbearing Romans three times between 66 AD, two years after Rome conquered Judea, and 132 AD. The hideouts recently excavated were from the last uprising, called the Bar Kokhba Revolt. After the Romans put down this last uprising, they committed a terrible genocide against the Jews and banned their religion, Judaism.

A press release from the Israel Antiquities Authority states that students from Boyer High School working with the Israel Antiquities Authority unearthed several archaeological features. The settlement dates to the Second Temple period. Sarah Hirshberg, Shua Kisilevitz, and Sarah Levevi-Eilat, excavation directors on behalf of the authority say in the press release:

“The settlement’s extraordinary significance lies in its imposing array of private ritual baths, which were incorporated in the residential buildings. Each household had its own ritual bath and a cistern. Some of the baths uncovered are simple and others are more complex and include an otzar, or collecting basin, into which the rainwater would drain. It is interesting to note that the local inhabitants adhered strictly to the rules regarding purity and impurity.”

Ritual baths that Jews used to cleanse themselves ritually and physically.

Ritual baths that Jews used to cleanse themselves ritually and physically. (Assaf Peretz/Israel Antiquities Authority)

In the ground below the homes and the ritual baths, the students found a labyrinth of refuges dating to the 2nd century. They are connected to elaborate complexes. In some of the hideouts, it is believed the rebels breached cisterns to obtain water. One of the rock-hewn caves had intact ceramic jars and pots that the rebels may have used. The archaeologists believe the town was used after the razing of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

The press release also explains the importance of ritual baths, or mikvas:

“In antiquity, Judaism was already unique in its strict adherence to bodily cleanliness, as commanded in the Bible: “And bathe his body in water, and he shall be clean” (Leviticus 14:9). The act of bathing for purification purposes is also referred to in Hebrew as tvila, or ‘immersion’.
The ritual bath is a water installation that is unique to the people of Israel. In order to fulfill their religious and spiritual purpose and cleanse a person of any impurities, the baths were installed according to Jewish religious rules. The bath has to be hewn in the bedrock or connected to the ground; it must be sealed so that its water will not seep out; and only rainwater or spring water must be used, as opposed to ‘drawn’ water.”

In addition to the settlement and hideouts, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced earlier it had found a roadway dating back 2,000 years in Ramat Bet Shemesh. The road was 6 meters (almost 20 feet) wide and went on for about 1.5 kilometers (4,921 feet).

The road, possibly built for Roman Emperor Hadrian, ran for about 1.5 kilometers and was about 6 meters wide.

The road, possibly built for Roman Emperor Hadrian, ran for about 1.5 kilometers and was about 6 meters wide. (Israel Antiquities Authority)

The road connected the town of Eleutheropolis (Bet Guvrin) and Jerusalem. Archaeologists think it was built when Roman Emperor Hadrian visited around 130 AD or right after the suppression of the Bar Kokhba uprising in the years 132 to 135. In the past, a milestone inscribed with the name Hadrian was found near the road.

Several ancient coins were found between the paving rocks of the road, including a coin from the second year of the Great Revolt in 67 AD (an earlier revolt than the Bar Kokhba revolt); a coin of the Umayyad era; a coin bearing the name of Pontius Pilate from 29 AD; and a coin minted in Jerusalem in 41 AD bearing the name of Agrippa I. This is one of the first developed roads in Israel, the authority’s press release states. Earlier there were simply improvised trails there. The release says:

“However, during the Roman period, as a result of military and other campaigns, the national and international road network started to be developed in an unprecedented manner. The Roman government was well aware of the importance of the roads for the proper running of the empire.”

The Jewish people eventually recovered from the grievous losses of the final revolt, but they would face pogroms through their history and yet another terrible genocide in Europe during World War II.

Top image: An archaeologist collects material in an underground chamber that may have been a hideout for rebels during the Bar Kokhba Revolt of the 2nd century AD. Source: Assaf Peretz/Israel Antiquities Authority

By Mark Miller


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