Is This Really the Lost Cave Tomb of Holy Salome?
In the days leading up to the biggest Holy Day (holiday) of the Christian year, celebrating the birth of Christ, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) have announced “the cave of Holy Salome,' the alleged midwife of Christ, has been identified.
Candles Of Honor Darkened In A 2,000-Year-Old Sacred Cave
The cave is a centuries-old Christian pilgrimage site located in the Lachish region in central Israel. The Times of Israel reported Tuesday that the cave was first discovered and illegally excavated by tomb robbers in 1982. At that time, the criminal gang stole the deceased’s sarcophagus (coffin) and a formal rescue archaeological excavation was conducted two years later.
A team of researchers recently uncovered “Hundreds of complete and broken lamps” in an elaborate and hitherto unknown forecourt. Moreover, a newly identified carving read “Salome, who was Mary's midwife.” In The Gospel of James, Salome is mentioned as “a non-canonical” and therefore she is not generally acknowledged by western churches.
IAA archaeologist Zvi Firer said in a statement “We believe that pilgrims would come here, rent an oil lamp, perform their prayers inside, and go on their way.” Firer added that similarly to today when you go to the grave of a revered rabbi and light a candle in honor of the deceased. Therefore, it was confirmed this was indeed an ancient site of pilgrimage.
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The cave in Lachish dedicated to Jesus's midwife, Salome. (Israel Antiquities Authority)
Getting Close To The Sacred Salome
Dr. Firer said that the site comprises “several chambers with multiple rock-hewn kokhim (burial niches) and broken ossuaries (stone boxes), rosettes, pomegranates and acanthus vases.” He said all of these artifacts “attest to the Jewish burial custom of secondary burial in stone ossuaries.” This transition often appears in the archaeological record, however, “the surprise” in this instance was the adaptation of the cave into a Christian chapel and site of pilgrimage.
While the cave was discovered and robbed in 1982, its elaborate forecourt and mosaic was only recently discovered. Measuring around 3,767 square feet and lined with ashlar stone walls, the IAA said carved crosses and “dozens of inscriptions” engraved on the cave walls were created in the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods. The newly discovered forecourt, and the cave, demonstrate that the tomb belonged to “a wealthy Jewish family who invested much effort into preparing the cave.” And the IAA confirmed that the chapel cave was indeed dedicated to “the sacred Salome.”
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The courtyard with some of the many lamps that have been found. (IAA)
A Midwife At A Virgin’s Birth
According to a report on PBS 'The name Salome (or in Hebrew: Shalom or Shlomit) was a common Jewish name in the Second Temple period in Jewish history that lasted approximately 600 years (516 BC - 70 AD). Firer said about one hundred and thirty Greek manuscripts containing the Gospel of James exist, but most of these come from the tenth century or later.
According to The New Testament, the author, 'James,' was the son of Joseph and Jesus' brother. However, according to a report in Daily Mail, “James would have been the son of Joseph's first wife.” Christian traditions maintain Salome was a midwife from Bethlehem who participated in the birth of Jesus. In the Bible, however, Salome was the second midwife to Mary who was shocked having to deliver a virgin's baby, and whose “hand became dry and was healed only when she held the baby's cradle”.
The whole courtyard surrounding the tomb. (IAA)
Was Holy Salome Really Present The Birth Of Christ?
In conclusion, the archaeologists believe the burial cave became a pilgrimage destination after local Christians “identified” it as Salome’s burial place, and this happened sometime in the Byzantine era, Firer said. A report on the Catholic News Agency says St. Mary Salome, is “the wife of Zebedee and the mother of James the Greater and John the Evangelist. She appears in the Bible as one of Jesus’ followers, who witnessed his crucifixion and death and brought spices to anoint his body on Easter.”
However, the Catholic website reminds that “many Catholics express skepticism about the legend drawn from the apocryphal Gospel of James that says “Salome was a midwife who came, unbelieving, to the stable at Bethlehem and converted.” It is argued that there was no midwife at the birth of Christ. In the words of St. Jerome in his “The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary: Against Helvidius” - “no women’s officiousness intervened” and Mary was in herself both mother and midwife.
Top image: Interior of the tomb purported to be that of Holly Salome in Israel. Source: Israeli Antiquities Authority
By Ashley Cowie