Secrets of Cave 25 -- By: Abraham Rabinovich

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 12:1 (Winter 1983)
Article: Secrets of Cave 25
Author: Abraham Rabinovich

Secrets of Cave 25

Abraham Rabinovich

Gabriel Barkay knew the hill from his army service with the Jerusalem Brigade. He had stood on its slope looking across no-man’s land at the crenellated walls of the Old City on the other side of the Hinnom Valley and reflected that other soldiers had stood there before him. Pompey and Titus had had siege camps here during their encirclements of Jerusalem and so, doubtless, had many other commanders. The building housing the British consulate near the crest had been a Turkish watchtower protecting this major approach to Jerusalem from the south.

Scouting in 1975 for a site for his first independent archaeological dig, Barkay — then a 31-year-old teacher at Tel Aviv’s Institute of Archaeology — returned to the hill opposite the Jerusalem railway station. Walking across its eastern slope, this time fixing his attention on the ground rather than the stunning view, he gathered from the surface pottery sherds from the First Temple period and placed them in the plastic bags he carried with him.

To the trained eye, there was considerable other evidence of ancient activity — a flattened stretch that indicated a road beneath the skin of the hill; remains of a quarry; the exposed threshold stone

of what had been a large building; and, near the upper edge of the slope, a sliver of stone thrusting out of the soil.

A German archaeologist had seen this last in the 1930s and thought it might be the edge of one of the numerous tombs encircling old Jerusalem. Barkay thought so too, and the following year executed a pilot dig that soon uncovered two tombs that had been cut out of the living rock in the seventh century BC. The tombs were empty, but their existence encouraged him to make a full-scale dig in the area.

It was not until the end of June 1979 that Barkay was able to put his plan into operation, but on the very first day two of the volunteer diggers uncovered the edge of a tomb later labeled Cave 25. Other teams were uncovering similar rock-cut tombs on the slope beneath St. Andrew’s Church, but during the next two weeks Cave 25 began to emerge as something different under the shovels and brushes of the volunteers.

The tombs all contained burial chambers shaped like a squarish U. Lining three sides were benches on which the dead were laid for their final sleep. In Cave 25, there were sculpted headrests on the benches. One of the benches was so wide that it held six headrests. The special architectural treatment showed originality and perhaps wealth.

Beneath one of the benches in every tomb was an opening leading down into a large chamber,...

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