The Cave of John the Baptist: The Stunning Archaeological Discovery that has Redefined Rabbinic Judaism At Least that’s What It Should Have Said! -- By: Gary A. Byers

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 18:2 (Spring 2005)
Article: The Cave of John the Baptist: The Stunning Archaeological Discovery that has Redefined Rabbinic Judaism At Least that’s What It Should Have Said!
Author: Gary A. Byers


The Cave of John the Baptist: The Stunning Archaeological
Discovery that has Redefined Rabbinic Judaism
At Least that’s What It Should Have Said!

Gary A. Byers

The title of this article is a take-off on the book The Cave of John the Baptist: The Stunning Archaeological Discovery that has Redefined Christian History, by archaeologist Shimon Gibson (Byers 2004a). I am sure his title will sell a lot more books, but I am also certain my title is more accurate, based on the evidence published in his book.

On August 16, 2004, Gibson announced his discovery of a cave that he identified with the ministry of John the Baptist. His announcement was made at a press conference and tour of the site about two weeks before the release of his book.

The cave is 7 mi (11 km) west of Jerusalem, on the grounds of Kibbutz Tzuba, and 2½ mi (4 km) from Ein Kerem, the traditional birthplace of John the Baptist. The cave is actually a stone-carved subterranean structure with a horizontally cut entrance and steps leading to the floor. A niche was carved in the right wall along the steps and at the bottom was a large oval stone with a “right-foot” impression on the top, associated with another niche cut in the sidewall. From the base of the steps a gravel walkway led to a reservoir cut in the floor on the cave’s far end. Cut into the plaster that lined the cave were schematic reliefs depicting a man holding a staff (and wearing an animal skin garment?), a face (disembodied head?) and a cross. Large quantities of Byzantine and Roman pottery were found on and above the structure’s floor.

Gibson, who heads the Jerusalem Archaeological Field Unit, a private research group, identified the site in 1999 and excavated it over the next 3 years. He suggests the “foot-impressioned” stone and accompanying niche were used in a water or oil anointing ritual. The water reservoir at the far end served as an immersion pool. Pottery found within the structure may have been used as part of ritual practices during the early and late Roman periods. Byzantine monks presumably carved the wall reliefs in the cave.

According to Gibson, the Byzantine reliefs depict John the Baptist dressed in an animal skin (Mt 3:4; Mk 1:6) and his disembodied head (Mt 14:10–12; Mk 6:27–29). The presumed connection of water rituals and the proximity of John’s birthplace also associate it with John in the excavator’s opinion. Gibson notes that John arrived at the Jordan River with a full-blown concept ...

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