Jerusalem, 20 July, 2022 (TPS) — A salvage excavation near the Temple Mount by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology has unearthed a unique Mikveh, a ritual bath, dating back to the end of the Second Temple period, which ended in 70 CE with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Roman legions.
The excavations began in February 2021 to provide handicap access between Jerusalem’s Old City and the Western Wall and were overseen by HU’s Michal Haber and Dr. Oren Gutfeld.
The ritual bath was found within a private villa, hewn into the bedrock and featuring a vaulted ceiling with fine masonry, typical of the Herodian period. It is located on top of a cliff in the “Upper City”—a phrase coined by historian Josephus Flavius to describe the area of Herod’s City which housed Jerusalem’s elites.
A plastered water cistern was uncovered near the same villa. It had been in use until the destruction of the Second Temple and held the remains of nearly 40 cooking pots, some still intact.
In addition, the excavations unearthed artifacts that span the Second Temple, Roman-Byzantine, and Ottoman periods, including a network of plastered pools and channels.
The finds included a section of the Ottoman-period phase of the “Lower Aqueduct” which transported water from Solomon’s Pools near Bethlehem to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period, and a pool built by soldiers of Rome’s Tenth Legion who were stationed in Jerusalem after the establishment of the Roman colony of “Aelia Capitolina” in 130 CE. The pool lies on top of the remains of an earlier Roman oven, also installed by soldiers of the Legion. The bottom contains a layer of tile bricks, one of which was stamped with the letters “LXF,” alluding to “Legio X Fretensis,” the full name of the Tenth Legion.
A fragment of a Late Byzantine-period ceramic oil lamp, inscribed with the Greek formula “The Light of Christ shines for all,” was also found at the site. This phrase may have its source in the ceremony of the Holy Fire, part of the Orthodox Easter celebrations in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Such oil lamps, dated primarily to the 6th and 7th centuries CE, may have been purchased by Christian pilgrims thronging to the Byzantine city, known during that period as “Hierosolyma.”
Surveying the unique finds, Gutfeld said that the excavation revealed remains dating from the Second Temple, Roman-Byzantine, and Ottoman periods.
“The number of water channels, cisterns and pools discovered in the area reflect the central role played by Jerusalem’s water supply throughout the ages,” he noted.
Touching on the discovery of the ritual bath, Haber explained that the find is significant because “during the Herodian period, the area in question was home to the city’s wealthiest residents. While several other ritual baths have been unearthed in the area, the importance of this particular discovery stems from its striking proximity to the Temple Mount—raising the question of who lived in this grand villa on the eve of the city’s destruction. It may well have been a priestly family.”
The ritual bath will be preserved and incorporated into the new Western Wall Elevator complex.
Zeev Elkin, Israel’s Minister of Construction and Housing and of Jerusalem Affairs, stated that “these rare finds are truly exciting” because “they provide proof of a continuous Jewish presence in Jerusalem for millennia.”