The excavations in an Israeli burial cave from the Second Temple period (6th-1st centuries BC), traditionally identified as the burial place of Salome, a midwife who witnessed the birth of Jesus according to non-canonical scriptures, have discovered that the site, located about 35 kilometers southwest of Jerusalem, was both an important tomb from a wealthy jewish family as a place of Christian pilgrimage.
In the work to prepare the site for public access, archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) have unearthed in front of the access to the cavity a large patio of 350 square meters surrounded by walls and with a floor formed by stone slabs and mosaics. This would be the monumental entrance to the niche of an important Jewish family from about 2,000 years ago.
Researchers have also documented evidence that the cave, located in the Lachish Forest, continued in use during the Byzantine period and early compasses of the islamic occupation. In the aforementioned courtyard, the remains of a series of stalls were found where they were sold or rented oil lamps, made with clay, which would have been used in the religious ceremonies held inside the place, as a kind of candles in the current churches. Dozens of these complete lamps have turned up among the architectural remains, according to Nir Shimshon-Paran and Zvi Firer, the directors of the excavations.
The cavity came to light again four decades ago due to the action of looters, at which time it was partially investigated. The site consists of several chambers with multiple burial niches excavated in the rock and broken ossuaries, a type of containers in which the Jews deposited the bones of their deceased after being buried from their primary burial. As the crosses and dozens of engraved inscriptions On the walls —some in Arabic—, Salomé’s cave, as it is known today, was converted into a Christian chapel dedicated to this character and a place of pilgrimage until the 9th century.
[Descubierta una tablilla de maldición con la mención más antigua a Dios en hebreo]
“The name of Salome was very common among the Jews in the Second Temple period and known among the Hasmonean and Herodian families,” explained the directors of the archaeological work, promoted by the IAA, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the Fund. Jewish National. “According to Christian tradition, Salome was a midwife from Bethlehem who was called to participate in the birth of Jesus. It was not believed that Mary was still a virgin and therefore her hand froze until it touched the child’s cradle“. This story is included in the so-called Book of James, one of the apocryphal gospels that are not in the bible.
“Salome is a mysterious figure,” the researchers added. “The family tomb attests that its owners were a high-status family of the sefelah in the Second Temple period. The cult of Salome belongs to a larger phenomenon whereby Christian pilgrims of the fifth century AD found and sanctified Jewish sites. It is possible that the name of Salome appeared in antiquity in one of the ossuaries of the tomb that are not preserved and from there developed the tradition that identifies the site with Salome the midwife”.
According to archaeologists, it is one of the burial caves most impressive discovered in Israel. “We have known about it for at least forty years. Everything was buried. But during the excavations to open it to the public for the first time, we found this large patio and dozens of oil lamps, signs of pilgrims and inscriptions. This is the latest in archeology today in Israel“, they have highlighted. Saar Ganor, the director of the project in which these investigations are framed, has confirmed that the place will be visitable when the restoration work is finished.