What’s under your living room? Unique find in Ein Karem

Tradition has it that John the Baptist was born in En Karem (or Ain Karim; Ein Kerem) in the hill country of Judea. According to Shimon Gibson, the earliest document linking John to En Karem is a legendary account dated to A.D. 385-395 (The Cave of John the Baptist, 30). In that account En Karem is said to be “in the mountain” and with a “spring of water” (31). From the sixth to the eighth centuries the traditions multiply.

Ein Karem is about 5 miles west of Jerusalem. This photo shows a general view of the hill country of Judea. En Karem is in the valley below.

The vicinity of En Karem in the hill country of Judea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

The vicinity of En Karem in the hill country of Judea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

The Israel Antiquities Authority  announced today that a family in En Karem discovered a ritual bath under the floor of their house dating to the Second Temple period (meaning Herod’s Temple).

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An ancient ritual bath (miqwe) found during renovations in a living room in ‘En Kerem reinforces the hypothesis there was a Jewish settlement located in the vicinity during the Second Temple period
An ancient, two thousand year old ritual bath (miqwe) was discovered below a living room floor during renovations carried out in a private house in the picturesque neighborhood of ‘Ein Kerem in Jerusalem. Archaeologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority were amazed to discover that a pair of wooden doors beneath a stylized rug in the middle of a pleasant family’s living room concealed an ancient ritual bath.

The ritual bath is in this corner below the rug.Photo Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

The ritual bath is in this corner below the rug. Photo Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Wednesday the owners of the place were awarded a certificate of appreciation by the Israel Antiquities Authority for exhibiting good citizenship in that they reported the discovery of the miqwe and thereby contributed to the study of the Land of Israel.

The miqwe, which is complete and quite large (length 3.5 m, width 2.4 m, depth 1.8 m), is rock-hewn and meticulously plastered according to the laws of purity appearing in the halacha. A staircase leads to the bottom of the immersion pool. Pottery vessels dating to the time of the Second Temple (first century CE) and traces of fire that might constitute evidence of the destruction of 66-70 CE were discovered inside the bath. In addition, fragments of stone vessels were found which were common during the Second Temple period because stone cannot be contaminated and remains pure.

The ritual bath is in this corner below the rug.Photo Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Steps leading into the ritual bath..Photo Assaf Peretz, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority.

According to Amit Re’em, Jerusalem District Archaeologist, “Such instances of finding antiquities beneath a private home can happen only in Israel and Jerusalem in particular. Beyond the excitement and the unusual story of the discovery of the miqwe, its exposure is of archaeological importance. ‘Ein Kerem is considered a place sacred to Christianity in light of its identification with “a city of Judah” – the place where according to the New Testament [See Above], John the Baptist was born and where his pregnant mother Elisabeth met with Mary, mother of Jesus. Despite these identifications, the archaeological remains in ‘Ein Kerem and the surrounding area, which are related to the time when these events transpired (the Second Temple period), are few and fragmented. The discovery of the ritual bath reinforces the hypothesis there was a Jewish settlement from the time of the Second Temple located in the region of what is today ‘Ein Kerem.”

The owners of the place said, “Initially, we were uncertain regarding the importance of the find revealed below our house and we hesitated contacting the Israel Antiquities Authority because of the consequences we believed would be involved in doing so. At the same time, we had a strong feeling that what was situated beneath the floor of our house is a find of historical value and our sense of civic and public duty clinched it for us. We felt that this find deserves to be seen and properly documented. We contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority at our own initiative in order that they would complete the excavation and the task of documenting the discovery. Representatives of the IAA arrived and together we cleaned the miqwe. To our joy and indeed to our surprise, we found them to be worthy partners in this fascinating journey. The IAA archaeologists demonstrated great professionalism, interest and pleasantness. They were solely concerned with preserving and investigating the finds.

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The issue of purification was a live one during the ministry of John the Baptist.

Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. (John 3:25 ESV)

See also Luke 2:22 and John 2:6.

For more information about Ein Karem see this post.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

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