Tag Archives: family tomb

Ketef Hinnom Silver Amulet

I wrote this post about First Temple Period tombs found in Jerusalem in 2011 and over the years the post got 1 Like, a few hundred views a year which is an average of less than 1 view a day, until this year! Since 2021 the post has 1672 views or 30 views on average per day and I can’t figure out why. If you’re reading this post could you please leave a comment about how you found it and why it is of interest. Thanks so much.

In 1979 Prof. Gabriel Barkay decided to do some archaeological research outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City and chose a ridge above the Hinnom valley by the Scottish Church of St. Andrew.

He called the area Ketef Hinnom (ketef means shoulder in Hebrew) and did a survey that uncovered the remains of a Byzantine church with mosaic floor and some tombs hewn in the rock whose roofs had collapsed. With the help of 12-13 year olds from a youth group from Tel Aviv run by the Society for the Protection of Nature he began excavating. They found one bead – it was clear that the tombs had been looted in antiquity.

A boy by the name of Nathan was assigned to clean a nook underneath one of the burial benches. By chance he also had a hammer and after cleaning, he got bored and started banging on the floor of the nook. To his surprise the stone bottom broke revealing an entryway to another room full of treasure. The burial chamber with its objects has been faithfully recreated at the Israel Museum.

As Prof. Barkay explained:

“In [that] one chamber more than a thousand objects were found.  They included 125 objects of silver, 40 iron arrowheads, gold, ivory, glass, [ceramics, oil lamps,] bone and 150 semi-precious stones.  There was 60 centimeters (two feet) of accumulation filled with objects and skeletal remains…

Judy Hadley, a girl from Toledo Ohio, now a professor of Bible at Villanova University in Philadelphia, showed me a purplish-colored object looking like a cigarette butt.  It took us three years to unroll it properly.  It was 2.5 cm wide, about 1 inch.  When unrolled, it was 10 cm in length.  It was made of pure silver, 99% silver. Very delicately scratched on the silver were ancient Hebrew characters.  I saw it at the Israel Museum lab and immediately recognized the four letters of the Divine Name, YHVH.”

Courtesy of the Israel Museum

All the dirt removed from the tombs was stored in large plastic boxes donated by Tnuva [Israel’s largest dairy and today a billion dollar food conglomerate] and sifted under lab conditions. In the sifting, a second, smaller silver object, 4 cm in length, was also found. Both objects have the Priestly Blessings from Numbers 6:24-26 engraved on the silver in proto-Hebrew script.

The Lord bless you and protect you.
The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and grant you peace.

Because of the pottery and the script, the objects are dated to the 7th century BCE (while the First Temple was still standing), to the time of the prophet Jeremiah. These are the oldest examples that we have found of a Biblical text on an archaeological artifact, about 400 years older than the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The discovery of the silver amulets received very wide public interest.  In the 1990s Dr. Bruce Zuckerman from the University of Southern California, an expert who specializes in photographing ancient texts (various Dead Sea Scrolls and the Leningrad Codex) arranged to photograph the amulets using the latest photographic and computer imaging techniques.  This made it possible to zoom in on every letter and even superimpose complete letters on broken letters, reconstructing broken letters in the scribe’s own peculiar style to better decipher those that were unclear. The result was that they were able to identify another biblical verse on the larger scroll, from Deuteronomy 7:9.

Know, therefore, that only the Lord your God is God, the steadfast God, who keeps His covenant faithfully to the thousandth generation of those who love Him and keep His commandments.

Read the Life and Land blog for a first-hand report from Gordon Franz who as a 25-year old was at Ketef Hinnom working with Prof. Gaby Barkai. The two amulets are on display in the Archaeology wing of the Israel Museum. I can take you to Ketef Hinnom to see the First Temple period tombs where the amulets were found.

Caiaphas Family Tomb and Ossuary

Tomb layout from IAA via Biblical Archaeology Review article

In the winter of 1990 while doing some work in the Peace Forest just below the Haas promenade (in Hebrew known as the tayelet) workers discovered a burial cave made up of 4 recesses (called loculi), rectangular spaces about 6 feet deep and 1.5 feet wide, cut in the limestone bedrock. The promenade, a dream of Teddy Kollek and designed by the Israeli landscape architect, Shlomo Aronson, is built on the ridge with an impressive view of the Old City walls and ancient city of David; I often take people there to begin a tour.

Since many tombs have been found in the Kidron and Ben Hinnom valleys around the Old City it was not a surprise to find this burial cave. Inside were found 12 ossuaries, 6 scattered about indicating that the cave had been robbed in antiquity but 6 in their original places.  Zvi Greenhut, the IAA archaeologist called to the site, identified it as a Jewish burial cave from the Second Temple period. At this time, burial for those who could afford a family tomb, the body was laid out in a recess carved in the wall of the cave and closed off. A year later, after the flesh had decomposed, the family returned, opened the loculus and gathered up the bones and deposited them in a cavern with earlier bones. That’s the explanation of the expression in the Bible “to be gathered up with his forefathers” and why it is a custom to revisit the grave after a year. Later it became customary to put the bones in a special limestone box and to write the name of the deceased on the outside – this coincided with the rise in belief of a physical resurrection at the End of Days.

Of the five ossuaries with inscriptions we find the names of two women: Miryam berat Shimon and Shlom… the full version would be Shlomzion.

Caiaphas ossuaryFrom the name written on two of the ossuaries the cave seems to be the family tomb of Qafa, in Greek Caiaphas, a name known to us from the New Testament and writings of Josephus, one of whom was the high priest who presided at the trial of Jesus. One of these ossuaries is decorated beautifully in a rare and intricate pattern of two circles, each made up of six whorl rosettes, bordered by a pattern of palm branches. Inside were found bones from six different people, two infants, a child between 2 and 5, a young boy between 13 and 18, an adult woman and a male of about 60.

On the undecorated end is inscribed “Joseph bar Caiaphas” not necessarily “the son of” – here Caiaphas is a nickname which became a sort of family name. A fascinating statistic from the Second Temple period based on personal names mentioned in literary sources and inscriptions is that 28% of men had one of 4 names (Joseph and Shimon being the two most popular), 9 names account for 44% of men (so a family nickname would help identify people); for women it was even more extreme, 50% of women had 2 names, Miryam, which later became Mary and Shlomzion the equivalent of Salome in Greek.

A coin found in one of the ossuaries was minted by Herod Agrippa (37–44 C.E.). This would help us date the two Caiaphas ossuaries perhaps as early as the beginning of the century. The evidence suggests that we may have recovered the burial box (ossuary) and even the bones of the high priest Caiaphas who handed Jesus over to the Romans.