Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Large Mikveh Discovered Near Western Wall

A large ritual bathing installation from the 1st century A.D. has been excavated in the Western Wall Tunnels.  From Arutz-7:
It is located about 30 meters past the entrance to the Tunnels, in the general direction of the Western Wall. Once it becomes open to the public, the 11 broad steps leading down to the mikveh will be seen approximately 8 meters below floor level.
Josephus, the famous turncoat general and historian of the period, wrote that the administrative and governmental center of Jerusalem was located at the foot of the Temple, and that among the buildings there were the National Council and the Lishkat HaGazit, Chamber of Hewn Stone, where the Sanhedrin – Israel’s Supreme Court – convened. The archaeologists feel that it is possible that the luxurious hall aside the mikveh was originally one of these structures.
Archaeologist Alexander Ohn,  the director of the dig, explains: “It is interesting to note that in the middle of the first century, changes were made in the grand structure. It was no longer used for public administrative purposes, and in its western wall a large mikveh was installed – with 11 steps descending into the immersion pool. It appears that Jerusalem was growing at this time, and with it the need to provide a solution for the increasing numbers of people who came en masse to Jerusalem, especially on the pilgrimage festivals (Passover (Pesach), Pentecost (Shavuot), and Tabernacles (Sukkot)). Ritual immersion in a mikveh and precise observance of the laws of purity were an inseparable part of Jewish life at this time; the importance of a mikveh, especially in this location, was great.”

The complete article is here.  The Israel Antiquities Authority press release (temporary link) includes two high-resolution photos (zip).

UPDATE: Joe Lauer notes some additional photos in this brief AP article.

UPDATE (9/26): Leen Ritmeyer has written an illustrated post about the discovery, including clarification of some portions of the JPost article.

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4 Comments:

  • I'm confused. First, I cannot find a reference in Josephus that corresponds with the article's claim. Second, Ritmeyer and others place the Chamber of Hewn Stone on the Temple Mount at one of the entrances to the Temple Complex. I agree that there were probably administrative buildings at the base of the Temple Mount, but the Chamber of Hewn Stone? Help me, please.

    By Blogger David, at Wed Sep 23, 10:35:00 AM  

  • David - I haven't done much work on this and don't have time to now. Ritmeyer does locate the CHS on the southeastern side of the temple. Others locate it in the so-called "Hasmonean Hall" excavated near the Western Wall. Geva says this about the "Hasmonean Hall": "Original hall was presumably part of a large Herodian public building that some scholars have identified with the Chamber of Hewn Stones (the Xystos) or with the Council Building, both referred to by Josephus as being in this area (War V, 144)" (NEAEH 2: 742). Ritmeyer notes this identification on his book, The Quest, page 76.

    By Blogger Todd Bolen, at Fri Sep 25, 09:11:00 AM  

  • David - I have just written a blog post about the problem of identifying this building with either Xystus of the Chamber of Hewn Stone.
    Hope you find it helpful

    By Blogger Leen, at Sat Sep 26, 04:26:00 AM  

  • Leen:

    Thank so much. That is the response I was expecting.

    Blessings,
    David

    By Blogger David, at Sun Sep 27, 08:13:00 PM  

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