Cave for Demeter Worship Identified in Judean Hills
We often hear about how Jerusalem is holy to followers of the three major monotheistic religions. But what is less well-known is that the surrounding Judean hills were home to pagan ritual sites involving Greco-Roman gods. One such site, linked to the harvest goddess Demeter, has been identified at the Twins Cave, according to a study released by the Yad Ben-Zvi historical research institute last week.
In Greek mythology, Demeter's daughter, Persephone, was kidnapped by Hades, king of the underworld. After Zeus intervened, Hades agreed to send Persephone back aboveground - but first he convinced her to taste the seeds of the pomegranate, an underworld fruit. Once she tried them, she could not remain completely cut off from Hades' realm, to which she had to return for three months every year.
And how do you reach the underworld? In Greco-Roman thought, dark, deep pits or caves were considered gateways to hell and were often used for rituals dedicated to pagan gods, say Boaz Zissu, who teaches classical archaeology at Bar-Ilan University, and Eitan Klein, one of Zissu's graduate students.
Zissu and Klein said in the study that the Twins Cave was used for just such pagan rituals between the second and fourth century C.E.
The 42 clay lamps from the late Roman period discovered in the cave were used as part of a pagan rite, apparently meant to guide Demeter's way as she searched underground for her daughter, they said.