According to the Israeli Antiquities Association, an independent Israeli governmental authority, cave explorers Mickey Barkal, Sefi Givoni, and Ido Meroz discovered a menorah and a cross carved into an ancient cave wall in the Judean Shephelah area. The exact location of the carvings is being kept hidden for fear of vandalism. Experts say that the carvings are from different times. Yet, they are located very near each other. The hikers say there are also other carvings there.
What Does the Menorah Look Like?
Making the discovery even more unique, the hikers found the ancient carvings during the Christmas week. In 2016, Hanukah and Christmas happened on the same day. This has only happened four times since 1900.
The menorah that the hikers discovered looked like it came from the time of the Second Temple dating from 530 BCE to 70 CE. This period was also during the reign of Bar Kokhba who led a revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE.
The ancient carvings have a three-legged base and seven branches. Later menorahs have eight branches usually on a two-legged base. The extra branch was to hold the lighting candle which was held by the base in earlier menorahs.
While keeping the exact location a secret, authorities say that the menorah is located near carved dove cages. Historians believe that when the Jews lived in the caves to hide from the Romans, they raised doves.
Saar Ganor is the District Archaeologist of Ashkelon, a coastal city in southern Jerusalem, for the Israeli Antiquities Association. He says:
“The menorah was probably etched in the cistern after the water installation was hewn in the bedrock – maybe by inhabitants of the Jewish settlement that was situated there during the Second Temple period and the time of Bar Kokhba.”
What do They Know about the Cross?
Authorities believe that the simple cross was carved during the early Byzantine period. They believe that the cross was carved about 400 CE. If further study proves that the timing is correct, then this cross was carved shortly after the First Council of Nicene. This council was where the Holy Bible was first adopted. Christians no longer felt threatened by the important leaders of the Roman Empire. They were also willing to let Jews worship freely.
The hikers who found the menorah and the cross say they also found the carving of a key. They think that the key was also from about the Byzantine period because of its style. They believe that early Christians may have stayed in the cave during their travels.
Many buildings surrounding the caves where the carvings were found were built during the Byzantine period or before. Therefore, they are hopeful that the caves may hold even more carvings that have not yet been discovered.
Experts with the Israeli Antiquities Association gave the three hikers good citizenship awards. The association says that they plan to investigate the site further. They also promised that the three hikers could also go with the researchers when they further explore the area.
Hikers exploring caves in the Judean Shephelah found unique carvings. The earliest carving is of a seven branch menorah on a three-legged base that they think dates from about 200 CE. The hikers also found a carved cross that they think dates from the Byzantine period. The hikers also discovered other carvings including one of a key. Finding these two carvings during one of only four times that the first day of Hanukah and Christmas was amazing according to the Israeli Antiquities Association.
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