Ancient Ritual Bath Found in Jerusalem with Aramaic Graffiti on it

Featured image: Graffiti, including writing and drawings, were daubed and carved onto the walls of a mikvah in Jerusalem from about 2,000 years ago. (Shai Halevy, of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

7 AUGUST, 2015 – 21:41 MARK MILLER

Graffiti daubed in mud and ashes on a ritual bath from the Second Temple era in Jerusalem have been excavated in the course of preparations for construction of a school. Whenever construction projects are undertaken in Israel, exploratory digs must be done to determine whether there are ancient or historical ruins in the area. The mikvah (also called mikveh) was found in a cave.

The graffiti inscriptions appear to have been written in Aramaic, though archaeologists studying the site say it is hard to read them.

“Examples of written Aramaic from the time of the Second Temple are very rare,” reports Haaretz. “The use of Aramaic on the walls suggests that it was the common language of the time, which could strengthen the argument that Jesus spoke Aramaic, as opposed to Hebrew.

“Ritual baths from that period are not rare in the Holy Land, but they don’t usually feature time capsules in the form of writing and symbols. The space is highly unusual in featuring inscriptions in ancient Aramaic – albeit pretty much incomprehensible—on the plastered walls.”

In Jean Fouquet's painting, Herod the Great enters Jerusalem. Behind him is the Second Temple with people in a ritual bath before it. (Wikimedia Commnos)

In Jean Fouquet’s painting, Herod the Great enters Jerusalem. Behind him is the Second Temple with people in a ritual bath before it. (Wikimedia Commnos)

In addition to the writing, the graffiti artists scratched and daubed dozens of images, including palm trees, plant species, a boat and what archaeologists tentatively identified as a menorah.

This is at least the second finding of a mikvah from about 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem in the past month. As Ancient Origins reported in July, a family had discovered a mikvah underneath their living room floor years ago but hesitated to call in the Israel Antiquities Authority to investigate. Out of a sense of civic duty they finally did so and it was determined that ritual bath too was from the Second Temple era.

Stairs lead down to the mikvah underneath a Jerusalem family's living room floor. That bath, too, dates to the era of the Second Temple. (Assaf Peretz of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

Stairs lead down to the mikvah underneath a Jerusalem family’s living room floor. That bath, too, dates to the era of the Second Temple. (Assaf Peretz of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

As to the most recent mikvah find, excavation directors Alexander Wiegmann and Royee Greenwald said, “Such a concentration of inscriptions and symbols from the Second Temple period at one archaeological site, and in such a state of preservation, is rare and unique and most intriguing.”

The inscriptions are hard to read, but some might be names, including Cohen. Another instance looks like the word “avad,” or “served” in English, as in served the Lord, said Hagai Misgav of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Archaeologists removed the plaster upon which the graffiti were written and sealed it away from the elements because they had begun to fade as soon as they were exposed to the air. A staircase led to the underground bath, and excavators also found a winepress alongside it.

Mikvahs were important to the Hebrew people. Mikvah.org said the rabbis who wrote the Talmud ruled that if a community had neither a mikvah nor a synagogue, the mikvah would be built first.

Mikvahs are built in accordance with Jewish law. The waters of the mikvah are to be from a natural source such as rainwater or a spring so they aren’t touched by human hands before use. Historically, the mikvah was used by the Jewish high priest on Yom Kippur at the Temple in Jerusalem.

“In Temple times, the priests as well as each Jew who wished entry into the House of God had first to immerse in a mikvah,” says Chabad.org.

Now mikvahs are mostly used by women seven days after their menstrual cycles ends, before they may reunite with their husbands in the marriage bed; by men on their wedding day; and by men before Yom Kippur.

Jewish people consider lakes, seas, springs and rivers mikvahs in their purest form, says Chabad.org.

The Second Temple era lasted from 349 BC to 70 AD, when the Romans destroyed it. The Second Temple is called the fulfillment of a Biblical prophecy by Jeremiah. There is a mystical Third Temple prophesied in the Bible by Ezekiel, which he said is God’s eternal dwelling place on the Temple Mount. The First Temple was destroyed in 587 BC by forces under Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who had besieged Jerusalem.

Featured image: Graffiti, including writing and drawings, were daubed and carved onto the walls of a mikvah in Jerusalem from about 2,000 years ago. (Shai Halevy, of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

By Mark Miller

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