June 28, 2009

Could the Ancient Quarry Discovered In Israel Be A Monastic Cave?

[A quarry? - probably; a hideout? - maybe but unlikely; how about a monastic cave? This story has really been buzzing for almost two weeks now most recently with headlines referring to a quarry discovered from the time of Jesus with christian symbols from about 350 AD. Most speculations have been limited to this cave being a possible quarry to build nearby early christian monasteries, and some have interpreted it in light of the Roman catacombs as being a possible refuge for early christians (even though there was no persecution of christians in the area in 350 AD, though it could have been used for such when there was). If speculation like this is going to be done, then scholars and archeologists should consider what the main historical phenomenon was of the Palestinian deserts in 350 AD - cave-dwelling anchorites. So along with all the other theories reported, I am speculating that this cave, afer serving as a quarry to build the nearby monasteries, was further utilized by desert solitaries, possibly with their disciples, to be used as a place of solitary prayer and strict asceticism. - J.S.]

Ancient Christian Quarry Unearthed

Reuters: JERUSALEM (June 23, 2009) - Israeli archaeologists said on Sunday they had discovered the largest underground quarry in the Holy Land, dating back to the time of Jesus and containing Christian symbols etched into the walls.

The 4,000-square-yard cavern, buried about 10 yards beneath the desert near the ancient West Bank city of Jericho, was dug about 2,000 years ago and was in use for about half a millennium, archaeologist Adam Zertal said.

The cave's main hall, about three meters tall, is supported by some 20 stone pillars and has a variety of symbols etched into the walls, including crosses dating back to about AD 350 and Roman legionary emblems.

Zertal said his team from Haifa University first discovered the site three months ago while they were putting together a detailed archaeological map of the area.

"We saw a hole in the ground ... and went down and discovered this giant cavern, originally a quarry, built uniquely with hall after hall," Zertal told Reuters.

The team believes the stones were used in buildings and churches in the region, but Zertal said further research was necessary.

The site may eventually be turned into one of the largest underground tourist sites in the Holy Land, he said.

Writing by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Michael Roddy