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A 2,000-year-old tomb complex, one of the most luxurious seen in Israel, was uncovered in the Saloma Cave in the Lachish Forest

The courtyard was uncovered as part of the 'Road of the Kings of Judah' project led by the Antiquities Authority, the Jerusalem Ministry and Heritage, and the Kimat Israel Fund * Evidence of the sanctification of the place over hundreds of years was uncovered at the site, indicating the burial of a significant figure who belonged to an affluent family in the Second Temple

The front of the burial cave that was revealed in the excavations. Unlike the hewn caves, the courtyard was built of limestone, which indicates its importance and splendor. Photo by Emil Eljam, Antiquities Authority
The front of the burial cave that was revealed in the excavations. Unlike the hewn caves, the courtyard was built of limestone, which indicates its importance and splendor. Photo by Emil Eljam, Antiquities Authority

A grave estate from the time of the Second Temple (about 2000 years ago), one of the most magnificent discovered in Israel, has been uncovered these days in the Saloma Cave (Shalom or Shlomit) in the Lachish Forest. This, as part of the 'Road of the Kings of Judah' project led by the Antiquities Authority, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, and the Kimat Israel Foundation.

The cave, which continued to be used during the Byzantine and early Muslim periods, got its name thanks to folk traditions that attribute to the cave, over the centuries, the burial place of Salome, the child of Jesus. Excavating the yard reveals a row of shops, which, according to the researchers, sold or rented pottery candles. "During the excavation of the store, we discovered hundreds of fragments of pottery candles as well as intact (intact) candles from the 8th-9th century AD," say the dig managers. Nir Shimshon - Faran and Zvi Pirer from the southern region of the Antiquities Authority. It is possible that the candles were used for light inside the cave, and perhaps they were part of the religious ritual, similar to the candles distributed in the graves of the righteous or in churches today."

The burial cave in the Lachish forest was first discovered about 40 years ago by antiquities robbers who broke into it. Following this, an archaeological dig was opened at the site, under the direction of the late Prof. Amos Kloner from the Antiquities Division. The cave is divided into a number of rooms, where burial mounds and fragments of glosskamas (stone boxes) were found, indicating its Jewish character. The phenomenon of burials in Gloskemaot during the Second Temple period is recognized and known in archaeological research, but the surprise was precisely in the conversion of the burial cave into a Christian chapel (prayer room). According to the crosses and dozens of inscriptions engraved on the walls in the Byzantine period and in the early Muslim period, the chapel was dedicated to the worship of 'Saint Salome.'  

"The name Salome - and in Hebrew Shalom/Shulamith, was a common name in the days of the Second Temple, and is also known in the family of the House of Hasmoneans and Herodes," say Faran and Pirer. "According to one of the Christian traditions, Salome was a midwife from Bethlehem who was invited to assist in the birth of Jesus. She did not believe that a virgin woman was being asked for a child, and as a result her hand dried up, and she was healed only after holding Jesus' cradle."

At the end of the excavation decades ago, the cave was abandoned, and now, as part of the 'Road of the Kings of Judah' project, the Antiquities Authority is revealing the courtyard of the cave, which turns out to be one of the most magnificent in Israel. The unusual area of ​​the yard, which spreads over 350 square meters, is bounded by impressive walls made of gas stones, and it is paved with stone slabs
and mosaic floors. In front of the entrance to the burial cave, the entrances that led to the burial cave and the chapel inside were discovered in the excavation. Some of the stones that made up the facade were decorated with magnificent patterns from the Second Temple period and floral decorations with patterns of roses (rosettes), acanthus crowns and pomegranates, which are identified as Jewish patterns. The courtyard of the cave and the burial cave itself testify to a very wealthy Jewish family that established the tomb estate while investing many resources in the establishment of the courtyard and the construction of the cave. It is interesting, because for the most part, the entrance courtyard to the cave was cut into the rock, and was not built as a magnificent structure made of stones, such as has now been exposed.

Worship and the use of the courtyard and the cave continued until the 9th century AD, even after the Muslim conquest. The language in the inscriptions was changed to Arabic, but the Christian believers continued to pray there.

"Salome remains an enigmatic figure," say the researchers. "The cave mansion proves, without a doubt, that she and her family were among the most important in the Judean Lowlands during the Second Temple period. It seems that the worship of Salome, the saint of Christianity, belongs to a wider phenomenon in the 5th century AD, in which Christianity discovered and consecrated Jewish sites, as part of the Christian worship of the pilgrims. It is possible that in ancient times, Salome's name appeared on one of the glosskamas that rested in the tomb and were not preserved to this day, hence the identification of her burial place and the development of traditions to make her a saint for Christianity." 

According to the archaeologist Sa'ar Ganor, director of the "Road of the Kings of Judah" project on behalf of the Antiquities Authority: "At the end of the conservation and development work, Salome's courtyard and cave will be opened to the public as part of the state project Through the Kings of Judah, which is shared by the Antiquities Authority, the National Fund for Israel, and funded by the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage. This road, crossing the Judean plains, is the avenue of the cultural heritage of the Jewish people, and contains dozens of biblical sites, as well as from the times of the Second Temple, the Mishnah and the Talmud.

According to Eli Escozido, director of the Antiquities Authority, "The Saloma excavation is the product of a fruitful collaboration with the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, the Ministry of Education and the National Israel Fund, to strengthen archeology and develop heritage sites for the benefit of the general public. The Antiquities Authority develops and makes accessible heritage trails as part of a worldview that sees the archaeological sites in the open areas as an integral part of the country's cultural landscapes. Many of the paths are in the geographical area of ​​the southern region of the Antiquities Authority, such as the way of the kings of Judah, the way of the perfumes, and the way of the knights. We intend to continue developing new ways and additional projects in the coming years with the aim of bringing the public closer to the sights of heritage and culture."

Victor Kalfon, director of the Lachish Block in KKL-Junk: "The Salome Cave is one of the many sites located in the Lachish Forest of the Kimat Israel Foundation and on the Road of the Kings of Judah. We at KKL-Junk see the development of the cultural heritage in the forest lands as a very important thing that exposes the general public to the open space. In cooperation between us and the Antiquities Authority in recent years, we have revealed and developed for the public a number of points of interest, also the Seloma Cave at the end of the excavations will be developed as another point of interest."

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