By Aaron Earls
While renovating their home outside Jerusalem, a couple stumbled upon a 2,000-year-old Jewish ritual bath, or mikveh, that may be linked to John the Baptist.
When Tal and Oriah Shimshoni began fixing up their home in Ein Kerem, a neighborhood on modern-day Jerusalem’s southwestern edge, workers were breaking up layers of floor when “the jackhammer disappeared. It just plunged downward,” said Oriah.
Unbeknownst to them, they had broken through the ancient limestone ceiling of the mikveh and made what archaeologist Amit Reem said was a “significant find.”
According to the Times of Israel, the subterranean bath adheres to Jewish religious regulations. It’s almost 6 feet deep, more than 11 feet long, and almost 8 feet wide.
What has archaeologists and scholars more intrigued is that this find may lead credence to the Christian tradition of Ein Kerem being the hometown of John the Baptist.
Luke 1:39 says Mary, pregnant with Jesus, “hurried to a town in the hill country of Judah” to visit Elizabeth, pregnant with John. Since the 6th century, Christians have believed Ein Kerem was that town.
Today, the Church of Saint John the Baptist, a Catholic Church, sits in the town and is dated back to at least 1113 B.C.
Until the ritual bath was found, however, “we didn’t have the archaeological evidence supporting the notion that there was a Jewish community in Ein Kerem,” said Reem.
“The discovery of this mikveh strengthens the hypothesis that in the area of Ein Kerem today, there was a Second Temple Jewish settlement.”
Reem said there’s no way to directly connect the newly unveiled bath directly with John the Baptist, but it does reveal that the community was home to religious Jews who closely followed ritual purity guidelines.
In the soil from the excavated bath, archaeologists found potshards from clay jars and remnants of stone vessels from the first century.
In Leviticus, God’s people are commanded to break any clay pot that becomes unclean. Jewish tradition did not mandate the same fate for impure stone pots, according to the Times of Israel.
The Shimshoni family invited the press into their home to view the bath. After rearranging furniture and moving a rug, Tal revealed a trap door that opened to the ancient bath.
While Reem said discoveries like this in private homes are “thrilling,” Tal brought up the practical difficulties.
“It still fills up with water in the winter,” he said. “Where it comes from, we don’t know.” The dehumidifier in the room was putting in a lot of work, he said, pulling out more than a gallon of water from the air each day.
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AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.