Jerusalem Cave

Photographs

Looking down into the cave.
The inscription as seen following its removal. Today it is displayed in Jerusalem’s Israel Museum.

Virtual Tour

You can take a virtual tour of this facility in two ways.

On your computer or tablet, drag your finger around the screen to experience a full 360-degree view. When you see a round burst, click it to move to another location.

If you have a VR viewer such as Google Cardboard and a smartphone, you can experience each discovery in stereoscopic virtual reality. When you see a round icon, you can view it for two seconds before being taken directly to another location.

Video

Video Transcript

When paving the road for the military in 1962 (editor’s note: 1961) a shovel dozer hit the roof of this cave. It would become one of the most important burial caves ever found from the Iron Age II in the Land of Israel. Right now I'm standing inside the burial cave itsself. After the shovel dozer hit the entire ceiling of the cave collapsed. On the left you can see the benches where three complete skeletons were found intact on the burial shelves. On the wall are seven ancient Hebrew inscriptions were inscribed. One of them is the most important ancient Hebrew inscription that mentioned for the first time the exact name of God and the City of Jerusalem; while the first inscription is a prayer the second inscription is a plea: “I am Jehovah thy Lord I shall accept the cities of Judah and I will redeem Jerusalem. Absolve us oh Jehovah.” Inside the burial cave a few graffities [sic] were found one of them is a person playing a lyre. The second one is the holy man lifting his arms and praying to God. The third figure is of the high priest praying as well. The ancient Hebrew inscriptions and graffiti where removed by the Israel Antiquities Authority and placed in the Israel Museum for safety.

Description

In 1961 two rock-hewn burial caves (65 feet apart) were discovered during road construction. They were subsequently excavated and dated to the late Iron Age (600 BC). The layout of the southern cave, known as the Jerusalem Cave, is characteristic of burial caves of the First Temple period (1,000 to 586 BC). A corridor leads into two burial chambers featuring hewn benches running along the walls; three skeletons were found on the benches in the southern chamber and five in the western one. A bronze ring and an earring were found on two of the skeletons. Fragments of a krater (a large wide-mouthed vessel that held liquids) were discovered inside the cave and a complete juglet (a small narrow-mouthed vessel that generally held precious oil or perfume) from the Persian period was found near the cave entrance. The northern cave comprises a rectangular chamber reached by descending a short flight of stairs, and yielded pottery from the Persian period.

What distinguishes the southern cave are the drawings and inscriptions inscribed on its walls: a person with a harp, a person praying, a person wearing a headdress, two sailboats, and seven inscriptions. The inscription including the phrase "God of Jerusalem" (Elohei Yerushalem) gave the cave its name.

Joseph Naveh (1928-2011), Israel's preeminent paleographer, proposed reading the inscription as: "Yahweh (is) the God of the whole earth; the mountains of Judah belong to Him, to the God of Jerusalem. The (Mount of) Moriah Thou hast favoured, the dwelling of Yahweh. Yahweh deliver (us)."

Frank Moore Cross Jr. (1921-2012), a renowned epigraphist from Harvard University, translated the inscription: "I am Yahweh thy Lord. I shall accept the cities of Judah and I will redeem Jerusalem. Absolve us oh Yahweh."

All seven inscriptions are of a poetic nature; they may have been written by a Levite poet or were a copy of a prophecy. Cross also believed the inscriptions may have been the work of Jewish refugees who found shelter in the cave during Nebuchadnezzar's campaign against Judah in the sixth century BC.