January 13, 2021 | David F. Coppedge

Archaeology News from the Time of Jesus

Two archaeological sites relating to New Testament events have come to light.

Dance floor where John the Baptist was condemned to death discovered, archaeologist says (Live Science). Who can forget the tragic story of the execution of John the Baptist because of a girl’s dance? The story is told in Matthew 14:6-12:

6 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, 7 so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” 9 And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. 10 He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, 11 and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.

The site of the incident was attested by the historian Josephus to be Macherus, a Herodian fortress on the eastern side of the Dead Sea. It was built by Herod the Great (d. 5 BC) but his son Herod Antipas was the executioner of John the Baptist. The site was known since antiquity by the presence of walls, aqueducts and later Byzantine churches. Todd Bolen says that archaeological excavations began in 1968. The most recent find is a niche that the search team believes is where the throne of Herod Antipas was. A flat floor in front of the semicircular niche was revealed, possibly where Salome danced. In that very room, “the decision to execute John the Baptist may have been made,” Live Science says. On his blog, though, Todd Bolen cautions that “Not all scholars are convinced that Salome’s dance floor in Herod’s palace at Macherus has been discovered.” Through his many years as a researcher, teacher, guide and photographer in the Middle East, Bolen has learned to take sensational claims with a grain of salt. Even so, if the dance did occur in Macherus, the actual site was probably not far away.

Ritual bath from time of Jesus found at Gethsemane in Jerusalem (Jerusalem Post). Most Bible students recognize the name Gethsemane, the place where Jesus prayed earnestly, and where his arrest and suffering began. Located across the Kidron valley east of Jerusalem, Gethsemane is a popular tourist site for those wishing to walk where Jesus walked. The ritual bath the news article speaks of is a mikveh, a common feature in and around Jerusalem, because Jewish pilgrims were required to take a purification bath before offering sacrifices at the Temple.

A 2000-year-old ritual bath discovered at the site dates from the time of Jesus’s presence in Jerusalem, following Christian belief. Remains of a Byzantine church were also uncovered in the Kidron Valley at the foot of the Jerusalem church.

Jesus would probably have known about this mikveh, because it was located in the open instead of in a house, and the Apostle John wrote that “Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples” (John 18:2). The modern garden of Gethsemane may not have been the precise spot where Jesus prayed. This find, dating from the Second Temple period near the Kidron valley, is important for illuminating the Jerusalem of the 1st century familiar to Jesus and the disciples.

While digging the new visitors’ tunnel, a few meters away from the modern church, workers were surprised to discover an underground cavity, which was identified as a Second Temple-period ritual bath.

Much has happened to the land since Jesus’ time. The Roman destruction in 70 AD, followed the Byzantine and Crusader and Muslim conquests are some of the events that have drastically altered the ancient city and its environs. Much remains to be excavated in the Kidron area. The Post article states that archaeological work is ongoing in the Kidron Valley.

According Re’em, “The excavation at Gethsemane is a prime example of Jerusalem’s archaeology at its best, in which various traditions and beliefs are combined with archaeology and historical evidence. The recently discovered archaeological remains will be incorporated in the visitors’ center being built at the site and will be exhibited to tourists and pilgrims, who we hope will soon be returning to visit Jerusalem.

While historical attestation of the site as Biblical Gethsemane is strong, the Times of Israel says that the discovery is “the first time there is any physical archaeological evidence at the traditional site of Gethsemane, where Christians have made pilgrimages for centuries, to connect it to the New Testament era.” With that acclaim, the site will undoubtedly be a hit among tourists and pilgrims in the new visitor center being constructed. The article has photos of the excavation and nearby churches.


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