In September 2018, an illicit dig was discovered in a burial cave in the Peace Forest in north Talpiyyot in Jerusalem (Permit No. A-8577; map ref. 221937/629586). The cave was documented by inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, G. Goldenberg, A. Ganor, I. Hadad and E. Klein (photography and drafting).
The rock-cut burial cave is situated on a spur descending northward from the Armon Ha-Naziv Ridge into the Peace Forest. The cave consists of two chambers (I—2.5 × 2.7 m, height 1.6 m; II—2.5 × 3.0 m, height 1.2 m; Fig. 1), hewn at different levels, and a total of eight kokhim (loculi). In Chamber II were fragments of an ossuary and lid with an etched name of an individual. Additional burial caves have been documented in this area in the past (Kloner and Zissu 2003:198–200; Greenhut 1992).
The cave has a simple opening (Fig. 2) cut in the eastern wall of Chamber I. Six kokhim (I1–I6; 0.6 × 1.8–2.1 m, depth 0.8 m) were hewn in the northern, southern and western walls of this chamber, two in each wall. A frame for a closing slab was cut into the openings of Kokhim I5 and I6. A standing pit was cut into the center of the chamber. After the floor of Kokh I4 collapsed, a passage was created into Chamber II, 2.5 m below Chamber I (Fig. 3). Part of the walls of Chamber II and its ceiling had collapsed, and in addition the chamber had been looted, leaving it in a worse state of preservation compared to Chamber I. The original opening of Chamber II was apparently hewn in the standing pit of Chamber I, leading down to the eastern wall of Chamber II. A step was found in front of the opening in the eastern wall of Chamber II—apparently the bottom step of a staircase that descended from Chamber I. A standing pit (width 1.65 m, depth 0.7 m) was cut into the floor of Chamber II. Two kokhim (II1, II2; 0.6 × 2.0–2.2 m, depth 0.7 m) with frames for closing slabs cut around their openings (Fig. 4) were hewn in the southern wall of the chamber. Opposite Kokh II1 were fragments of an ossuary lid bearing an incised name
—יהונת[ן בן\בר ש]למיה (Yehonat[n ben/bar She]lemya) (Fig. 5)—apparently the name of the deceased whose bones were placed in the ossuary.
The cave’s plan and the use of ossuaries for secondary burial is typical of Jewish burial at the end of the Second Temple period (Hachlili 1994:184–189), dating the use of the cave from the first century BCE to the first century CE. The name Yehonatan was common in this period, when names from the Hasmonean family were popular (Ilan 2002:6–8, 144–150).
In contrast, the name Shelemya is a biblical name that was common at the end of the Judahite Kingdom and during the Persian rule (Jeremiah 36:14; 37:3; 38:1 Ezra 10:39–41; Nehemiah 3:20; 13:13; 1 Chronicles 9:21; 26:2), but not a common name during the Second Temple period (Ilan 2002:214–215), and to the best of our knowledge never found before on an ossuary of this period.
Greenhut Z. 1992. The ‘Caiaphas’ Tomb in North Talpiyot, Jerusalem. ʻAtiqot 21:63–71.
Hachlili R. 1994. Changes in Funerary Practices in the Late Second Temple Period in Light of Excavations in the Jericho Necropolis. In A. Singer ed. Graves and Burial Practices in Israel in the Ancient Period. Jerusalem. Pp. 173–189 (Hebrew).
Ilan T. 2002. Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquities 1: Palestine 330BCE–200 CE. Tübingen.
Kloner A. and Zissu B. 2003. The Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. Jerusalem (Hebrew).