During December 2011, an antiquities inspection for the purpose of overseeing the exposure of bedrock near Bet Ha-Hayyal (the Soldier’s House) was conducted in Jerusalem (map ref. 219568/632311; Fig. 1), prior to enlarging the building. The exposure, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by Ha-Aguda Lema‘an Ha-Hayyal (the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers), was carried out by A. Wiegmann and O. Khalaf (surveying and photography), M. Gamlieli and Y. Kogan, with the assistance of O. Raviv (stone restoration), I. Lidsky-Reznikov (drawing) and C. Amit (studio photography).
The bedrock exposure was done near the excavation conducted at the site in 2005, where five burial caves from the Roman and Byzantine periods and a water cistern from the Ottoman period were excavated (HA-ESI 120
While exposing the bedrock, ossuary fragments that probably originated in the burial caves nearby were discovered; most of the fragments belong to two ossuaries (1, 2). Some of the ossuary fragments were found in the debris that was piled up on the surface and some was discovered inside the remains of a rock-hewn burial chamber, probably part of Burial Cave B, which was documented in the adjacent excavation.
Ossuary 1 (length 0.62 m, wall thickness 2–4 cm; Fig. 2). Fragments of Ossuary 1, as well as several other pieces that belong to one or two other ossuaries, were discovered in the rock-hewn burial chamber (2.40×2.65 m; Fig. 3). Ossuary 1 was damaged by mechanical equipment when exposing the bedrock. The ossuary is decorated on its two long sides with an identical symmetric design that was dressed using the chip-carving technique (Fig. 2:1; Rahmani 1994, Pp. 7, 8; Rahmani 1988). The decoration is composed of two square panels that contain rosettes. Each of the rosettes is composed of six petals emanating from a central point, and six triangles between them that have concave sides and a depressed dot in their center. Around the rosettes is a dressed rectangular frame composed of two parallel stripes, in each of which is a wavy line. The two panels are separated by a pattern consisting of six parallel lines. Similar rosettes are known from two ossuaries that were discovered in the Akeldama Tombs (Avni and Greenhut 1996, Nos. 10, 31; Figs. 2.6, 2.25). The ossuary’s cover is gable-shaped (0.21×0.57 m, height 0.13 m, thickness 3–5 cm; Fig 2: 2, 3). Slots for grasping it are cut in the gable’s two narrow sides. A mark that may be an inverted V or the Greek letter lambda is engraved above one of the slots. Such marks are known from the lids of two ossuaries that were discovered in Jerusalem, one in the Romema quarter and the other in the Ramot Alon quarter (Rahmani 1994: No. 737; IAA No. 1962-319). The inverted V-shape mark is also known from a rock-hewn burial cave near the western wall of the Old City of Jerusalem where it appears chiseled on a smoothed surface above the entrance to the cave. That cave is dated to the First Temple period, based on its plan (Broshi, Barkai and Gibson 1983: 20, 28–32). The ossuary lid fits the slot that was cut in the inner part of the ossuary’s rim.
Ossuary 2 (0.28×0.54 m, wall thickness 2–4 cm; Figs 4, 5). Fragments of Ossuary 2 and two fragments of a convex lid belonging to another ossuary were discovered in a heap of stone and modern building debris on the surface. Ossuary 2 has two square feet and a protruding stylized rim. A slot in which the lid was inserted is cut along the inside of the rim. Chip-carved decorations appear on fragments from both of the ossuary’s long sides. A section of a large rosette delineated inside two circles separated by a wavy line and a smaller rosette consisting of four ivy leaves situated to its right were preserved on one of the fragments (Fig. 5: 3). On another fragment, belonging to the other side of the ossuary and connected to its base, is a chiseled depiction of a building (nefesh) composed of nine elongated grooves standing on a platform of three steps. A rosette chiseled to the left of the building is identical in size and style to the large rosette on the fragment from the opposite side of the ossuary. The upper part of the building was preserved on another fragment of the ossuary that also includes the rim. Above the nine elongated grooves is a chiseled wavy line decoration and above it five triangles. Inside the triangles is a carved deltoid-like pattern, perhaps representing crenellations that adorned the roof of the Temple, as seen in other restorations, e.g., the second temple model of Jerusalem by M. Avi-Yona (Barqai and Shiller 1992: 32). On either side of the triangles are engraved patterns composed of four circles inside each other that might have depicted volutes. Five circles were haphazardly engraved above the triangles. Inside the circles were intersecting lines resembling spokes of a wheel, possibly representing rosettes. Similar circles were engraved above a decoration of the nefesh on an ossuary from Pisgat Ze’ev in Jerusalem (IAA No. 1992-132). A carelessly engraved zigzag line occurs above these circles. The depiction of the bottom part of the nefesh is well-known from ossuaries in Jerusalem (Rahmani 1994: Nos. 78, 231, 334, 517, 746; Figueras 1983: No. 156); however, no comparisons were found for the upper part of the nefesh, the roof of the building.
The origin of the ossuaries documented at the site is in the burial caves excavated nearby. These caves were probably part of the cemetery that belonged to the settlement from the Second Temple period whose remains were exposed north of Jaffa Road and in the area of Binyene Ha-Umma (Arubas and Goldfus 2008; HA-ESI 123
). The depiction of the nefesh
on Ossuary 2 is unique and contributes to the corpus of ossuaries. Probably while designing the ossuary, the craftsman was inspired by the architecture of the monumental buildings that were decorated with crenellations on their roofs, and perhaps even by the architecture of the Temple itself.
Arubas B. and Goldfus H. 2008. The Site at Binyanei Ha-Uma and Its Role in the Settlement Network Surrounding Jerusalem. Eretz Israel 28: 14–20 [Hebrew].
Avni G. and Greenhut, Z. 1996. The Akeldama Tombs: Three Burial Caves in the Kidron Valley, Jerusalem (IAA Reports 1). Jerusalem.
Barqai G. and Shiller E. 1992. Guide to the Model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Jerusalem [Hebrew].
Broshi M., Barkai G. and Gibson S. 1983. Two Iron Age Tombs below the Western City Wall, Jerusalem and the Talmudic Law of Purity. Cathedra 28: 17–32 [Hebrew].
Figueras P. 1983. Decorated Jewish Ossuaries. Leiden.
Rahmani L.Y. 1988. Chip Carving in Palestine. IEJ 38:59–75.
Rahmani 1994. A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries in the Collections of the State of Israel. Jerusalem.