During June 2012, a ritual bath (miqwe) was documented at Horbat Geres (map ref. 208898/624698), which was discovered during an inspection by the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery after the installation was plundered. The documentation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, was conducted by E. Klein (surveying and drafting), with the assistance of B. Zissu (field photography).
Horbat Geres (c. 40 dunams) is situated on a hilltop (751 m above sea level) in the mountains around Jerusalem. The site is located at the top of the eastern slope of an ascent of a Roman road, going up to Jerusalem from the Ela Valley, and near the intersection of another Roman road that ascends to Jerusalem from the Shephelah by way of Nahal Dolev. The team who survey the map of Nes Harim documented at the site settlement remains, burial caves, ancient roads and four ritual baths that have a single opening, as well as potsherds that dated to the Hellenistic, Early Roman and Byzantine periods (Map of Nes Harim , Site 136). On the basis of the miqwa’ot, it seems that a Jewish settlement was located at the site, which has been identified with the settlement Gerasa, mentioned as one of the settlements vanquished in the Roman army’s conquest of Jerusalem in the Great Revolt (Zissu 2007:219–225).
A rock-hewn ritual bath (2.7×3.6 m, visible depth 1.6 m) was documented. The miqwe was hewn close to a massive wall built of ashlars and preserved five courses high; the wall probably enclosed the ancient settlement from the east. Alluvium had accumulated in the bath and therefore, its lower part and bottom could not be examined. Three rock-cut entrances (1–3; 1—width 0.6 m; 2—width 1 m; 3—width 0.9 m) were documented in the bath; today only Entrance 1 is open, while Entrance 2 is blocked with proper construction and rock fall blocks Entrance 3. Entrances 1 and 2 are separated by a bedrock column. A hewn shaft in the ceiling above Entrance 1 was used to convey water from the surface into the bath. Two layers of hydraulic plaster, characteristic of the Second Temple period, were applied to the sides of the bath, its ceiling, Entrances 1 and 2 and the bedrock column between them. The upper layer consisted of gray hydraulic plaster mixed with gravel and the bottom layer was white plaster. The wall that blocks Entrance 2 is also coated with gray hydraulic plaster that covers parts of the gray plaster layer on the sides of Entrance 2. On the basis of this plaster’s composition and hue, it seems that the blockage of Entrance 2 also occurred in the Second Temple period. That blockage left the bath with just one opening. The sides of Entrance 3 are not plastered and it cuts the plaster that was applied to the sides of the bath; thus, it represents a later phase in the use of the miqwe. Several potsherds, mostly dating to the late Second Temple period and a few to the Late Roman-Early Byzantine periods, were recovered from the bath.
The plan of the ritual bath, the plaster and the potsherds seem to indicate that the miqwe was hewn during the Second Temple period. The differences between Entrance 1, which is narrow and its position appears awkward, and Entrance 2, which is wider and fixed in the center of the bath’s eastern side, it seems that these two openings were not hewn simultaneous with the quarrying of the bath. It seems that at first, a single opening was hewn in the bath (2) and another opening (1) was hewn at a later stage, possibly to uphold the Jewish laws regarding cleanliness and impurity. Entrance 2 was blocked at some point, probably in the late Second Temple period. Entrance 3 was hewn subsequent to the Second Temple period and the bath in this phase might have been used as an underground storeroom.
This ritual bath joins the other miqwa’ot discovered at the site and together they reflect the intensity of the Jewish settlement during the late Second Temple period. Ritual baths that included a double entrance made it possible to enforce the separation between those entering the facility and considered impure, from those exiting it who are clean. This separation is mentioned in the rabbinic literature—“All vessels found in Jerusalem on the path leading down to the house of immersion are assumed to be defiled but [those found] on the way up are deemed pure. For [there were two paths and] the path [used by those defiled] leading down [to the miqwe] was not the [same] path leading up [used by those who immersed] (Sheqalim 8, 2). This distinction is also mentioned in Rashi’s commentary—“By one path they would go down to the house of immersion and they would go up by another path”. Similar ritual baths equipped with a double opening were discovered primarily in Jerusalem and its immediate vicinity, in Gush Ezion (Peleg and Amit 2004) and recently at Khirbat Kafr Sum (HA-ESI 125), near Horbat Geres.
Peleg Y. and Amit D. 2004. Another Miqveh near Alon Shevut. ‘Atiqot 48:95–98.
Zissu B. 2007. Identification of the Settlement of ‘Gerasa’ in Judah. In: Y. Eshel, ed. Judea and Samaria Research Studies, Vol. 16. Ariel University and Center of Samaria and Jordan Valley Research and Development. Ariel. Pp. 219–230 (Hebrew).