Maccabees’ Burial Grounds Found – or Maybe Not

Archaeologists cannot confirm that site being excavated west of Modi'in is in fact the Maccabees' final resting place.

Moshe Gilad

The Israel Antiquities Authority has recently renewed its efforts to locate the graves of the Maccabees, but has not yet been able to confirm that the site being excavated west of Modi’in is in fact their burial place.

At Hurvat Hagardi Monday, the authority displayed the findings of the excavations, which are being conducted together with local residents. The site was first excavated 150 years ago, when an impressive mausoleum was found that recalled the description of the Maccabees’ grave in the Book of Maccabees and in the book “Jewish Antiquities” by Josephus.

The discovery of the structure and its proximity to a village called Al-Midia, which could be related to the ancient village of Modi’in, led historians and archaeologists to think that these were the graves of the Maccabees. However, later excavations by French archeologist Charles Clemont-Ganneau found a floor mosaic with crosses at the site, and declared that the purpose of the structure was unclear.

For years the site was neglected, and some of its stones were carted away for construction work. But the renewed excavations in an expanded area around the old structure found elaborate burial vaults, a courtyard leading to the previously known structure, pillars that probably supported a second floor and other buildings. Yet none of this provides proof that the Maccabees were buried there.

The directors of the excavations, Amir Re’em and Dan Shahar, say that even if the main structure isn’t the Maccabees’ burial vault, there’s a good chance that Christians, who revered the Maccabees as martyrs, recognized the site as their burial place and built the impressive structure to honor them. That would mean the Maccabees’ graves are still in the area, waiting to be discovered.

The Antiquities Authority said that more funds are needed to continue the excavations.