Mikveh Found Near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount May Have Been Used by Priestly Family

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol
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Descending the steps to the ritual bath
Descending the steps to the ritual bathCredit: Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

An ancient mikveh postulated to have been used by Jerusalem’s elites around 1,900 years ago was revealed on Wednesday by researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology.

The mikveh, or ritual bath, was discovered in an area of the Old City of Jerusalem populated by the Judean elites during the Second Temple period (1st century C.E.).

The complex with the mikveh, from the late Second Temple periodCredit: Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority
The finely hewn stones of the ritual bath’s vaulted ceiling. Note the watermarks on the bedrockCredit: Michal Haber/Hebrew University

According to the university, the bath was discovered within a “private villa, hewn into the bedrock and featuring a vaulted ceiling with fine masonry typical of the Herodian period” in an area known as the “Upper City.”

The archaeologists also discovered a plastered water cistern near the villa. The edifice had been in use until the destruction of the Second Temple by Rome in 70 C.E., the archaeologists estimate.

“During the Herodian period, the area in question was home to the city’s wealthiest residents. While several other ritual baths have been unearthed in the area, the importance of this particular discovery stems from its striking proximity to the Temple Mount—raising the question of who lived in this grand villa on the eve of the city’s destruction,” said Michal Haber, one of the supervisors of the dig, adding, “It may well have been a priestly family.”

Ottoman-period clay pipesCredit: Michal Haber

It bears noting that a large number of mikvehs have been found in ancient Jerusalem, not a few dating from that Second Temple period. One lucky family living in the capital found one underneath their living room.

Ancient Jerusalem sported hundreds of ritual baths, not only for locals but to serve pilgrims en route to the Temple, many of them stopping to immerse while ascending the pilgrim’s road which ran for about a kilometer (0.6 miles) up from the Siloam Pool (Breichat Shiloah in Hebrew) at the bottom of the hill, ending at the Temple Mount at the top.

Contemporary Orthodox Jews still immerse in ritual baths before visiting the Temple Mount and observant women immerse every month following the end of menstruation. Hasidic Jews have the custom to immerse prior to shabbat and holidays.

Intact Herodian-period cooking vessels collected from the bottom of the water cisternCredit: Michal Haber/Hebrew University

Second Temple-period mikvehs are also found elsewhere in ancient Israel – and in Jordan too, where archaeologists found a monumental ritual bath in King Herod’s palace in Machaerus.

One Second Temple-period carved into the chalky bedrock near Kibbutz Hannaton was recently rescued by members of the cooperative from the indignity of being covered over by roadworks. Unable to persuade the authorities to build elsewhere, the kibbutzniks collected money and managed to carve it out of the bedrock and relocate the whole enchilada next to their own “egalitarian” mikveh.

According to Hebrew University, the newly discovered mikveh “will be preserved and incorporated into the new Western Wall Elevator complex” currently under construction.

A tile with the Tenth Roman Legion stampCredit: Michal Haber

A large number of other artifacts from the Roman to the Ottoman periods were also found, the archaeologists report. One intriguing find was a pool from the period when Jerusalem was under Roman control and renamed Aelia Capitolina. The pool had been built by the Legio X Fretensis, aka the Tenth Legion, which had been stationed in the city. We know this because its floor contained bricks, one of which was stamped with the letters “LXF”.

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