Artificial Caves Cut into Galilee Cliff Tops and their Historical Significance
Zefat Academic College – Cave Research Center in Israel
During research on subterranean caves in the Galilee region in Israel, a phenomenon was discovered which shed light on the use of cliff caves. Natural caves had been artificially enlarged by Galilee Jews in an attempt to ensure their safety during the Early Roman Period.
Until recently, researchers had distinguished between “hideout complexes” and “refuge caves”. Hideout complexes are subterranean spaces, artificially hewn deep underground, made up of winding narrow tunnels on different levels. These were used as hiding places during emergency periods. These were primarily discovered under the remains of Jewish settlements in Judea and the Galilee.
Refuge caves were distinguished from hideout complexes in that they were originally natural karstic caves, artificially enlarged, at the top of high cliffs both in the Judean desert and in the Benyamin hills in which Jews from various locations sought sanctuary. Findings in Judea, in both types of caves, indicate that they belonged to the Bar Kokhba revolt period (132 – 136 AD), although some findings also testify to their use during the Great Revolt (66 – 70 AD).
During a survey of caves on the Galilee cliff-tops, another type of cave similar to refuge caves was found, but the location of this type differed. While the refuge caves were far from any Jewish settlement, the Galilee caves were close by. Due to this distinguishing characteristic, I chose to call them “cliff shelters”. All of these spaces had been artificially enlarged through hewing. Objects found in the caves helped to date the refurbishment done on the caves to the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods. In my lecture, I will discuss a number of prominent Jewish settlements and their connection to the cliff shelters nearby. I will present salient findings and the historical evidence provided by Josephus who hints at the use made by Galilee Jews of the cliff shelters during the Great Revolt.