Kibbutz Tzuba, Israel
— Archeologists said Monday that they
have found a cave where they believe
John the Baptist anointed many of his
disciples – a huge cistern with 28 steps
leading to an underground pool of water.
During an exclusive tour of the cave by
the Associated Press, archeologists
presented wall carvings they said tell
the story of the fiery New Testament
preacher, as well as a stone they
believe was used for ceremonial foot
They also pulled about 250,000
pottery shards from the cave, the
apparent remnants of small water jugs
used in baptismal ritual.
“John the Baptist, who was just a
figure from the Gospels, now comes to
life,” said British archeologist Shimon
Gibson, who supervised the dig outside
Others, however, said there was no
proof that John the Baptist ever set
foot in the cave, about four kilometres
from Ein Kerem, the preacher's hometown
and now part of Jerusalem.
“Unfortunately, we didn't find any
inscriptions,” said James Tabor, a
religious studies professor at the
University of North Carolina at
Mr. Tabor and his students have
participated in the excavations.
Both Mr. Tabor and Mr. Gibson said it
was very likely that the wall carvings,
including one showing a man with a staff
and wearing animal skin, told the story
of John the Baptist. The carvings stem
from the Byzantine period and apparently
were made by monks in the fourth or
Mr. Gibson said he believed the monks
commemorated John at a site linked to
him by local tradition.
He said the carvings, the foot
washing stone and other finds, taken
together with the proximity of John's
hometown, constituted strong
circumstantial evidence that the cave
was used by John.
John, a contemporary of Jesus who
also preached a message of redemption,
is one of the most important figures in
Christianity. The discovery, if
confirmed, would be among the most
significant breakthroughs for biblical
scholars in memory.
The cave is on the property of
Kibbutz Tzuba, an Israeli communal farm
just outside Jerusalem. A member of the
kibbutz, Reuven Kalifon, knew of the
cave's existence – the community's
nectarine orchards run right up to the
mouth of the cave – but it was filled
with soil almost to the ceiling.
In 1999, Mr. Kalifon asked Mr. Gibson
to inspect the cave more closely.
The archeologist, who has excavated
in the Holy Land for three decades,
crawled through the small opening and
began removing boulders near the wall of
the cave. When he pushed aside one of
the stones, he saw a head carved into
the wall – the top of the figure he
believes depicts John.
Mr. Gibson, who heads the Jerusalem
Archaeological Field Unit, a private
research group, organized an excavation.
During the five-year project, he wrote a
book, The Cave of John the Baptist,
to be published later this week.
Mr. Gibson said the cave – 24 metres
long, about four metres wide and four
metres deep – was carved in the Iron
Age, somewhere between 800 and 500 B.C.,
by the Israelites who apparently used it
as an immersion pool.
“It apparently was adopted by John
the Baptist, who wanted a place where he
could bring people to undergo their
rituals, pertaining to his ideas of
baptism,” Mr. Gibson said.
Believers would have walked down 28
stone steps. To their right, they would
have discarded their clothes in a niche
carved into the wall.
At the bottom of the steps, they
would have placed the right foot onto a
stone with an imprint of a foot. A small
depression to the right of the imprint
would have contained oil, to be poured
over the foot for cleansing, Mr. Gibson