Evidence for a dramatic moment in the history of the Jewish people has been uncovered in the Judean Desert: A rare wooden box containing a small hoard of 15 silver coins, dated to the days leading up to the Maccabean Revolt. The box was hidden in Muraba’at Cave in the Darageh Stream Nature Reserve about 2,200 years ago, and it was discovered in excavations carried out there last May. The coin hoard has since been researched. It will be exhibited to the public over Hannukah in the Hasmonean Museum in Modi’in, in the context of Israel Heritage Week, which takes place during Hannukah.
The rescue excavation was carried out in Muraba’at Cave in March–May 2022 in the framework of the Judean Desert Excavation and Survey Project run by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Archaeological Office for the Military Administration of Judea and Samaria, in cooperation with the Ministry for Jerusalem and Heritage. Among the many finds, the unique lathe-turned wooden box was discovered in a crack in the cave.
When the lid was removed, it turned out that the upper part of the box was full of packed earth and small stones. Below this earth layer, a large piece of purple woolen cloth was found, covering the 15 silver coins that were arranged with pieces of sheep’s wool in the lower part of the box.
The coin hoard, cleaned in the Israel Antiquities Authority metal finds laboratory, comprised a homogeneous group of silver tetradrachma coins minted by Ptolemy VI, King of Egypt. Ptolemy VI reigned over Egypt at the same time as his uncle Antiochos IV Epiphanes (“the Wicked”) reigned over the Seleucid Kingdom, including Judea. The earliest coins in the hoard were minted in 176/5 BCE, and the latest was dated 171/0 BCE. The name “Shalmai” in Aramaic script was secondarily incised on one of the coins.
Based on the date of the latest coin in the hoard in 170 BCE, the year when the cache was hidden can be fixed to the beginning of the Maccabean Revolt and the war declared against Antiochos Epiphanes IV decrees against the Jewish religion or the events that led up to the Revolt.
According to Dr. Eitan Klein, who studied the coins with Dr. Gabriela Bijovsky, Israel Antiquities Authority numismatic expert, “It is interesting to try to visualize the person who fled to the cave and hid his personal property here intending to return to collect it. The person was probably killed in the battles, and he did not return to collect his possessions, which awaited almost 2,200 years until we retrieved them. This unique find presented the first clear archaeological evidence that the Judean Desert caves played an active role as the stage of the activities of the Jewish rebels or the fugitives in the early days of the Maccabean Revolt or the events that led up to them.
According to Dr. Klein, the Books of the Maccabees describe the dramatic events of the times that would have led people to hide their possessions in the Judean Desert until the danger passed. One explanation could be the plundering of the Jerusalem Temple treasures by Antiochos IV and the destruction of the Jerusalem city wall in the years that led up to the Hasmonean Revolt. Another explanation could be the religious decrees imposed on the Jews in 167 BCE. The First Book of Maccabees records that groups of Jews fled to hiding places in the desert due to the decrees imposed on the Jews: “Then many who were seeking righteousness and justice went down to the wilderness to dwell there: they, their sons, their wives, and their cattle because evils pressed heavily upon them. And it was reported to the king’s officers and the troops in Jerusalem in the city of David that men who had rejected the king’s command had gone down to hiding places in the wilderness. Many pursued and overtook them; they encamped opposite them and prepared for battle against them on the sabbath day…. and they died, with their wives and children and cattle, about a thousand persons.” (I Maccabees 2:29–37).
Amir Ganor, Director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority: “The Survey and Excavation Project carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Judean Desert over the past six years has proved itself, in that thousands of archaeological artifacts have been saved from destruction and plundering, including parts of biblical scrolls, arrowheads from the Bar Kochba Revolt, a 10,500-year-old basket, and more.”
According to the Minister of Construction and Housing, Jerusalem and Heritage, Zeev Elkin: “This moving find, coming just before the festival of Hannukah, is symbolic, emphasizing once again the importance of our activity in the field of heritage. Over the recent years, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, which I am responsible for, has invested millions of shekels in the Judean Desert Survey, together with the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Archaeology Staff Officer of the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, we have taken steps to save and preserve many heritage sites in the Judean Desert and Judea and Samaria, and I commend all the participants in this important task. During Heritage Week, which will take place on Hannukah, dozens of sites will b open to the public with special activities for families and children, including the possibility of seeing the discovery in the Hasmonean Museum in Modi’in, and I invite all Israel to visit and enjoy the national heritage.”
Eli Escusido, Director General of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The coin hoard that will be exhibited to the public in the framework of the Israel Heritage Week events fires the imagination and connects us with “those days in this season.” This is the Hannukah’ gelt’ (money) that the Israel Antiquities Authority is donating to the people and the State of Israel. I invite the public to participate in the excavations in the Wadi Muraba’at cave in December. We consider that the shelter has not yet said its final word!”
According to Hananya Hizmi, the Archaeology Staff Officer of the Civil Administration, “The historical discovery of the coins dating to the time of Antiochos IV represents another step in the extensive activity of the Archaeology Staff Officer of the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria Unit. We work tirelessly to preserve all the archaeological sites in Judea and Samaria, and we will not cease to look for and excavate historical discoveries such as this.”