Biblical Archaeology Review 19:4, July/August 1993

The Bat Creek Inscription: Did Judean Refugees Escape to Tennessee?

By J. Huston McCulloch

At the beginning of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome (66–73 or 74 A.D.), “the inhabitants of Caesarea massacred the Jews who resided in their city,” says the first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. “Within one hour, more than 20,000 were slaughtered, and Caesarea was completely emptied of Jews.”1 Is it possible that a few of these Caesarea Jews escaped by sea from this famous port city and eventually ended up in Tennessee?

In 68 A.D., the Jews of Joppa, “finding themselves cut off from the country, which had passed into the enemy’s hands, … built themselves a fleet of piratical ships and made raids on the traffic [in the eastern Mediterranean].”2 When the Roman infantry and cavalry attacked Joppa, these people took refuge in their ships just out of range of the Romans’ weapons. But a gale accomplished what the Romans had failed to do by dashing the fleet against the rocky shore, killing 4,200 Jews. Although Josephus implies that none survived, he notes that the fleet attempted to make it to the open sea.3 Thus we may legitimately wonder whether any of these ships escaped, and, if so, where they could have gone.

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