Biblical Archaeology Review 35:4, July/August September/October 2009

The Riches of Ketef Hinnom

Jerusalem tomb yields Biblical text four centuries older than Dead Sea Scrolls

By Gabriel Barkay

I’ve lived in Jerusalem for more than 59 years. I sometimes feel I can put myself in the shoes (or minds) of ancient Jerusalemites. I think I can tell better than most where these ancient Jerusalemites would have located different facilities.

I came to Ketef Hinnom in the early 1970s looking for evidence of these ancients, such as quarries, farms, orchards, military encampments, burials, roads, forts—even cultic activity that took place outside the city.

Ketef Hinnom is located just opposite the Old City—to the southwest, across the Hinnom Valley from Mt. Zion. When I began collecting surface potsherds and looking for terrain features, I found evidence of human activity over thousands of years. In each period, the inhabitants had cleared away the remains and looted the treasures of their predecessors.

In 1975, we began a relatively small excavation that turned out to be extraordinary both in the quantity and the richness of the finds: an ancient church, cremation burials of the Tenth Roman Legion, burial caves from the time of the Judahite monarchy, jewelry, weapons and—the pièces de résistance—two inscribed silver amulets that contain the earliest texts ever discovered from the Hebrew Bible.

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