John the Baptist Cave: New Secrets Emerge

In 2004, archaeologists announced they had found a cave where they believe John the Baptist anointed many of his disciples, offering extraordinary proof of a central New Testament figure and his theology.

The cave includes a huge cistern with 28 steps that lead to an underground pool of water. Some 250,000 pottery shards were also found and are presumed to be remnants of small water jugs used in the Christian baptismal ritual performed by the fiery New Testament preacher. Wall carvings etched into the cave tell John's life story; they were likely made by monks in the fourth or fifth century. In addition, a stone was found in the cave that researchers believe was used for ceremonial foot washing.

Now new secrets and mysteries have emerged from this cave, known as the Suba Cave.

Led by University of North Carolina at Charlotte archaeologist James D. Tabor, the team believes the site dates to the time of the prophet Isaiah in the 7th century B.C. and may include a second, still unexcavated cave. In early 2006, the team uncovered an outside corridor leading to what appears to be another cave. The corridor was filled with deposits that date to the Iron Age--within 100 years of the site's original construction--and leads directly into the steep hillside. Tabor says it now looks as if this is some huge complex.

"We're following the corridor on back and taken it up to a wall of fill--it is leading to something--maybe another cave," Tabor said. "The corridor narrows as it approaches the cliff face and up above you can see bedrock, maybe a roof, but in front you can just see fill. It could just be a little enclave, but it just keeps's going somewhere."

Tabor says that if the corridor is leading to a cave, the site was even more extensive during the time of Isaiah than it was during the time of John the Baptist and Jesus.

"The entrance, if that's what it is, is blocked with Iron Age fill, so this went out of use quickly after it was built, which is another mystery," Tabor noted. "Why do you build this huge thing and then it goes out of use within a hundred years? You have to wonder." In the recent excavations, the team also uncovered seven rough stone pillars in the middle of the corridor. "We have no idea what purpose these pillars served," said Tabor. "They could be quarry stones, but they left them standing in the corridor for some reason."

Tabor speculates that if John the Baptist did use this cave for baptisms, he may have chosen it because it has some kind of special significance to him and his followers.

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