Indiana Jones and the Cave of John the Baptist

The finding of “the cave of John the Baptist” not far away from Jerusalem was a great dramatic piece of journalism. Archaeological news can easily ignite the imagination. Think back to Indiana Jones’ movie series. Are you sure that John the Baptist began to baptize his followers within the cave? Let’s look over the details, and discover.

There are not many historical sources that can provide us with information on the location of John the Baptist. Of them, the Gospels and, in particular St. Luke, give us the most precise details. Josephus Flavius may also have “The Antiquities of the Jews” which could serve as a third source.

St. Luke tells us that Zachary was the father of John was a priest who lived with John’s mother Elisabeth in “a city called Judah” in “the hill country”. The source doesn’t specify where the city was. However, we can assume that people live near their place of work. Since priests utilized the Temple as their home, it is likely that the city was in Jerusalem’s vicinity. The legend has it that Zachary and Elisabeth lived close to Jerusalem in Ein Kerem. However, there is no evidence from archeological excavations to confirm this theory.

Some churches have been built in Ein Kerem since the Byzantine period, but we do not know whether the first churches were dedicated to John the Baptist or even related to John the Baptist or related to him. Crusaders were the first to associate Ein Kerem with John. It is nevertheless crucial to know that the Christian conquerors of Holy Land made it their custom to adapt Holy places to their own territory. Visit:-

When the Crusaders controlled the way to Jerusalem they stated that the town of Emmaus was situated in the village of Abu Ghosh, and built there a magnificent church. After being driven out of the region by the Moslems and recognizing Kubeiba as Emmaus a hundred years later. There they also built a church, a monastery , and a fortress.

Actually there has been always an area called Emmaus. It is located in the Ayalon Valley. The early Christians believed that this is the actual Emmaus that is mentioned in the Gospels, and magnificent churches were constructed there during the Byzantine era, 1500 years ago. The problem with this is that it is over 30km away from Jerusalem. However as per St. Luke, the distance was just 11 km.

Back to John the Baptist. We have already considered the birthplace. Now let’s consider: where did he go to preach? Two geographic facts form the main points of the Gospels. He preached his sermons and rituals of religious worship in the Judea desert, and that he baptized people who came to him from Judea and Jerusalem and baptized them in the Jordan River.

St John mentions specifically a area named Aenon located near Salim. John the Baptist was said to have visited the area because there was water. John mentions another place called Bethabara outside of Jordan where John was baptizing. For those familiar with the area, the only conclusion is that John baptized fellow Jews near Jericho. It was the only place that combined the waters of the Jordan River, a convenient route to Jerusalem and Judea and also a geographic proximity to the desert of Judea desert.

St. Luke tells us that John was born while Herod was the tetrarch of Galilee. This implies that John was alive when Herod, the son of King Herod, ruled the northern and eastern regions of the country. Many years later, this tetrarch (Roman prince) arrested John and executed the man in a brutal manner by hanging him.

What was the reason he was imprisoned and then thrown out? A few Gospels provide evidence that John rebuked the tetrarch publicly for his evil deeds. Josephus is a legendary Jewish historian, shares an entirely different story. John was seen as dangerous politically. St. Matthew insinuates that this is true, when he says that Herod “feared the people as they considered John (John) as prophets”.

The most significant part of Josephus to our story is telling us the location where John was imprisoned and murdered. It was in the fortress of Machaerus (Mikhvar Machaerus in Hebrew) The remains of which can be seen today in the Kingdom of Jordan.

Kibutz Tzuba (the correct Hebrew name is Tzova) which is where the cave was found, is situated just four kilometers away from Ein kerem, which probably was the place of birth of John, as mentioned above. Also, we should be aware that John didn’t operate there. He was in need of “much water”. In the Tzuba-Ein-Kerem region, water is scarce. The Historical sources put the scene in an alternative location, namely the Jordan River, apparently near Jericho. Why should we not belie them?

A few hundred meters away from the Tzuba cave, at the top of another hill, remnants of a small fortress can be seen. The Crusaders built it to control an alternative route to Jerusalem that was used by Pilgrims. In those days, the Crusaders did not control the main route to Jerusalem no longer and were forced other than to employ their inventive imagination to “create” new “biblical sites”. Nearby Abu Ghosh is one of them. It later became Emmaus.

Is the Tzuba Cave an example of an updated version? It could be. It could also be the place that John The Baptist performed a baptism. Why would that be? He was born just away from there. His parents could still be living in Ein Kerem. Perhaps he was able use the cave while he visited his parents?

These are speculations. These are outside the topic of this discussion. The majority of Holy places in Israel are believed to be the original ones without having any firm scientific evidence. Does it matter? Evidently, the answer is no. Believers are a matter of faith not science.

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