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Group discovers John the Baptist cave

Archaeologists announced yesterday that they have found a cave in which they believe John the Baptist anointed many of his disciples.

Associated Press reports that the focal point of the discovery is a huge cistern with 28 steps leading to an underground pool of water.

The archaeologists showed the news agency wall carvings they said tell the story of the John the Baptist, as well as a stone they believe was used for ceremonial foot washing.

"John the Baptist, who was just a figure from the Gospels, now comes to life," said British archaeologist Shimon Gibson, who supervised the dig outside Jerusalem.

However, others said there was no proof that John the Baptist ever set foot in the cave, about four kilometres from Ein Kerem, the preacher's hometown and now part of Jerusalem.

"Unfortunately, we didn't find any inscriptions," said University of North Carolina religious studies professor James Tabor, who participated in the excavations with his students.

Both Tabor and Gibson said it was very likely that the wall carvings, including one showing a man with a staff and wearing animal skin, told the story of John the Baptist. The carvings stem from the Byzantine period and apparently were made by monks in the fourth or fifth century.

Gibson said the carvings, the foot washing stone and other finds, taken together with the proximity of John's hometown, constituted strong circumstantial evidence that the cave was used by John.

The cave is on the property of Kibbutz Tzuba. A member of the kibbutz, Reuven Kalifon, knew of the cave's existence - the community's nectarine orchards run right up to the mouth of the cave - but it was filled with soil almost to the ceiling.

In 1999, Kalifon asked Gibson to inspect the cave more closely.

The archaeologist, who has excavated in the Holy Land for three decades, crawled through the small opening and began removing boulders near the wall of the cave. When he pushed aside one of the stones, he saw a head carved into the wall - the top of the figure he believes depicts John.

Group Discovers John the Baptist Cave (Associated Press/My Way 16/8/04)

Kibbutz Tzuba
Dr James D. Tabor (University of North Caroline Religious Studies) | The Jewish Roman World of Jesus
John the Baptist (Catholic Encyclopedia)

17 Aug 2004