Lost and almost forgotten over the years amidst the flurry of news about other archaeological discoveries in and around Jerusalem, the ‘Abba Cave’ is arguably still on the list of cold cases of ancient tomb discoveries of the last century. But recently, Dr. James Tabor, Professor of ancient Judaism and early Christianity at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, has penned a few reminders about it in his popular blog, raising some issues that could be worth another look among scholars with the expertise and resources to investigate the case.
The story begins with a discovery in 1970 when construction workers stumbled across an ancient tomb while building a private home in the Givat Hamivtar community in East Jerusalem. Interestingly, the tomb was not far from another famous tomb excavated in 1968, also in Givat Hamivtar, that contained the 1st century CE bones of a crucified man namedYehohanan. But the 1970 tomb discovery, consisting of two chambers, was dated to the 1st century BCE. Within the tomb was an ornately engraved ossuary (a limestone bone box used by 1st century jews to collect and store the bones of deceased family members one year after death). On the tomb wall above the ossuary was an inscription in Aramaic:
“I am Abba, son of Eleazar the priest. I am Abba, the oppressed, the persecuted, born in Jerusalem and exiled to Babylon, who brought back Mattathiah son of Judah and buried him in the cave that I purchased.”