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The Cave of John the Baptist

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Enter the Cave of John the Baptist

Location - West of Ein Karem and South of Kibbutz Tzuba.

Discovered in December 1999 by a local resident, Reuben Kalifon (pictured with me below), this cave appears to have been first used in the Iron Age from the eighth to the sixth century BC as a cistern, but its most unusual period of use was in the Byzantine era.

This cave is in the side of a hill less than a mile from modern Kibbutz Tzuba, and 3 miles west of Ein Karim, the birthplace of John the Baptist. It is 82 ft long, 13 ft wide and 16 ft high, with an interior that is entirely covered with plaster, except for the ceiling. Entrance to the cave leads to 12 wide steps descending to the floor.

Over the centuries, the cave filled with mud and sediment. Discovered here are etchings on these plastered walls, suggesting that it was decorated in honor John the Baptist. In fact, there are some who believe that what we are seeing here is the earliest artistic depiction of John ever created, inscribed during the Byzantine era (4th to 6th century AD).

There is also the presence of a large stone with an imprint of a foot chiseled into it. A collection cup with a drain is also chiseled into the stone, suggesting that there were foot washing rituals performed in this cave.

The claim that John the Baptist was venerated in this cave is based on the figure of a man scratched on one of the walls. The figure strikes a classic pose of John the Baptist that we commonly see in medieval art. It’s about 28 inches high, wearing a garment like a skirt that is decorated with holes in the plaster, perhaps to depict camel’s hair. He wears no shirt and holds a staff in his left hand. His oversized head bears a crown (or a hat). His right hand is raised, perhaps in a gesture of blessing.

On another wall is a disembodied head, calling up the memory that John was beheaded (Matthew 14:10-12; Mark 6:27-29).

We have no proof at all that John ever visited this cave. There is no proof that this is a drawing of John himself, although the evidence is very compelling. The cave is only available for viewing during private tours.

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