First Physical Evidence of Maccabee Tribe Found in Israel

<i> From Associated Press</i>

A tractor leveling ground for a new highway broke open a 2,000-year-old burial cave believed to have been used by the Maccabees, a tribe of Jewish warriors whose revolt is celebrated in the festival of Hanukkah.

Archeologists showed off their dusty find Thursday--the first physical evidence of the Maccabees, known until now only from ancient Jewish writings.

“This is the first time that archeologists have evidence that there really was this family,” said site director Shimon Riklin, as workers in hard hats cleared away sand that has covered the cave for nearly two millennia.

The cave was discovered Monday by workers building a highway 19 miles northwest of Jerusalem. It includes an entrance courtyard and three small burial chambers built of chalk blocks, in which archeologists found 24 stone boxes, or ossuaries, containing the bones of the dead.


The ossuaries are inscribed in Hebrew with Jewish names, Riklin said. The inscription on one is missing several letters but is believed to read “Hasmonean,” another name for the clan.

“This is the first time the word Hasmonean has been found on archeological evidence,” Riklin said. Coins and oil lamps were also found in the cave, helping to establish its age.

Riklin said the cave may contain the remains of three generations of Hasmoneans, perhaps even its most famous members, Judas Maccabeus and his brothers.

The Maccabees lived in what is now central Israel. In the 2nd Century BC, they rebelled against Syria’s King Antiochus IV, who had stripped the Temple in Jerusalem and persecuted the Jews. Led by Judas, they conquered Jerusalem and reconsecrated the Temple in 165 BC, a feat celebrated by the Jewish Hanukkah festival, which begins Dec. 17 this year.