Archaeologists have uncovered a cache of 2,200-year-old silver coins near the Dead Sea, which they say is the first physical proof that Jews fled to the Judean Desert during the upheaval and persecution under Hanukkah villain Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
As told in I Maccabees 2:29, in the period prior to the Maccabean Revolt, righteous men were exhorted to leave everything and flee to the desert. “At that time, many who sought righteousness and justice went to live in the desert.” Subsequently, while upholding the laws of Shabbat, they were slaughtered by the king’s forces.
During rescue excavations in May, a small, incredibly preserved wooden box holding 15 silver tetradrachma coins was discovered in a cave in the Darageh Stream Nature Reserve. The coins were minted by Ptolemy VI, king of Egypt, and date to up to 170 BCE, which is just before Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes began handing down harsh measures against Jews’ freedom of worship.
According to Eitan Klein of the Israel Antiquities Authority, which announced the find on Tuesday, the hoard was stashed by a fleeing Jew, who presumably subsequently died in the violence leading up to the Maccabean Revolt.
“Here, we have good proof that people really were fleeing,” said Klein, deputy director of the IAA’s Theft Prevention Unit, just like it was written two thousand years ago in the apocryphal book.
“In general when we find a cache of coins, they tell us a story of war. Otherwise people don’t run off and leave their life savings,” said Klein. In today’s terms the coins are worth about two months’ salary at an average wage, he noted. “You don’t just go off and leave NIS 30,000 in a cave.”
Since 2017, the IAA has spearheaded an ambitious survey of some 500 caves in the Judean Desert — in part to look for more Dead Sea Scrolls, in part to beat antiquities looters to priceless archaeological artifacts. The pristine wooden box was discovered in one of the four Muraba’at Caves where, some 70 years after the first scientific excavations took place in the 100-meter cave near the Dead Sea, exciting new objects are still coming to light, including glimpses of scroll fragments and amazingly preserved textiles.
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