A Family In Jerusalem Discovered A Historic Secret Hiding Under Their Living Room Floorboards

In the ancient village of Ein Kerem, now a part of Jerusalem, Oriah and Tal Shimshoni are showing off their renovated home. But as they roll up a rug and open a wooden trapdoor, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary property. Underneath the flooring, an ancient secret is hiding – and a possible connection to the Bible itself.

Some years previously, the Shimshonis had bought a property in Ein Kerem, hoping to find a home with some history. But in the end, they got more than they bargained for. As they worked on restoring the building, they discovered something that dates back thousands of years – a relic from the times of Christ.

At some point over the years, this momentous discovery was lost, disappearing beneath the foundations of one of Ein Kerem’s historic stone houses. But now, thanks to the Shimshonis’ chance discovery, it’s emerged into the light once more. And according to experts, it could have far-reaching implications.

For centuries, many have believed that Ein Kerem was once an important biblical location that’s described in the Book of Luke. But despite their suspicions, archaeologists have been unable to prove the connection. Now, though, another chapter in the history of this fascinating neighborhood has been revealed – one that could change our understanding of the Christian

Today, Ein Kerem sits within the limits of modern-day Jerusalem, among the oldest districts in a city already steeped in history. But thousands of years ago, it was a village in its own right. Set in the mountains, its roots can in fact be traced back to the Iron Age, while everyone from the Crusaders to the Romans have passed through over the generations.

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In the 6th century the village of Ein Kerem also developed a reputation as an important biblical location. According to some, it was where John the Baptist had been born and where his mother had met the woman who would give birth to Jesus Christ. Moreover, it became known as the place where the materials used in the construction of the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem came from.

Hundreds of years later, Ein Kerem is a bustling suburb of Jerusalem, known for its picturesque narrow streets, trendy restaurants and vibrant arts and crafts scene. But like much of this ancient city, it also hides a plethora of ancient secrets. And beneath the surface, many fascinating treasures are waiting to be unearthed.

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In 2019, for example, a team from the Israel Antiquities Authority, or IAA, announced that they’d discovered the remains of an ancient street beneath Jerusalem. Thought to have been built by Pontius Pilate, the man who condemned Jesus to be executed, the walkway was first unearthed in the 19th century. But now, experts have traced its full extent, which reaches across the city’s historic center to Temple Mount.

The following year, researchers announced that they’d found a series of subterranean chambers near the site of Jerusalem’s Second Jewish Temple. Believed to be around 1,400 years old, the rooms were hewn from the rock of the city. At the moment, however, their purpose remains unclear.

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Were these underground rooms connected to the great complex that once stood on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount? Or were they part of something else altogether? Thanks to the city’s long and complex history, archaeology in the region has always proved something of a challenge – although one that offers plenty of rich rewards.

According to experts, the area of Jerusalem was first settled in the Early Bronze Age, approximately 5,500 years ago. Then, in around 1000 B.C., it was captured by King David, the second ruler of the Israelites. Keen to bring the scattered tribes back together, he established the city as the heart of his nation.

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It was David’s son, Solomon, who constructed Jerusalem’s First Temple after his father’s death. And for four centuries the city thrived as the capital of the Israelite kingdom. But then, in 586 B.C., the Babylonians arrived, sacking the temple and expelling the Jewish population. Half a century later, they were permitted to come back.

According to the Bible, many significant events occurred in Jerusalem over the following centuries, including the expansion of the Second Jewish Temple from 37 B.C. In fact, it’s claimed that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ took place nearby on the hill of Golgotha. However, the Israelite link with the city was temporarily severed when the Romans again exiled them in 70 A.D.

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After the Romans, Jerusalem passed into the hands of a succession of Muslim states, whose people also considered the city a place of great religious importance. And even though Christian crusaders fought to reclaim what they saw as their Holy Land right up until the 13th century, the region ultimately remained under Islamic control.

Of course, all that changed in 1917, when World War One brought about the fall of the Islamic Caliphate. At the time, Jerusalem was part of the country of Palestine, coming under British control during the period of Mandatory Palestine. Then, in 1948 the nation of Israel was founded, and the region was thrown into further chaos.

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For two decades, Jerusalem was divided into two sections, with Jordan in charge of the eastern part and Israel holding sway in the west. And as this new order was established, many residents, such as the Arabs living in the neighborhood of Ein Kerem, were compelled to abandon their homes. Then, in 1967 another war broke out.

This time, the Israeli forces took control of Jerusalem in its entirety, including sites considered sacred by both Jews and Muslims. And even today, conflict surrounding the region continues. But while the future of the city remains uncertain, the past grows clearer every year, as significant archaeological discoveries continue to emerge from the bedrock.

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In Ein Kerem, the latest of these discoveries came courtesy of Tal and Oriah Shimshoni, who purchased a home in the neighborhood some years back. In a 2015 interview with NBC News, Oriah explained that the family once resided outside Jerusalem but ultimately returned to the city. “I need a house with stones which are talking,” she said.

Having found a suitably historic house to make their home, the Shimshonis began restoration works sometime in 2012. Speaking to Business Insider in 2015, Oriah explained, “We started work, getting rid of layer after layer of flooring and pipes.” But then, something unexpected happened: they discovered a secret chamber underground.

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“At some point while the workers were breaking up flooring, the jackhammer disappeared,” Oriah continued. “It just plunged downward.” Evidently, the tool had punched through a layer of limestone into a cavernous space below. And when they took a closer look, they were confronted by an astounding sight.

At first, however, the Shimshonis were unsure what to do about the secret hidden beneath their living room floor. Apparently, registering historic discoveries in Israel can be a complex process, and they were put off by the difficulties that they knew it would entail. And so they concealed the chamber beneath a set of wooden trapdoors.

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Still uncertain about how to deal with the chamber beneath their home, the Shimshonis arranged a rug and chairs over the trapdoors. And for years, the discovery remained a secret. However, as Oriah told Business Insider, “This thing gave us no rest.” And eventually, the family decided to notify the authorities.

Speaking to the IAA in 2015, the family explained, “We had a strong feeling that what was situated beneath the floor of our house is a find of historical value and our sense of civic and public duty clinched it for us.” Cryptically, though, they only told the authorities that their house contained something that would be of interest, not revealing the extent of the discovery.

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Shortly afterwards, officials from the IAA arrived at the Shimshonis’ home. And when Tal rolled back the carpet and opened the trapdoors, he finally revealed what the family had stumbled upon years before. Amazingly, it was a ritual bath or mikveh that had been carved into the bedrock beneath the property.

Intrigued, the IAA began investigating the bath, calling it an important discovery. At some 11 feet long by 8 feet wide, and with a depth of almost six feet, the mikveh would have been large enough to fully submerge a grown adult. Tucked away some 10 feet below ground, it was likely constructed as part of a residence sometime in the 1st century A.D.

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However, the most interesting thing about the bath discovered beneath the Shimshoni residence is that it’s in the district of Ein Kerem. In the Bible, the location of John the Baptist’s birth – and the setting of his mother’s encounter with the Virgin Mary – is described as a “town in the hill country of Judea.”

Over the years, many scholars have attempted to identify this location, which the Book of Luke details, with the neighborhood of Ein Kerem. Indeed, there’s even a Catholic church in the area that’s named after St. John the Baptist. But up until recently, little in the way of archaeological evidence had been found to support this connection.

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In fact, earlier evidence to support the existence of a Jewish community in Ein Kerem during the Second Temple period has been piecemeal at best. As well as another mikveh, archaeologists have also ancient walls, an olive press and some burial sites. But now, thanks to the Shimshonis’ discovery, the argument appears stronger.

“All these events took place 2,000 years ago in the days of the Second Temple [in Jerusalem] but until now we didn’t have archaeological evidence supporting the notion that there was a Jewish community in Ein Kerem during that period,” Amit Reem, an archaeologist with the IAA, told Business Insider.

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Reem admits that there isn’t yet any conclusive proof linking the bath beneath the Shimshonis’ house with the story of John the Baptist. Nevertheless, he believes that the mikveh was once used by devout Jews. In the surrounding soil, it seems, archaeologists discovered evidence that rituals had once been important at the site.

In Jewish lore, ceramic implements are considered to be contaminated once they’ve been used in religious rites. As such, they’re typically smashed up afterwards, whereas their stone counterparts are seen as impervious and so can be reused. Beneath the Shimshoni residence, archaeologists uncovered relics that suggest this practice had been adhered to while the site was in use.

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Interestingly, that wasn’t the only discovery that archaeologists made while investigating the mikveh. On closer examination, they also detected evidence that the bath had been scorched by fire at some point during its long history. Might the damage have been sustained in 70 A.D. when the Romans besieged Jerusalem?

Beginning in 66 A.D., the First Jewish-Roman War saw the population of Judea rise in opposition to the Roman Empire. But just four years later, the revolt was crushed and the Second Temple torn down. Of course, it’s tempting to link the damage in the mikveh to this turbulent period in Jerusalem’s history. Reem was quick to point out, though, that experts have yet to establish when exactly the latter occurred.

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In Jewish tradition, a mikveh is a ritual bath that plays an important role in religious ceremonies. And even today, adherents are obliged to submerge themselves in its waters if they wish to become a follower of Judaism. In addition, soon-to-be-wed women must also submit to a similar process.

In fact, the mikveh today is used in much the same way as it was thousands of years ago, when the bath beneath the Shimshoni residence was built. Essentially, immersion in its waters is seen as an act of purification, which is performed after activities such as the consumption of certain kinds of meat.

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According to halakha, or Jewish law, the mikveh must be built to certain specifications, which are reflected in the size of this recent discovery. Interestingly, there is also a belief that only a natural water source, rather than something artificial such as a tap, should be used to fill up the bath. Today, this typically means harnessing and filtering rain – but what would have been used thousands of years ago?

At the moment, the Shimshonis have been unable to establish the original source for the mikveh underneath their home. Speaking to Business Insider, Tal explained, “It still fills up with water in the winter. Where it comes from, we don’t know.” Apparently, the family kept a dehumidifier alongside the bath, which collected several liters of liquid on a daily basis.

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Interestingly, it’s not the first time that a historic mikveh has been uncovered in recent years. In 2013, for example, archaeologists announced that they’d discovered a ritual bath believed to date back two millennia in the Kiryat Menachem neighborhood of Jerusalem. What’s more, it even came with its own unique supply system designed to ensure the water was free from contamination.

Later, in 2014 archaeologists discovered a 1,900-year-old mikvah buried beneath a highway near Jerusalem. Shockingly, it appeared to have been vandalized during the 1940s, and the names of a couple of Australian soldiers were discovered etched into the stone. Despite the damage, however, the bath and its antiquated cistern remain a fascinating relic.

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Back in Ein Kerem, the Shimshonis were awarded a certification of appreciation in recognition of their discovery. Speaking to Business Insider, Reem explained, “Finding antiquities under a private home or public building only happens in Israel, and in Jerusalem particularly. Every time, it’s thrilling anew.”

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