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A Unique Mikveh in Upper Galilee

A mikveh in the Holy Land which shows a cross on its wall

By Eldad Keynan
Bar Ilan
September 2015

Click here for article.

Comments (9)

Unfortunately there is an error in this phrase above: "When we look at the southern basins in Figs. 1-5 above and compare them . . .". The correct reading is "When we look at the northern basins in Figs. 1-5 above" etc.
#1 - Eldad Keynan - 09/26/2015 - 08:19

Thanks for the article on this interesting find! Yet, rather than a unique mikveh, the layout and context of this feature all seems to point to its identification as a rather common wine collection tank with a shallow circular depression in the floor for settling of impurities in the wine must. (Also the supposed 'Ammudim Mikveh' seems to be a wine collection tank.) Also the fact that nearby a wine press was found seems to support the idea of a wine tank. Moreover, wineries are commonly found near Byzantine churches, so it is no surprise to find nearby this feature a church nor surprising to find a cross engraved into one of its walls.

While I'm not aware of such a cross engraving in any other wine collection tank, at least 7 other of these wine tanks have been found in Western Galilee (e.g. Kh. Masref, Habonim, Hurvat Kav). There are similar types of these rock-cut tanks known from Italy, Gaul, Greece and Egypt as well (see, e.g., van Limbergen, D. 2011. “Vinum Picenum And Oliva Picena. Wine and Oil Presses in Central Adriatic Italy Between the Late Republic and the Early Empire. Evidence and Problems.” Babesch 86: 71–94, with further references to other sources).
#2 - Rick Bonnie - 09/26/2015 - 09:17

Thanks, Rick. I do know some Galilean wine tanks and none of them has similar, not to mention identical sets of steps. Moreover, you wrote "While I'm not aware of such a cross engraving in any other wine collection tank, at least 7 other of these wine tanks have been found in Western Galilee." The cross on this mikveh wall makes it unique. The other wine tanks do not show crosses incised in them. The fact that this mikveh does show a cross, which is not the case even in the wine tanks around the Mediterranean, puts this facility in a different category.
As for the identification of the building remains as an ancient church, the entire site is still unexcavated and "a church" is no more than a suggestion. As you probably know, some ancient churches were built on older synagogues. This could be the case here as well.
Three weeks ago I visited the site and the mikveh still had some water in it, about 20 cm above the floor level. I will visited it again soon and look for the shallow circular depression you mentioned.
I would also ask for your opinion regarding the bell-shaped water reservoir less than two meters south of the "pit", and whether it relates to the pit.

BTW: Habonim is not located in Western Galilee. I tried to locate Kh. Masref and Hurvat Kav on my e-map but failed. Can you please give me the coordinates? Maybe the spelling is different? I need your help to locate both points.
#3 - Eldad Keynan - 09/26/2015 - 20:34

Dear Rick,

I have visited Kh. Kav and another site (748028 / 221428) yesterday. The latter site shows what you call “water tank”; it’s about 1.6X1.6 m, about 1.5m deep. Adjacent to the tank there is a stepping surface – in which workers squeezed the juice out of the grapes. Its size is 2X2 m. Both facilities are interlinked by a short tunnel, about 20cm long, that is they almost touch each other. This tunnel allowed for the juice to run into the pit.
In Kh. Kav the model is similar, only the sizes are huge. The tank is about 3.3X3.3 m wide and about 2m deep (I assume a 20 cm debris layer on the floor). The adjacent stepping surface is much larger. It is about 6.2X6.2 wide, with the remains of pressing device shaft in the center. Here the linking tunnel is longer – around 0.5 m.
I still didn’t visit Kh. Masref but I intend to do so soon. Yet the data I managed to collect describe a cluster of square shallow pools probably connected to the color industry.
The mikveh depicted above has no adjacent stepping surface and there is one a few meters north of it but nothing connects the mikveh to this surface. As we can see, there is a relation between the size of the stepping surface and the tank. The larger tank requires a larger stepping surface. Thus should the mikveh be a wine tank, we would find a large stepping surface as the mikveh is about 2.5X2.5m wide and about 1.8m deep (again – with a layer of debris on its floor). It fails to meet the wine industry model requirements.
#4 - Eldad Keynan - 09/28/2015 - 07:44

My coment is long, it will be divided into 2-3 part. I already saw a comment here telling very gently to Eldad Keinan that this is a collecting vat of a wine press and his arrognt answer is "I know many wine presses tanks"
First part
A Critical Respond to: "A Unique Miqveh in Upper Galilee" by Eldad Keynan

Mordechai Aviam
Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology
Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee

It is very sad to see a baseless article, published in a distinguished Web-site ( which purports to publish new archaeological discoveries concerning the Biblical world. Keynan's article is based on a very shallow research and presents poor academic standards, with very little archaeological knowledge and full of mistakes of different types!
One can just walk in the field, take some photos of archaeological finds and then "write" an article. But this is not Archaeology! The field of archaeology, like any other field of research, demands much more.
Writing an article in 2015 concerning Miqva’ot without referring to Reich's book on this type of installation (Reich R. 2013. Miqwa’ot (Jewish Ritual Baths), in the Second Temple Mishnaic and Talmudic Period. Jerusalem) is complete ignorance, and then stating that "Dozens has have been found in Israel", making it even worse. Reich gives us the numbers: 459 from the Second Temple Period and 74 from later periods; all together 533 miqva’ot which are much more than 'dozens'.
Kenyan’s description of the "miqveh" at Horvat Amudim as having "…a small pit in the floor corner…" makes every archaeologist immediately understand that this installation is actually a collecting vat of a wine press. This small depression was cut to collect the last drops of wine from the vat's floor and it is totally absent in any real miqveh! If Keynan would open Reich's book and he could see hundreds of plans and sections of miqva’ot all of which lack this feature.
The same happened when Keynan recently mis-identified a "miqveh" at Horvat Makhoz, in the Upper Galilee. He saw the collecting vat, identified it as a miqveh but failed to recognize the threshing floor right above it, and without any support from any archaeological evidence he dated it to the 1st century BC! He based this observation on what he called similarities to the miqveh at Keren Naftali. The Keren Naftali installation is indeed a real miqveh, characterized by one large step and one narrow step, typical of early miqva’ot, and of course no small cup in its floor. The pottery collected in the survey I conducted at Horvat Makhoz, was comprised of 70% Byzantine sherds, 29% Mamluk sherds and only 1% from the Roman period.
But the worst comes when Keynan states that he discovered a miqveh with a cross in Western Upper Galilee, without mentioning the site name or its location. Based on this "discovery" Keynan has compiled an imaginative theory about the site which was initially a Jewish village and following Christianization of its inhabitants, a cross was engraved on the wall of its miqveh….
#5 - Mordechai AviM - 10/07/2015 - 15:52

second part
This site was surveyed by me many years ago and was named by the neighboring Christian villagers from Fassutah, Bir Abu Faur. I identified there a small monastery (e.g., Aviam M. 1999. Christian Galilee in the Byzantine Period. In E. Meyrs (ed.) Galilee through the Centuries. Winona Lake. Pp. 281–300, map on page 282, Bir Faur is #26. A photo of this collecting vat with the cross was also published in Aviam M. 2004. Jews Pagan and Christians in the Galilee. Rochester. P. 172, photo 16.3). At the bottom of the collecting vat there is a small depression in the corner. Above it there clearly is a threshing floor with some large mosaic tesserae which once covered it. There were handsome pottery sherds dated to the Hellenistic period and all the rest are from the Byzantine period. Keynan concludes his article with these words: "Still, the entire area is unstudied and thus unexcavated…", which is far from the truth.
It is not the first time that Keynan "Discovers fantastic and unique" discoveries, in areas which he believes were "never studied before." Unfortunately, his research abilities are so poorly utilized that he is neither aware of – or ignores – published studies, nor consults archaeologists who have been working in the field for many years.
I believe that the editors of the Bibleinterp Web-site have access to sufficient resources for checking the facts before publishing articles like Keynan's, as they have many thousands of readers and in this case, given non-scientific and wrong information.
#6 - Mordechai AviM - 10/07/2015 - 15:54

Response to Aviam’s “
First: I am not an archaeologist; thus I’m not allowed to excavate. Still, taking into account possible mistakes on my side, I stick to written materials and relate to them directly and precisely. I wrote “Dozens has have been found in Israel” indeed. Well, not dozens, says Aviam, but hundreds. Dozens is a lot, hundreds are much more. Thanks for the correction.
I admit I didn’t read Prof. Reich’s book, which was published 2013. Aviam criticizes me regarding the rectangular pit in Khurvat Amudim. Yet Aviam fails to tell us where the threshing floor of this “vat” is; there is no such floor close to this vat whatsoever. There is also no sign of any connecting tunnel between the non-existing threshing floor and the “vat”.
Are water reservoirs typical next to wine vats or Mikvehs? Aviam skips this feature, so clearly visible near what he names “wine vat”, the focus of his critical response: it is there, about two meters south of the “wine vat”. To stress this point: wine vats, mikvehs and water reservoirs require rocky surface to be cut in. It’s possible that on a certain rocky surface people cut both a wine vat and a water reservoir, but the question is: is there any wine vat with a water reservoir almost adjacent to it?
The Makhoz site: Aviam says (quote) “and without any support from any archaeological evidence he dated it to the 1st century BC!” I would expect a distinguished scholar to show precision, especially when he criticizes others. This is what I wrote: “the Makhoz mikveh could be dated 1st century BCE to 2nd -3 rd century CE” (my underline, EK). Still, following Aviam’s criticism, I will revisit Makhoz site to look for the threshing floor.
What I believe is a unique mikveh has quite a large cavity, highly visible, on the top of its southern wall. Unfortunately, Aviam missed that feature as well in his so critical response.
#7 - Eldad Keynan - 10/10/2015 - 12:40

part two:
Once again we may ask: how typical to wine vats is this cavity? How many wine vats, Galilean or other, have this cavity on top of the wall which is almost adjacent to a water reservoir? I have visited a large wine vat excavated by Aviam in mid-town Carmiel – Khurvat Kav: there is no water reservoir adjacent to the vat and no any cavity on the top of any wall. There is, indeed, a huge threshing floor next to the vat, and a rock-cut tunnel connects both facilities to each other. No such tunnel, not even the remains of such tunnel, are visible in what I believe is a mikveh.
Once again, unexpected precision problem; Aviam says: “Keynan has compiled an imaginative theory about the site which was initially a Jewish village and following Christianization of its inhabitants, a cross was engraved on the wall of its miqveh….” I did write this, but also that it’s possible that Jews left the village and Christians arrived instead. I wrote very clear: “There are two reasonable explanations”; it’s not my duty to explain how, or rather: why, Aviam missed that.
Aviam says: (quote) “At the bottom of the collecting vat there is a small depression in the corner. Above it there clearly is a threshing floor with some large mosaic tesserae which once covered it.” There is rock-cut flat floor to the north of the “vat” indeed. Yet today there are no any remains of mosaic. Assuming there was when Aviam studied the site, we might accept that ever since Aviam’s excavation weather and human activity eliminated the mosaic. What this floor shows today are two small man-made square holes cut in the rock – are such holes typical to threshing floors? What this floor doesn’t show is a connecting tunnel to the vat.
Aviam says regarding this site: (quote): “there were handsome pottery sherds dated to the Hellenistic period and all the rest are from the Byzantine period” (my underline, EK); if so, then my dating was not so far from what Aviam says.
Archaeological data for this site: true, I couldn’t find any in Haifa University library; I didn’t even know the site is named “Bir Abu Faur”. I did not mark the site since I was, and still am, afraid that exposing it might result in further destruction. Indeed, as I saw the flat rock-cut floor, I thought it’s a threshing floor, as I marked in the photo: “wine press”. But after several visits to the site, during all I’ve found no connecting tunnel to the vat, this idea seems to be wrong. When we consider the two small square holes in the floor – which are not typical to threshing floors – the identification of this floor is still a riddle. This brings us to the main point Aviam skipped in his criticism: to what degree a cross incised on a wall is typical to wine vats? Do we have other such examples? As the cross is still there, its presence calls for explanation.
Aviam says (quote): “It is not the first time that Keynan “Discovers fantastic and unique” discoveries”. I wonder whether Aviam can show a single time that I used the term “fantastic”. I believe in critical reading – it might open fruitful study and debate. I just don’t see what the benefit of such a personal negative attitude is. So far, as I’m not allowed to dig, and I do not dig, I’m not facing any criminal case, nor did I cause others to face such cases. On the other hand, I don’t think that missing this or that study is a crime. Now that I know this site was published before – I will get this publication.
As for consulting others: I did consult an expert in a parallel field concerning the dating of this site. His conclusions are amazing and above all: convincing. These conclusions will be published soon, so I believe.
#8 - Eldad Keynan - 10/10/2015 - 12:41

I have to apologize: Aviam did indeed published this site before I did it here. He is also correct regarding the facility in Kh. Amudim: it is not a mikveh, as I thought and wrote, but a wine vat. I apologize also for misleading the readers.
I also wish to thank Moti Aviam for "pushing" me to study new topics. This study, including the same apology, is here:
#9 - Eldad Keynan - 12/02/2015 - 19:13

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