Underground Tunnels Found in Israel Used In Ancient Jewish Revolt

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The pit and tunnel complex may offer new evidence about how the First Jewish Revolt was conducted.

"I think it's important and fascinating, because it shows deliberate preparation," said Andrea Berlin, an archaeologist at the University of Minnesota.

"This evidences a kind of organization, planning, and subversiveness that we didn't have any idea was going on."

When Roman armies reached the Middle East to stamp out the revolt, they turned first to the Galilee region, because it was a hotbed of civil unrest.

While southern communities had time to prepare for the oncoming legions, those in the northern region of Kfar Kana probably did not.

The timing suggests that the underground dwellings were prepared prior to the arrival of the Romans in A.D. 67 and therefore might have been used to conduct the revolt.

"When the Romans came from the coast, it was just a matter of weeks before they got to the first siege site," Berlin said. "And I don't think these sort of tunnels could have been constructed that quickly."

But Andrew Overman, an archaeologist at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, said that the carefully prepared complex might not have had a military purpose.

"[It's] proof of the unrest and the conflict that happened, but it's not necessarily a place where rebels were," he said.

"I think it also may have been a place where people prepared to take cover when they were aware that this grand presence, in the form of the Roman army, was about to be visited on them."

The chronicles of Josephus, a Jewish scholar and priest, are the only literary sources that describe the revolt. Josephus initially led troops against the Romans but later became a favorite at imperial court.

"Josephus describes what it was like at Jotapata [the site of one of the revolt's definitive engagements]," Overman said.

"He claims to have watched the whole battle and the massacre of the village. It's so apocalyptic. So people hid, they got ready for the war to end all wars."

Archaeological research confirms a history of savage fighting and massacres in the region. Some evidence has been found to closely match descriptions given by Josephus to events at the same locales.

Jotapata, the Golan Heights city of Gamla, and several Jerusalem sites have yielded Roman arrowheads, boots, weapons, and other remnants of battle dating to the second half of the first century.

Conquest Boosted Roman Dynasty

The First Jewish Revolt began during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero, who placed a military official named Vespasian in charge of the war against the Jews.

But Nero died in A.D. 68 while Vespasian was in Egypt gathering troops to quell the uprising.

Vespasian became the new emperor at this opportune time. The revolt was essentially crushed two years later when Vespasian's son Titus sacked Jerusalem and left the city in ruins.

Their conquest of the revolt became an important symbol of their family's strength. The victory was heavily exploited on subsequent triumphal arches and coinage.

Overman suggests that the story of the revolt has endured largely because it served the needs of the Flavians—the emperor Vespasian and his son Titus.

"What the Flavian house did was use this relatively minor event on the eastern outskirts of the empire to prop up their image as suitable rulers of the whole empire."

"Vespasian and especially Titus had never really won battles on their own," Overman explained, "and that was one of the main ways that you could prove that the gods were with you.

"So they promoted the hell out of it."

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