(ORDO NEWS) — Archaeologists have explored a place of pilgrimage for early Christians, which they believed to be the tomb of a woman who was present at the birth of Jesus. But whether this midwife really existed is a big question.
Specialists from the Israel Antiquities Authority have completed excavations of the so-called Tomb of Salome, a cave located near the ancient city of Lachish, about 50 kilometers from Jerusalem. Marauders found it 40 years ago. Excavations began in 1984.
More than two thousand years ago, this cave was the burial place of a wealthy Jewish family. It consists of separate chambers, in the walls of which burial niches are carved.
Most likely, the tomb was robbed in antiquity, since the ossuaries (stone boxes) were broken, all the skeletons were disturbed, thrown from their places.
The walls and floors are decorated with symbolic carvings in the form of rosettes, pomegranates and vases.
In addition, an area of 350 meters is allocated in front of the cave, surrounded by stone walls, which are also richly decorated, and the floor is covered with mosaics.
Archaeologists believe that this is the tomb of a high-status family during the Second Temple period (516 BC – 70 AD). That is, an interesting find, but not the rarest.
This year, researchers found, in addition to ancient Jewish burials, clear traces of the presence of people from the early Byzantine period – approximately the 5th century and beyond.
At this time, Christian pilgrims begin to visit the cave. Archaeologists have found hundreds of clay oil lamps in the tomb, which are traditionally associated with pilgrims.
In addition, inscriptions carved by believers remained on the walls of the cave. Judging by them, people from Byzantium, Syria, Cappadocia came to the cave.
Some of the inscriptions are in Arabic. What attracted Christian pilgrims to the tomb of wealthy Jews?
Judging by the inscriptions, they considered this cave to be the place where a certain Salome, a midwife who was present at the birth of Christ, was buried.
Today, Salome is virtually unknown to Western Christians, but she was revered by early Christians and is depicted as the midwife of Jesus in many Orthodox icons.
The problem is that the story of the midwife Salome is told in the Gospel of James. And this Gospel is apocryphal, that is, its authenticity is in doubt, and it does not appear in the New Testament. In general, apocrypha became widespread precisely in the early Byzantine period.
At the same time, a huge number of different sects appeared. In some of them, Christianity is already quite difficult to recognize: their teachings look more like Manichaeism.
But even if the internal religious concept of sects departed from the original Christian ideas, their external religious signs remained mostly Christian.
The leaders of the sects wanted to have their own Holy Scripture: this is how the apocrypha began to appear, the authors of which (the real ones, and not the apostles to whom it was attributed) promised to tell the reader how everything really happened.
The Gospel of James says that Salome was the assistant of another, unnamed midwife, who was invited to take birth with Mary.
But when the chief midwife was told that a virgin would give birth, she doubted this information, for which she immediately paid – her hand withered.
Salome had to fulfill her duties, who did not doubt the virginity of the mother of Christ. However, everything ended well: the midwife’s hand was healed after she touched the baby’s cradle.
“Salome is a very enigmatic figure,” the researchers said in a statement.
“The cult of Salome, undeniably Christian, belongs to a wider phenomenon, when early Christian pilgrims came across Jewish places and consecrated them in their own way.”
In other words, Christians came to the ancient Jewish tombs and inscribed them in their religion. The easiest way to do this is to announce that it is here that some saint or just a hero of one of the apocrypha is buried.
Archaeologists suggest that the name “Salome” could be carved on one of the ossuaries.
Some of the early Christians familiar with the Gospel of James may have seen this and reported to others that they had found the tomb of a midwife holding the Christ child in her arms.
To ensure the flow of pilgrims, such information is quite enough.
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