Ketef Hinnom Tombs, Jerusalem
Ketef Hinnom is an archaeological site southwest of Jerusalem’s old city, between St. Andrew Church and Begin Heritage Center. In 1979, a copy of the Biblical Priestly blessing was found on a silver amulet. Dating to the 6th century BCE, it is the oldest copy of Biblical text ever found.
History of Ketef Hinnom
Ketef Hinnom is a spur above the Hinnom valley overlooking Mount Zion. In 1979 Dr. Gabi Barkai 1979 initiated archaeological excavation at the site. These excavations yielded finds from several periods, including several rock-cut tomb dating to the First Temple Period.
Looters raided the burials already in antiquity, but they missed one repository, which contained a wealth of finds. A rare Phoenician glassware and gold and silver Jewelry were just some of the artifacts surfacing from this repository, but most significant – two rolled silver amulets. When opened in the laboratories of the Israel Museum, traces of letters were detected. Reconstructing the text, it proved to a variation of the priestly blessing from Numbers 6:24-26:
The Lord bless you and protect you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and grant you peace.
This is the oldest copy ever found of Biblical text, pre-dating the Dead Sea Scrolls by at least four centuries.
Danny “the Digger” Herman presenting the Ketef hinnom tombs on “The Watchman” show –
Touring Ketef Hinnom Tombs
The burial caves can be accessed from the Menachem Begin Heritage Center and are open to all. The repository that yielded the most finds is part of Cave 25, right under the Apse of St. Andrew’s church. Most of the finds from the caves are on display in a reconstructed tomb exhibit in the archeological wing of the Israel Museum. The inscribed amulets are presented separately with magnifying glasses.