The Wine Jug That Would Not Quit

Did Bar Kochba’s rebels drink wine from the idolatrous Roman vessel?

By Israel Today Staff | | Topics: archaeology
Confiscated Roman wine vessel. Photo: Yuli Shwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority

Was idolatrous wine served and was incense offered in a hiding place of the Bar Kokhba Revolt? Certainly not!

So how did the bronze incense censers and a decorated Roman wine carafe make their way into a hiding place in the Judean foothills? This question was recently answered in an unusual way.

It began with a car suspiciously driving the wrong way down a one-way street in Jerusalem. In the trunk, police found a box with illegally obtained archaeological finds. The Israel Antiquities Authority determined that the remarkably well-preserved items were from the Roman era.

The find included two ornate bronze burners for ritual incense – which probably originated in a wealthy Roman household or temple. The car trunk also contained an ancient bronze pitcher for serving wine. A banquet scene is depicted on the vessel, showing a reclining figure with a wine jug. The illegal “treasure chest” also contained an ornate stone tripod bowl, Roman clay lamps and hundreds of Roman coins from the second and third centuries.

Bronze artifacts like these are rare in Israel because the alloy was so expensive that it was recycled. Therefore, such finds tend to come from archaeological sites where they were deliberately hidden in days of old.

The investigations strengthened the suspicion that the objects were intended for sale to an antique dealer in Jerusalem. The items were probably found in a hiding place from the time of the Bar Kochba Revolt in the Judean foothills. The experts believe that Bar Kochba’s followers took the pieces as spoils of war. The Jewish fighters would not have used the vessels themselves, as they are typical Roman cult objects – decorated with images and pagan symbols and thus violating the Jewish ban on idolatry. When the Jewish fighters wanted to use such vessels, they usually defaced the figures depicted on them to avoid idolatry. Since the reclining figure was not “erased” we can safely assume that the Jewish fighters did not use the items. In addition, by the time of the Bar Kochba rebellion, the Temple had already been destroyed and therefore the Jewish rite of incense was no longer practiced.

Amir Ganor is in charge of anti-pilfering at the Antiquities Authority. He reported that the unauthorized excavation near the Tarqumiya border crossing was known to authorities. The Israeli army and the civil administration in Judea and Samaria searched for the perpetrators, but they managed to escape: “They left behind ancient finds that match those that have now been secured. We assume that the finds from the trunk also come from this site.”

The director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Eli Eskozido, commented:

Together with the police and law enforcement agencies, we are cracking down on illegal excavations across the country. Ancient artifacts embody the history of the country, but for robbers they are merely commodities to be sold to the highest bidder.”


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