Wadi Murabba'at, also known as Nahal Darga, is a ravine cut by a seasonal stream which runs from the Judean desert east of Bethlehem past the Herodium down to the Dead Sea 18 km south of Khirbet Qumran in the West Bank. It was here in caves that Jewish fighters hid out during the Bar Kochba revolt, leaving behind documents that include some letters signed by Simon Bar Kochba.
Discovery and analysis of the caves
When the Ta'amireh bedouin tribe that discovered the first cave at Qumran, learned how valuable the texts they found were, they began to search for other sites that might contain more scrolls. This led in the autumn of 1951 to the discovery of caves high up in the near vertical rock face of the Wadi Murabba'at. With the confirmation that the new texts had come from Murabba'at, Gerald Lankester Harding and Roland de Vaux commenced official excavations there in January 1952. Four caves were examined.
Remains were discovered that reflected habitation, usually temporary, during the Chalcolithic Period, the Bronze Age (including a Hyksos scarab), the Iron Age and the Roman era. The Roman era is represented by a large amount of pottery and numerous weapons, including the blade of a pilum (a Roman javelin). Numerous spindle whorls were found, suggesting the presence of women working with yarn, and a coin hoard which included 149 Nabataean drachmas, 51 imperial dinars and 33 tetradrachmas of Trajan. Most of the coins were minted in Antioch. The spindle whorls and the coins suggest a lengthy encampment by bar Kochba forces in the area, while the Roman objects point to the settlement being overrun by Roman forces.
From the Roman era there is an inventory of about 120 documents which cover the decades leading up to the Bar Kochba revolt. Many of these are legal documents including deeds of land sale, marriage contracts, a debt acknowledgement and a writ of divorce. Fragments of biblical texts including Genesis, Deuteronomy and Isaiah were found, as well as the remains of an LXX Minor Prophets scroll.
Letter from Simon Bar Kochba
The following letter, translated by John Allegro, is addressed to Yeshua ben Galgola, who was the military commander of the fortress called Herodium which lay between Wadi Murabba'at and Jerusalem. The letter provides Bar Kochba's real name.
- Simon ben Kosebah to Joshua ben Galgola and the men of thy company; greetings. I call heaven to bear witness against me: if any one of the Galileans whom you have protected (or, delivered) cause trou[ble], I shall put fetters on your feet as I did to Ben Aphlul -- Simon ben Kosebah (...)
- Dare to delve into Nahal Darga
- Allegro, The Dead Sea Scrolls, pp.35-36.
- Stern 2000, p.582.
- Stern 2000, pp.581-582.
- Stern 2000, pp.583-585.
- Translation by John Allegro, The Dead Sea Scrolls, p.173.
- Allegro, John M., The Dead Sea Scrolls (Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1956)
- Benoit, P., Milik, J.T., and de Vaux, R., Les Grottes de Murabbaat (Oxford: Clarendon, 1961)(for text and photographs)
- Stern, Ephraim (Archaeology), Eshel, Hanan (Written material), "Murabba'at, Wadi", in Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Schiffman, Lawrence H., VanderKam, James C. (eds.), Vol.1 (Oxford, 2000), pp. 581–586.