Thursday, August 20, 2015

Graffiti galore in Elijah's cave

Ancient Inscriptions in Elijah the Prophet's Cave Are in Danger. The Haifa grotto, sacred going back to the days of Baal, had been so neglected it even became a venue for bar mitzvahs. Only now is Israel starting to consider protecting it (Ran Shapira, Haaretz).
A small cave sacred from the time of Baal, where Elijah the Prophet is believed to have spent the night before going into battle, boasts inscriptions carved into its walls over millennia – which are in imminent danger of disappearing forever.

"The place should be favourable to my son Kyrillos, who will not be affected by fever anymore," wrote Elios, apparently an official living in Acre during the Roman era (first or second century BCE). The "fever" may have meant malaria, and the "place" in question was the Cave of Elijah the Prophet, a grotto some 40 meters up the slope of Mount Carmel, smack in the middle of the city of Haifa.

While about it, writing in Greek, Elios added a strict injunction against desecrating the cave.

Neither prior nor subsequent generations evidently thought much of that exhortation. Elios' inscription, a dedication to his son, is just one of about 180 Greek inscriptions, as well as 44 Hebrew, two Arabic, and one Latin, carved into the stone walls of Elijah's Cave. The youngest writing is modern and the oldest apparently dates from the late Roman era of control over the Holy Land.

And there are some late antique carvings of menorahs as well. The connection with Elijah himself is a Byzantine tradition and should be taken with a grain of salt, but the inscriptions and carvings are real enough. Some of the material remains there may also have a connection with Baal worship.

For another traditional cave of Elijah, this one in Syria, see here.