In Hasmonean times, lamps and burials became a symbol of Jewish identity

Archaeological findings indicate a concentration of the phenomena in the region of Jerusalem and the Judean hills.

Folded wheel-made lamp
Special oil lamps and burial caves became a symbol of Jewish identity during the Hasmonean period in the 2nd and 1st century BCE, researchers from Bar-Ilan University have suggested.
The custom became a way for the kingdom and its people to reconnect with their roots in the Davidic monarchy, which had ruled over the land before the destruction of the First Temple, Omri Y. Abadi, a PhD candidate in the Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology and his adviser, Prof. Eyal Regev, said in a paper published in Palestine Exploration Quarterly.
“There were two very unique phenomena in Judea and Jerusalem during the Hasmonean period: the use of folded wheel-made oil lamps and of standing pit burial caves by the Jewish population,” Regev told The Jerusalem Post. “The question is why did they choose to use them?”
Folded wheel-made oil lamps consisted of small bowls created on a potter’s wheel “and shaped by using the fingers to pinch or fold a separation between the lamp’s container and the area of the nozzle.” The professor pointed out that they were “the simplest oil lamps ever.”
Standing pit burial caves had “a small square-shaped opening leading to a square chamber.” A pit carved in the chamber, big enough for a person to stand in it, was surrounded by stone shelves. In this case, Regev explained the type of burials required a substantial effort to be prepared.
The researchers highlighted that in both cases, findings indicate a concentration of the phenomena in Jerusalem and the Judean hills, within the limits of the Jewish settlement during the Second Temple period.
It is therefore unlikely that the reasons for their preferred use were of practical nature – like the fact that the lamps were easy to manufacture and cheap – otherwise the techniques would have been adopted also outside this area.
Moreover, the general cultural context needs to be taken into consideration: during the Persian and Hellenistic period, the Jewish population was heavily influenced by foreign customs and the material culture in the land of Israel does not appear to present specific signs of distinction for the Jewish population.
“We believe that the folded wheel-made oil lamps and the standing pit burial caves have a lot in common, and that the motive behind their use was to mark Jewish identity and distance from other ethnicities living in the area,” Regev said.
Both techniques also bore remarkable resemblance to similar ones dating back to the First Temple period, suggesting a desire by the population to reappropriate its heritage.
“A well-known phenomenon in archaeological research is the use of past culture and memory for the purpose of self-definition of a contemporary group,” the paper said. “Objects and patterns of behavior whose style and appearance are reminiscent of an earlier culture, archaic in other words, express the group’s affiliation with the past and with historical memory, enabling the members of the group to express their difference and strengthen the boundaries of the group against ‘others.’”
Regev said the material culture of the Hasmonean period “witnessed the effort to reconnect to the golden age of the Davidic dynasty five centuries before, when similar lamps and burials were used, to show that Judea and its people were different from the Gentiles.”