Researcher identifies Galilee caves where Jews fought Romans

Hundreds of caves in the Galilee have been identified as those described by Josephus almost 2,000 years ago.

Dr. Yinon Shivtiel at one of the caves used during the Jewish Great Revolt against the Romans as described by Josephus. (photo credit: YINON SHVIETEL)
Dr. Yinon Shivtiel at one of the caves used during the Jewish Great Revolt against the Romans as described by Josephus.
(photo credit: YINON SHVIETEL)
About 2,000 years ago, in the first century CE, Yosef ben Matityahu left Jerusalem and reached the Galilee as the commander who would lead the Jews of the region in the rebellion against Rome. Only a few months later, he would be captured by the Romans and start the journey that would lead him to become Josephus Flavius, a Roman citizen, as well as the author of some of the most important works on Jewish history of all time.
It is by studying his writings that Dr. Yinon Shivtiel, a senior lecturer at Safed Academic College, began the research that over 15 years has led him to identify the sites of an important page in the history of the Great Revolt. Shivtiel’s research, published in the journal The Ancient Near East Today by the American Schools of Oriental Research last month, identified hundreds and hundreds of caves in the Galilee used in the fight against the Roman Empire, some of which have remained untouched unto this day.
“In his books, Josephus described how, when he was a commander in the Galilee, he fortified 18 settlements. I worked on understanding what he meant by that,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
In his research, Shivtiel visited several archaeological sites identified by the archaeologists as those described by Josephus, including Tiberias, Arbel and Mero. What he noticed was that all of them were in proximity with very steep cliffs and numerous natural caves.
The researcher, who is also a representative of the Cave Research Center, began visiting the caves, some of which were accessible only by climbing and rope descent. What was presented to his eyes was astounding: a multitude of findings, including coins, jars, lamps and parts of arrows, dating back precisely to the first century. Others feature olive presses, cisterns and even ritual baths (mikvaot).
The discoveries allowed him to realize that those were indeed the caves described by Josephus.
“I understood that the caves represented the defensive means described in his books. My research developed under the idea that during the rebellion against the Romans, the Jewish community prepared the caves as possible shelters, as we do with shelters today in modern Israel. They chose the steepest cliffs and brought everything they needed to survive. When they heard the Romans were arriving, they found refuge there,” the scholar said.
Shivtiel added that in other settlements that were not close to any hills or caves, he uncovered another defensive technique: the residents dug small cavities under the houses and a network of narrow tunnels that they could use to hide and escape where it would have been difficult for Roman soldiers to follow them.
“I founded over 75 of these hiding complexes under Jewish settlements, all dating back to the first or second century, the time of the Bar-Kochba revolt,” he said.
Overall, the scholar identified over 900 caves, and he explained that the research is ongoing.
“Now I’m focusing on Western Galilee. I just found a cave in a steep cliff, and I’m trying to identify to which population it belonged,” he said.
“I must add that I’m already 70, and I still climb and crawl,” he concluded, laughing. “I hope I can continue to do so for many more years.”