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Last Updated: Monday, 16 August, 2004, 22:31 GMT 23:31 UK
John the Baptist's cave 'found'
Shimon Gibson (left) and archaeologist Rafi Lewis in cave
The cave contained carvings said to depict John the Baptist
A British archaeologist says he has found a cave used by the New Testament figure John the Baptist.

Shimon Gibson spent five years excavating the site near Jerusalem, unearthing objects apparently used in ancient purification rituals.

Images carved on the walls include that of a man with wild hair and carrying a staff, said to be reminiscent of John, whom the Bible says baptised Jesus.

Biblical scholars have questioned the find, which they say is inconclusive.

Oil

The 24m (79ft) deep cave is situated on present day Kibbutz Tzuba, about 4km (2.5miles) from John's birthplace of Ein Kerem.

Mr Gibson's team found quarter of a million pieces of pottery apparently from artefacts used in the immersion process.

Foot-shaped niche in cave
Worshippers are believed to have had their feet anointed here
The explorers also uncovered 28 steps leading to a chamber containing an oval stone with a foot-shaped indentation and a niche apparently through which oil would flow onto a worshipper's foot.

"John the Baptist, who was just a figure from the Gospels, now comes to life," said Mr Gibson.

A wall carving appeared to depict John, who belonged to a sect which forbade followers from cutting their hair.

Another carving of a face was symbolic of a severed head: John was decapitated by Herod Antipas, who ruled the Holy Land at the time of Jesus.

"Nothing like this has been found elsewhere," Mr Gibson said.

"It is the first time we have finds from the early baptismal period... It is an amazing discovery that happens to an archaeologist once in a lifetime."

But some biblical scholars are treating Mr Gibson's claim with caution.

Stephen Pfann, president of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, said the find was intriguing, but that more work needed to be done.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Raphael Jesurum
"We may never be sure John the Baptist was here"



SEE ALSO:
Jesus artefact 'a fake'
18 Jun 03  |  Middle East
Debate rages over biblical mystery
27 Aug 02  |  Middle East


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