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Grave Fragment Found: Son of Second Temple High Priest

Archaeologists excavating north of Jerusalem have found a piece of a stone coffin belonging to a son of a High Priest.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 10/6/2008, 11:31 AM

Archaeologists excavating north of Jerusalem have found a piece of a sarcofagus - a stone coffin - belonging to a son of a High Priest.  The visible inscription reads, "the son of the High Priest" - but the words before it are broken off.  It thus cannot be ascertained which High Priest is referred to, nor the name or age of the deceased.

Many other findings in the excavation are from the late Second Temple period, and archaeologists assume that the High Priest in question lived between 30 and 70 C.E.

Yoli Shwartz, Spokesperson for the Israel Antiquities Authority, notes that the release of the find so close to Yom Kippur, which occurs this Thursday, is notable: Yom Kippur was the only day of the year when the High Priest was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple.

The precise location of the find is not being released, for security reasons.  

The sarcophagus cover fragment - 60 centimeters (2 feet) long by 48 centimeters (19 inches) wide - is made of hard limestone, is meticulously fashioned, and bears a carved inscription in Hebrew letters that are both similar to today's script and typical of the Second Temple period.

A number of High Priests served in the Temple in its final decades - it was destroyed in 70 C.E. - and there is no way of knowing which one is noted in the fragment.  Among the known High Priests of the end of the Second Temple period were Caiaphas, Theophilus (Yedidiya) ben Chanan, Shimon ben Baitus, Chanan ben Chanan and others.

The excavations were conducted by the Archaeological Staff Officer of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, under the direction of Naftali Aizik and Benyamin Har-Even. Underwritten by the Ministry of Defense, the work is being carried out in the framework of the salvage excavations - mandated by law before construction in Israel - along the route of the counter-terrorism fence.

Other discoveries at the site include public and residential buildings, agricultural installations, pools and cisterns.

The area north of Jerusalem, known today and in Biblical times as Binyamin (Benjamin) because it was apportioned to that Tribe, is known as the place where the priests resided during the Second Temple period. The excavated site was an estate of one of the High Priests, though the sarcophagus fragment was not discovered in the estate itself, but was rather recovered from the debris of later remains. It appears that the fragment was plundered from its original location approximately 1,000 years ago and was used in the construction of a later Moslem building erected atop the ruins of the Second Temple period houses.