A rare coin from the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, bearing the name of “Eleazar the Priest,” and dated to the first year of the revolt (132 CE), was discovered in the Mazuq Ha-he'teqim Nature Reserve.

The coin was discovered together with three other coins from the time of the Revolt, bearing the name “Simeon.” It was discovered in the course of the Judean Desert Cave Survey carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority in cooperation with the Ministry of Heritage and the Archaeological Office for the Military Administration of Judea and Samaria, with the aim of retrieving the ancient treasures before they are stolen by antiquity looters.

There are a few possibilities regarding the identity of Eleazar the Priest, whose name appears on the coin. One is Rabbi Eleazar Hamod‘ai, a Tannaic rabbi from the time of Rabbi Akiva, a pupil of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakai. It seems that Rabbi Eleazar Hamod‘ai played a significant religious role at the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, and he was living in the town of Beitar— the location of the revolt headquarters. The Talmud accounts that he died in Beitar, probably during the Revolt (Jerusalem Talmud Ta‘anit 4:5).

On the obverse face of the coin, a date palm is engraved, with the inscription “Eleazar the Priest” inscribed in ancient Hebrew script. On the reverse, a bunch of grapes is surrounded by the text, “Year One of the Redemption of Israel,” again in ancient Hebrew script.

Since 2017, a team of archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority Prevention of Archaeological Theft Unit, have been systematically surveying the Judean Desert, with the aim of reaching the valuable finds before the antiquity looters. Among the finds discovered in the desert in the course of the survey, were a scroll with fragments of the Twelve Minor Prophets, Roman iron swords —one still in its sheath —and the earliest complete basket in the world, and more.

“We invite the public to join us in in the seventh excavation season in the desert, to help save the Judean Desert archaeological finds, endangered by antiquities theft," says Eli Escusido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “The public is invited to a taste of Zionism, and a touch of ‘escapism’, volunteering on a dig, together with the Israel Antiquities Authority archaeological team, in the Murabba‘at Caves along Nahal Darga. The Judean Desert excavations do not cease to amaze us, and we hope that in this season we will also be able to report important finds.”

The excavation will begin on 11th March 2024, and will last for ten days. The volunteers will lodge in a camp set up in the desert by the Israel Antiquities Authority, and there will be lectures and other activities. Registration and details are available on the Israel Antiquities Authority Website.