In Israel, 'Ali Baba Cave' Offers Insights into Jesus's Life And Death

A cross with a painting of Jesus Christ hangs over the alter at Westminster Cathedral, London, February 21, 2007. Peter Macdiarmid/Getty

The Israeli Antiquities Authority opened up its vast treasure trove of artifacts Sunday, offering fresh insight into the time, if not the life, of Jesus. At a warehouse in the city of Beit Shemesh, a short drive west of Jerusalem, reside many of the estimated 40,000 artifacts dug up in Israel each year, around a third of which attest to the Christian presence in the Holy Land, according to an Associated Press report.

Most intriguingly, what the Antiquities Authority refers to as its "Ali Baba cave" presents clues as to what life was like at the time Jesus Christ is believed to have lived in the Holy Land, around 2,000 years ago.

"There's good news," said Gideon Avni, head of the archaeological division of the Israel Antiquities Authority. "Today we can reconstruct very accurately many, many aspects of the daily life of the time of Christ. We can reconstruct precisely how the country looked."

Among the artifacts contained in the warehouse was a limestone burial box that belonged to a descendant of the high priest Caiaphas, who has a notable place in the New Testament for his role in relinquishing Jesus to the Roman authorities who executed him.

There is also a clue about the crucifixion itself. A replica of a heel bone pierced by an iron nail with wood fragments on each end was discovered in a burial box in northern Jerusalem, dating to the time of Jesus. Eugenio Alliata, a professor of Christian archaeology at the Franciscan biblical school in Jerusalem, told The Washington Post that what has been found from the period thus far is in line with biblical accounts of Jesus' life, even if there has yet to be any direct proof of his existence.

"We have not found any evidence of the person of Jesus, but we have found lots of things about what happened at the time he lived, such as the population and the material culture that grew because of him," Alliata said.

Avni has argued that it should not be a surprise that it is hard to pinpoint one man's existence 2,000 years ago, even if that man was perhaps the most famous ever to have lived.

"He was one of more than a million people living here then, an ordinary Jew who had original ideas and attracted some followers," Avni said. "His fame only really started after his death."

While there is a general consensus of Jesus' existence among scholars, recent surveys have hinted that belief in the narrative of his life contained in the Bible is on the decline among young people.