Beno Rothenberg

The cave of letters. Despite having been explored by Israeli archaeologist Yohanan Aharoni in 1953, the Cave of Letters (the two openings at left in the middle of the photo) yielded remarkable new finds in 1960 to a team led by Yigael Yadin, Israel’s most famous archaeologist and military commander and Aharoni’s professional rival. The discoveries included fragments from the Book of Psalms, a fragment from the Book of Numbers, a cache of legal documents and letters from Bar-Kokhba’s military command, including some to and from Bar-Kokhba himself.

In 1953 Baruch Safrai wedged himself between fallen boulders within the Cave of Letters and discovered a human skeleton pinned under the boulders. The skeleton was still clothed in a white robe, with a rope belt, knotted in front, around the waist. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus records that the Essenes would give initiates “a girdle and a white garment.”