Zev Radovan

The entrance to the Cave of Letters can be reached only by a difficult climb, but that failed to protect those hiding in it from the Roman army. Shortly after Babatha’s group settled in the cave, the Romans set up camp directly above them. Still visible on the plateau above (though not from this photo’s angle), the Roman camp cut them off from escape or rescue. A second camp, set up on the opposite side of the wadi, likewise trapped another group of refugees who had hidden in a second cave. The bones of dozens of men, women and children who starved to death while the Romans waited above were discovered in that cave, named the Cave of Horrors by its excavators. In Babatha’s cave, excavators found the remains of about three men, eight women and six children. They had been buried together in a niche long after their deaths. Those remains probably do not account for everyone who hid in the cave. Whatever fate overtook Babatha or the remainder of her group—whether capture, slavery, escape, starvation or slaughter—one thing is certain: Babatha never reclaimed her precious papers and possessions from where she had hidden them.