Photo courtesy Cave of Letters Expedition

ON THE COVER: Industrialist and philanthropist John Merrill, wearing standard-issue, specially padded climbing gear designed not to rip against the sharp protrusions on a cliff face, negotiates the treacherous, narrow path that leads to the Cave of Letters, a nearly inaccessible cavern in the Judean Desert. The cave was explored decades ago by some of Israel’s most famous archaeologists, who uncovered several spectacular finds, including correspondence from Bar-Kokhba, the leader of the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome (132–135 C.E.), and a ritual incense shovel. The recent discovery in the Galilee of an almost exact twin to that shovel made modern-day excavators question whether the accepted history of the cave as a second-century C.E. hideout was complete. Thanks in part to the financial support of Merrill, they were able to gather a team of investigators to “Return to the Cave of Letters.”