Our story began in 1973 when Amos Kloner and I returned to Jerusalem on leave from the army during the Yom Kippur War. We had a little time remaining before reporting back to our units, so Amos and I decided to visit the caves at the St. Étienne monastery on the grounds of the École Biblique et Archéologique Française, the French school of archaeology.

For me, the first sight of the St. Étienne tombs was especially meaningful. I had recently spent several years with Professor David Ussishkin exploring First Temple burial caves in the Silwan village opposite the City of David, about one mile from where I now stood. The tooling marks, the architectural elements and the burial customs of the First Temple period were as familiar to me as if I had lived in those times. And now, standing in the St. Étienne caves for the first time, I was struck by the clear appearance of many of these First Temple period features. We knew immediately that the elegant central room leading to seven separate burial chambers must have been hewn in the First Temple period—not in the Roman period, as scholars had thought.

When Amos and I mentioned our views to Père Pierre Benoit, the distinguished director of the École Biblique who had accompanied us to the tombs, he smiled in a tolerant, fatherly way. When we asked if we could return to study the caves, Père Benoit granted permission, as if to say, Why not? No harm could be done.

It was a strange experience for us—young Israeli scholars—to be telling Père Benoit and the other eminent scholars at the École Biblique that their tombs were almost 800 years older than they thought.

Two months later we were released from the army and began our detailed study of the St. Étienne caves. For many days we descended to Cave Complex Number 1, and on the way passed through the underground chapel where the Dominican fathers of the École Biblique are buried. Each day we read the names on the stone plaques marking the final resting place of these giants—Louis-Hugues Vincent, Felix M. Abel, Raphael Savignac, Roland Guerin de Vaux, Charles Coüasnon—whose scholarly works illuminated the Bible, the geography of the Holy Land and the archaeology of Jerusalem. Most particularly, as we carried on our work, we felt the shadow of Père Vincent, who contributed so much to Jerusalem archaeology, but whose dating of this tomb we were now challenging.