Recent archaeological excavations near the Shuafat refugee camp in northern Jerusalem indicate the existence of a Jewish community in Jerusalem after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.
The findings - said to be the first indication of an active Jewish settlement in the area of Jerusalem after the city fell in 70 C.E. - contradict the common wisdom that no Jewish settlement survived the Roman destruction of the city. However, some Israeli archaeologists have argued that Jewish settlement revived and continued to exist even after the destruction.
The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) began a salvage dig at the site, on the main road from Ramallah to Jerusalem, within the Jerusalem city limits, in 2003, in preparation for the construction of the light-rail system in the capital.
Situated on what was the main road to Nablus 2,000 years ago, and located three Roman miles (or four kilometers) from the city walls of those days - according to Roman records - the site featured spacious dwellings with facades of dressed stone and well-planned lanes between the houses. Signs of the wealth of the inhabitants are evident in the amphoras that were found, which contained wine imported from Italy and Greece. Cosmetic items were also discovered, along with glass rings. Two bathhouses were also unearthed, as well as a large public building whose purpose is still unknown.
Scholars usually say that there were no Jews living in Jerusalem after their Great Revolt against the Romans, which was cruelly repressed by the army headed by Titus, which destroyed both the city and the Temple.
The main indication that the settlement was a Jewish one is the assemblage of stone vessels found there. Such vessels, for food storage and serving, were only used by Jews because they were believed not to transmit impurity. Archaeologists believe stone basins discovered at the site were used to hold ashes from the destroyed Temple.
Dig director Debbi Sklar-Parnas said the settlement was abandoned during the Bar Kochba Revolt in around 130 C.E. While the settlement is believed to be Jewish, she added that she could not be certain since no remains of ritual baths were discovered.
Prof. Amos Kloner of Bar-Ilan University, who is not involved with the dig, said the finds are in keeping with his theory that up to the period of the Bar Kochba Revolt, "there was a solid Jewish majority from Samaria in the north to Be'er Sheva in the south." Kloner added that he believed that even in Jerusalem itself there were a few hundred Jews who made their living providing services to the Roman army, but that so far no proof of this had been found. However, he was unable to explain the existence of the bathhouses in the settlement uncovered near Shuafat.
Dr. Gideon Avni, a senior IAA archaeologist, said he believes the residents of the community operated the bathhouses for the Roman soldiers who plied the nearby road. "We knew of the existence of farms around Jerusalem," Avni said, "but the farms that we have found so far, for example in Pisgat Ze'ev, were all destroyed during the Great Revolt."