An Underground Rock-Cut Shrine near Amatsya, Judean Foothills, Israel

Cercetări Arheologice 30.2, 2023, 599-626

An Underground Rock-Cut Shrine near Amatsya, Judean Foothills, Israel

Authors: Boaz Zissu Nurit Shtober-Zisu


Artificial cavities; underground architecture; sacred architecture; Idumean art and religion; Idumean; Canaanite; Phoenician and Nabatean iconography; Persian and Hellenistic periods; Aramaic lapidary script


This article presents our documentation of a previously unidentified subterranean complex located near Amatsya, Israel. The study revolves primarily around an examination of the architecture, decorations, and letters carved on the walls of an underground rock-cut hall. The layout of the hall bears a striking resemblance to sacred architecture prevalent in the region since the Middle Bronze Age, while its decorative elements are linked to earlier artistic traditions dating back to the Iron Age, as well as the aniconic characteristics found in Idumean, Canaanite, Phoenician and Nabatean art of the Persian and Hellenistic periods. According to paleographic analysis, the Aramaic lapidary inscriptions, which possibly mention two deities, El and Adon, are tentatively dated to the 5th-4th centuries BCE.

Our main thesis is that this hall functioned as a private shrine, possibly a funerary shrine adjacent to a rock-cut burial complex. We propose that both the shrine and the adjacent tomb were utilized by an Idumean landowner, showcasing influences from Phoenician / Canaanite iconographic traditions.

Consequently, the site assumes significant importance, as it offers novel insights into the field of study by presenting, for the first time, a relatively well-preserved underground Idumean shrine from the Persian and Hellenistic periods. These finds contribute to a deeper understanding of the religious and cultural practices of the Idumeans during that specific era.

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How to cite: Boaz Zissu, Nurit Shtober-Zisu, An Underground Rock-Cut Shrine near Amatsya, Judean Foothills, Israel, Cercetări Arheologice, Vol. 30.2, pag. 599-626, 2023, doi:


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