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Ancient ‘Death Magic’ Used to Speak with the Dead Found Near Jerusalem

Ancient ‘Death Magic’ Used to Speak with the Deceased Found near Jerusalem
Archaeologists discovered ancient ‘death magic’ used to communicate with the dead in a cave near Jerusalem. Credit: B. Zissu / Cambridge University Press / CC BY 4.0

A recent study suggests that a cave near Jerusalem holds intriguing clues about a mysterious practice from the Roman era. The cave, known as Te’omim, located approximately 20 miles (30 kilometers) west of Jerusalem, contained ancient human skulls, oil lamps, and weapon parts.

These artifacts indicate that the site was likely used for a form of ancient ritual called necromancy, or “death magic.”

By analyzing the styles of these objects, the researchers have estimated that the somber rituals took place in the Te’omim cave during the time spanning the second to fourth centuries A.D.

The purpose of these rituals was to communicate with the deceased, a practice believed to hold significant importance during that era.

Jewish people eradicated after the Jewish rebellion

As per Boaz Zissu, an archaeologist at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, historical evidence suggests that the majority of Jewish inhabitants in the region faced either extermination or displacement at the hands of the Roman Empire.

This occurred after the Jewish rebellion, widely known as the Bar Kokhba revolt, which took place between A.D. 132 and 136.

After the Bar Kokhba revolt, the Romans took measures to repopulate the region with individuals from various other parts of their empire. It is highly probable that these people hailed from regions such as Syria, Anatolia, and Egypt, said Zissu.

Zissu said in a statement to Live Science that a fresh pagan population migrated to the area that was once known as Judea but was renamed Syria Palaestina by the Romans.

With their arrival, they introduced new beliefs, practices, and seemingly the concept of necromancy.

Necromancy or ‘death magic’

Group of intact oil lamps discovered in the Te’omim Cave
Group of intact oil lamps discovered in the Te’omim Cave. Credit: B. Zissu / Cambridge University Press / CC BY 4.0

Necromancy, a practice of communicating with the deceased, was generally regarded as wicked and often prohibited within the Roman Empire.

Despite this, several ancient cities were situated in close proximity to hidden “oracle” sites, where people believed they could reach out to the departed spirits. The Te’Omim cave became one such place of significance.

Zissu expressed that the cave offered ideal conditions for those seeking to engage in such rituals. It was somewhat secluded yet not too far from the main road, making it accessible to those who sought it out.

Additionally, the cave had a considerable depth, but not excessively so, which likely added to its allure. Moreover, a deep shaft at the cave’s end further reinforced the belief among practitioners that this space served as a connection to the mysterious realm of the underworld.

Within the cave, the lamps, human skulls, and weapon fragments were found lodged in narrow openings and gaps.

Zissu said that it is likely that ancient people intentionally placed these items in those crevices using similar poles.

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