Israel’s government Antiquities Authority recently said that an ancient structure that it is excavating on the side of the highway appears to match ancient descriptions of the tomb of the Jewish rebels the Maccabees. The tomb is located in the Ben Shemen Forest near the Israeli city of Modiin.
The Maccabees conducted a guerrilla war against the Seleucid Empire and Hellenising Jews between 167 – 160 BC. The traditional view is that the revolt was the direct result of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV forcing the Jews to worship Greek gods. Antiochus IV’s policy was a direct reversal of the policy implemented by his father, Antiochus III, who had granted the Jews religious autonomy because they had supported him in his war against the Ptolemies.
French scholar Charles Clermont-Ganneau first excavated this site is the late 1800’s and found a mosaic floor featuring a Byzantine Christian cross. This month, Israeli archaeologists and volunteers cleared away rubble and exposed the simple mosaic cross for the first time in more than 100 years.
The cross is seen as a clue as it appears on the floor of a burial niche and is the only Byzantine-era site where a cross decorates the floor of a burial vault. This likely indicates that it may have marked the spot of an important figure and it is likely that the Byzantines — themselves early Christians — identified this site as the Maccabees’ tomb.