Photo Credit: Oriya Amichai, Antiquities Authority
The Elazar HaCohen coin.

A rare coin from the time of the Bar Kokhva Revolt, bearing the name of “Elazar the Priest” and dated to the first year of the revolt (132 CE), was discovered in the Mazuq Ha’heteqim Nature Reserve, named after the geological pressures that created it.

The Elazar HaCohen coin, reverse side. / Oriya Amichai, Antiquities Authority

The coin was discovered together with three other coins from the time of the Revolt that bear the name “Shimeon.” This coin was discovered in the course of the Judean Desert Cave Survey carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority in cooperation with the Ministry of Heritage and the Archaeological Office for the Military Administration of Judea and Samaria, to retrieve the ancient treasures before they were stolen by antiquity looters.

The coins that were found in the desert. / Oriya Amichai, Israel Antiquities Authority

There are a few possibilities regarding the identity of Elazar the Priest, whose name appears on the coin. One is Rabbi Elazar Hamod‘ai, a Tannaic Rabbi from the time of Rabbi Akiva, who was a student of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakai. Rabbi Eleazar Hamod‘ai played a significant religious role at the time of the Bar Kokhva Revolt and was living in the town of Beitar, the location of the revolt headquarters. The Talmud accounts that he died in Beitar, probably during the Revolt (Yerushalmi Talmud Ta‘anit 4:5).

The survey and excavation operation in the Judean desert. / Emil Eljam, Israel Antiquities Authority

A date palm is engraved on the face of the coin, with the inscription “Eleazar the Priest” inscribed in ancient Hebrew script. On the reverse side, a bunch of grapes is engraved, surrounded by the text “Year One of the Redemption of Israel,” also in ancient Hebrew script.

Since 2017, a team of archaeologists from the IAA Prevention of Archaeological Theft Unit has been systematically surveying the Judean Desert, to reach the valuable finds before the antiquity looters. Among the finds discovered in the desert in the course of the survey were scroll fragments of the Twelve Minor Prophets, Roman iron swords—one still in its sheath—and the earliest complete basket in the world.

The survey and excavation operation in the Judean desert.. / Emil Eljam, Israel Antiquities Authority

“We invite the public to join us in the seventh excavation season in the desert, to help save the Judean Desert archaeological finds, endangered by antiquities theft”, says Eli Escusido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The public is invited to a taste of Zionism and a touch of ‘escapism,’ volunteering on a dig, together with the IAA archaeological team, in the Murabba‘at Caves along Nahal Darga.”

Preparatory college students digging in one of the caves. / Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

The excavation will begin on March 11, 2024, and will last ten days. The volunteers will lodge in a camp set up in the desert by the IAA, and there will be lectures and other activities. Registration and details on the Israel Antiquities Authority Website.


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