In the preceding chapter we surveyed Josephus’ account of the Flavian war in Judaea/Peraea and offered a preliminary analysis, rethinking the motives and outlooks of the main groups and individuals that appear. In this chapter we consider the most important evidence outside Josephus. Then we turn to the real-life scenarios that might best answer our questions about Judaean and Roman aims and explain the evidence that has survived.
Archaeological work in Jerusalem since 1967 continues to generate stunning results. We have repeatedly seen the need, however, to interpret, contextualize, and explain all survivals from the past. They do not declare their own meaning or significance.
Beneath the Umayyad, Byzantine, and Hadrianic layers, structures of King Herod's Jerusalem are sometimes recoverable, and archaeologists have also found artefacts of the city at war. Nahman Avigad directed excavations in the Jewish Quarter, comprising the eastern half of the Upper City, as that area was being rebuilt after 1967. His work exposed the sumptuous dwellings of the city's wealthiest pre-70 neighbourhood, on the large western slope facing the temple mount (Fig. 32). The half-dozen houses that dominated that space included a palatial mansion with three terraces on the slope, a frescoed wall, Latin-inscribed wine jars, and a peristyle courtyard that would have been at home in Pompeii. These residences belonged to wealthy priests, who needed to remain in a state of ritual purity for their work in the temple, and partly for that reason we see an abundance of locally produced stone vessels – stone and glass do not transmit ritual impurity – as well as private ritual baths (Fig. 32).
The so-called Burnt House was found in this wealthy neighbourhood. It is connected with the priestly family of Katros, known from the Talmud, by an inscribed stone weight found in the lower level. It boasted a stone-paved courtyard and a large but unknown number of rooms. The seven nonresidential rooms exposed on the (under)ground level include a kitchen, ritual bath, and workshop spaces, perhaps for perfume/incense manufacture for temple use, with stone tables and vessels, ovens, inkwells, oil lamps, and much pottery. This house was consumed by a raging fire, possibly intensified by oil stored there.
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