The residential buildings constructed above the burial caves present a halachic problem. Therefore, at the initiative of Atra Kadisha, it was decided to identify the burial caves located in the residential areas and devise a solution to the issue of impurity. The first cave selected for this project was located beneath the courtyard of an apartment building at 1 Sanhedriya St. (Fig. 2). This complex (No. 3 on the map of the Sanhedrin Tombs published by Jotham-Rothschild) was documented in the past by Brandenburg (1926:37–47). The apartment building was built in the early 1970s on top of Cave 3 and over part of its courtyard. The cave’s vestibule served as a repository for holy books, and the rock-hewn front courtyard is currently used for storage by the building’s tenants.
The current excavation was conducted in the burial cave hewn in the northern wall of the courtyard of Complex 3. We designated the cave 3B, in accordance with the numbering system used in the map of the necropolis published by Jotham-Rothschild. With the exception of its vestibule, this cave was not previously documented. However, it was not sealed and was obviously plundered in the past.
The Courtyard. Two burial caves (Nos. 3A and 3B) are hewn in the walls of the expansive but partly preserved courtyard (16 × 22 m; Figs. 2, 3) of Complex 3. The courtyard walls (height c. 4.5 m) are vertical and meticulously worked, except for their upper part which is weathered. It was suggested in the past that the burial courtyards in this area represent the remains of quarries that operated here before the tombs were hewn. The caves are quarried in meleke bedrock; presumably the ashlars that were produced here were used in the construction of Jerusalem’s magnificent buildings of the Second Temple period.
Cave 3B (Figs. 4, 5). The cave is well-planned and comprises three spaces aligned in a row, along a north–south axis. A broad passage (width c. 3 m) hewn in the courtyard’s northern wall leads to a vestibule, and from there to two burial chambers (A, B) set one behind the other. Fragments of human bones were found in the cave; these were left inside it and were not examined by a physical anthropologist. The vestibule is rectangular (2.8 × 4.9 m, height 2.9 m) and its walls were carefully hewn using a serrated hammer. The vestibule was filled to about half its height with terra rossa mixed with a large amount of rubble. The fill included modern building debris that had piled up during the construction of the residential building and a small amount of pottery sherds from various periods.
Burial Chamber A (Fig. 6). The opening to this burial chamber is hewn in the center of the rear wall of the vestibule. The opening (0.53 × 0.55 m, depth c. 0.75 m) has a stepped frame adapted for a rolling stone. The threshold is c. 0.7 m higher than the chamber’s floor. The room is square, its sides being almost identical in length (4.0 × 4.2 m, max. ceiling height 2.5 m). The walls are carefully hewn, although the bedrock is cracked and parts of it have crumbled. The floor of the chamber is divided into two levels: the front portion is c. 0.5 m higher than the rear. The room was filled with terra rossa soil. Three narrow strips (each c. 0.8 m) were excavated along the walls of the room down to the floor. A small amount of pottery sherds and several ossuary fragments were discovered in the fill. A rectangular opening (height 1.6 m, width 0.6 m, depth 0.75 m) hewn in the northern wall leads to the rear burial chamber (B).
Burial Chamber B. The room is square (2.4 × 2.5 m, height 1.4 m) and meticulously hewn. An arcosolium (0.65 × 2.00 m; Fig. 7) is hewn in the eastern wall, c. 0.9 m above the floor level. Beneath it are two curved, rock-cut loculi (southern—c. 0.60 × 1.85 m; northern—c. 0.6 × 2.1 m). While cleaning the bench in the arcosolium, evidence of dark brown patina that formed the pattern of three ossuaries which had been placed on it could be discerned (Fig. 8). The outline of another arcosolium (width of base 1.9 m; Fig. 9) that had not been hewn is etched on the northern wall of the chamber.
The Finds. The scant amount of objects found suggests that the cave was robbed in the past. The finds included mostly pottery sherds: jars from the first–second century CE (Fig. 10:1–5); a jug from the first century CE (Fig. 10:6); and a body sherd (Fig. 10:7). In addition, four ossuary fragments were found. One of these is decorated on two of its walls with a six-petal rosette pattern, surrounded by two concentric circles engraved with a compass, separated by a wavy design (Fig. 11:1). A worn bronze coin (pruta?) that could not be identified with certainty was also found. Most of the items date to the Late Second Temple period, the time when the cave was in use. In addition, worn potsherds were found that had been swept into the cave with the alluvium; they obviously postdate the period when the tomb was in use.
The burial cave is part of the Second Temple period complex of burial caves in Sanhedriyya. This necropolis was one of the largest cemeteries in Jerusalem and is characterized by elaborate funerary complexes. The elaborate complexes were hewn in the northern part of the necropolis, whereas simple tombs were hewn in its southern part. The few artifacts that were discovered in the cave assist in dating its use: from the time of Herod (second half of the first century BCE) to the destruction of the Second Temple. It seems that after the necropolis ceased to be used, and possibly even simultaneous with this, very large quarries, where ashlar stones were produced, operated in this area.
The plan of Burial Complex 3 reflects the predetermined design of its construction. The plan consists of an expansive forecourt shared by Burial Caves 3A and 3B. Cave 3B has a linear plan consisting of a vestibule and two burial chambers, one behind the other. The plan of the larger burial chamber (Room A) is simple; its ceiling is relatively high and it lacks special funerary features as loculi, arcosolia or burial benches; these were hewn in the rear room (Chamber B). A similar plan, in which there is a larger main chamber without special funerary installations, is known from other burial caves in Sanhedriyya (cf. Jotham-Rothschild 1954: Pl. VI), and it is one of the conspicuous architectural features of this necropolis.
It is also apparent that the cave was designed for more prolonged use than was made of it, but it ceased to be used for some reason, probably as a direct result of the events related to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.