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By V. Sankrithi Krishnan

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The ceremony of baptism performed by John the Baptist at the Jordan River bears similarities that may not be coincidental. First, people gathered on the banks of the river for prayers and to receive a remission of sins, and then they entered the water of the river to cleanse the flesh by immersion. On emerging from the water, initiates may have been anointed with oil, but the Gospels are silent about this. The identity of the people who used the cave at Suba is uncertain: They were undoubtedly Jews, but the rites of water purification they undertook in the cave differed from those practiced by their contemporaries, suggesting perhaps that this cave was used by some peripheral sect in Judaism that laid emphasis on water purification, or that, alternatively, it was used by the actual followers of John the Baptist.

Glinting in the sun, it served as a happy beacon to weary Jewish pilgrims nearing the city at the end of a long journey. When Jesus first set foot in Jerusalem, the city was a place of great antiquity with a history going back a couple of thousand years. Originally only a small town next to a bubbling spring of water at the beginning of the second millennium bce, the city eventually expanded and receded in size at different periods of time over the next millennium or so, finally reaching its largest area, spread over two hills, at the time of King Hezekiah in the late eighth century bce.

Until the use of modern drugs, those suffering from the disease were banished from the societies in which they lived, or at least segregated, and their expected life span once the disease had manifested itself was expected to be no more than nine years. 70 Those suffering from this disease in nineteenth-century Jerusalem lived in hovels situated just inside the Old Raising a Dead Man 35 City and to the east of the Zion Gate, and they appear in a number of photographs from that period. New evidence on Hansen’s disease emerged unexpectedly at the Akeldama Cemetery in the Hinnom Valley, close to the southern foot of Mount Zion in Jerusalem, when signs of leprosy were detected in a shrouded skeleton found in a tomb dating from the time of Jesus.

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