The Judahite rock-cut tomb: Family response at a time of change

Avraham Faust, Shlomo Bunimovitz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Despite the attention devoted to the form, chronology, and distribution of the Judahite rock-cut tomb and to its social and religious significance, few, if any, studies have attempted to explain the reasons behind the appearance of the rock-cut tomb in the ninth century and its emergence to prominence during the eighth-seventh centuries BCE, after some four centuries in which simple inhumations were the norm. The period under discussion was a troubled one. Accelerated urbanisation, growing population density and social inequalities, evolving trade and mass production, and increased hired labour, along with external political and military pressures, all led to the disintegration of lineages and extended families in the urban sector and to growing insecurity. The Judahite tomb, which stresses the permanent nature of the family and generational continuity, was the response of the extended family - the biblical bet 'ab - to these threats. As more and more families were harmed by the social changes, it became increasingly necessary for the remaining families to transmit, both to themselves and to their peers, the message that they survive and flourish. Changes in burial practice also attest to the development and complexity of Judahite ideology and ethos. Although some elements remained constant (e.g., the ethos of simplicity and egalitarianism), their role and importance changed diachronically (from the early to the late Iron Age) and synchronically (during the late Iron Age) between rich and poor, and between urban and rural families. Because the four-room house was already the symbol of the family, it was the best vehicle to transmit the message that the family persisted. In sum, the adoption of the house plan for the Judahite tomb was an attempt to immortalise the bet'ab in stone.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)150-170
Number of pages21
JournalIsrael Exploration Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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