In the heart of the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City is the Burnt House Museum. Almost 2,000 years ago the house was owned by the wealthy Kathros family. Towards the end of the Great Revolt the house, together with most of Jerusalem, was destroyed and burnt to the ground by the Romans. Today the archaeological remains of this ancient family home give us insight into home life in the ancient city and the events leading to the destruction of the Second Temple.
History of the Burnt House
The Kathros home stood in the Upper City (today's Jewish Quarter) and looked out across a valley (today's Western Wall Plaza) to Temple Mount. The Lower City was built on the steep slopes surrounding the Upper City and was inhabited by poorer residents. In 66AD, the Great Revolt erupted in the Holy Land when Jews rebelled against the ruling Romans in protest of appropriation of land, mistreatment, and exorbitant taxation. In early 70AD Jerusalem was held under siege for seven months. The Romans first destroyed the Temple and Lower City while the Upper City was harder to reach and held out for another month. Inhabitants that had survived the siege were either killed or taken captive while the city burnt.
Discovery of the Burnt House
The Burnt House was found while archaeologists were clearing part of the Jewish Quarter in the 1970s. Archeologists found stone walls burnt black from soot; fire-charred wooden rafters and everything covered in ash. Among the findings were artifacts confirming that the residents of the house were a well-off priestly family. There was a ritual bath (mikvah) where priests could carry out purification rituals before going to the Temple. Stone utensils were uncovered which would have been used by priestly families. Other findings in the Burnt House included stone vessels, kitchen utensils, dishes, tables, a grinding stone, Roman lamps, stone jars, and coins issued in 67-69AD. Archaeologists discovered the human remains of a woman buried according to Jewish tradition and a Roman spear which may have been used in the conflict.
The Kathros Family Home
The Burnt House would have been the Kathros family's palatial home covering about 55m² including a courtyard, four rooms, a ritual bath, a kitchen, and a basement workshop. Archaeologists found a stone weight in the workshop engraved with the words "Sons of Kathros." This led to the belief that it was the house of the Kathros family mentioned in the Talmud as an aristocratic priestly family that abused its position of power. The Talmudic passage tells us that the Kathros were High Priests, their sons the treasurers, and their son-in-laws the trustees (Talmud Bavil, Pasachim 57,I ).
The authenticity of the Burnt House
The Burnt House is one of the many authentic sites in Jerusalem. The inscription of the Kathros family name on the stone weight found in the house connects it to the Talmud reference. The stone utensils indicate that the occupants were a priestly family abiding by the Jewish laws of purity to allow them to enter the Temple. The incredible amount of soot and ash in the excavated site as well as the burnt walls are a testament to the burning of the house. The fact that only coins predating 70AD were found confirms that this was one of the homes destroyed by the Romans in response to the Jewish uprising during the Great Revolt (66AD-70AD).
Visiting the Burnt House
Only the basement of the once palatial home survived the fire. Visitors to the Burnt House can see the excavated dwelling and a display of artifacts. A short audio-presentation tells the story of the Great Revolt; recreates the day-to-day lives of the family and tells of the storming of the city and torching of the house in 70AD.