In 1961 Israeli soldiers unearthed a cave that had inscriptions and drawings including the oldest known Hebrew writing of the word “Jerusalem” dated to approximately 600 B.C. by Dr. Frank Cross Moore, Jr. of Harvard University.
“I am Jehovah thy Lord. I will accept the cities of Judah and I will redeem Jerusalem”
“Absolve us oh merciful God. Absolve us oh Jehovah”
The drawings depicted men who appeared to be fleeing and two ships.
While investigating the cave, Dr. Joseph Ginat of The University of Haifa met a Bedouin who told him about the remains of an ancient oak tree about 1/4 of a mile away where, according to Bedouin legends and tradition, a prophet named Lehi blessed and judged the people of both Ishmael and Judah. The Bedouin told Dr. Ginat that Lehi had lived many years before Muhammad and that Arab people had built a wall of large rocks around the remains of the tree to protect it as a sacred spot, long known by arab inhabitants as “Beit Lehi”, meaning “Home of Lehi.”
Dr. Ginat shared this information with W. Cleon Skousen whom he had met while studying anthropology at University of Utah and teaching at Brigham Young University from 1970 through 1975.
In 1983 Dr. Skousen and Dr. Glenn Kimber worked with Dr. Ginat and Dr. Yoram Tsafrir of Hebrew University to secure permission and funding to excavate the site. The first excavations began in December 1983. By noon of the first day, archaeologists found an ancient village and well-preserved mosaic floor of a Byzantine era chapel. Since that time, “hewn subterranean installations, including columbaria, olive presses, water cisterns, quarries, a stable, and hideaways,” have been discovered along with pottery and other items suggesting that the area had been populated from 600 B.C. until the Mameluke period of 1500 A.D. The discovery has been featured in the book Ancient Churches Revealed, published in 1993 by the Israel Exploration Society.
After 1986 the site was covered to protect it until additional funds could be raised and conditions were right to continue future excavations.
In 1994 Dr. Kimber and about 40 others, including a number of students, joined Dr. Ginat and Dr. Tsafrir to re-open the site. Since 1994, many groups have visited the site and participated in the excavation.
Dr. Tsafrir, has since retired and according to Israeli law, passed responsibility for archaeological exploration to Dr. Oren Gutfeld of Hebrew University who continues to manage the excavation.