The Burnt House of Kathros Family

Entrance Fees


Difficulty Level

The Burnt House Museum invites you to journey to the past. On this voyage we will meet the Kathros family

The very name hints to the saga buried under its ashes. There had been a house – a home – a family. Who lived here? What were their likes and dislikes? How was their house burnt? What became of the family? These and other questions will be dealt with the help of the charred remains, the exhibited artifacts and an audio-visual presentation.

The Kathros family owned the house during the Great Revolt against the Romans. The destruction of the Second Temple affected this family’s fate together with that of the rest of the nation. Is this the actual story of what befell the Kathros family? Does the evidence found in the museum tell the whole story? Lets just say that this is how it might have happened.

The Burnt House


The Upper City
At the time of the Second Temple today’s Jewish Quarter was called the ‘Upper City’ since it was higher than the Temple Mount, which could be viewed from it. Between the Upper City and the Temple Mount ran the ‘Cheese Makers Valley’ an active commercial area in which the Western Wall Plaza stands today.

The Upper City surrounded by slopes on all sides survived the Roman siege for an additional month after the Temple was destroyed and burnt. Only on the eighth day of the month of Elul in the year 70 C.E. was the Upper City finally conquered.

After the Six Days War the Jewish Quarter was excavated and some extraordinary objects, now exhibited at the Herodian Quarter Museum, were discovered. These excavations indicated that the Upper City was an affluent neighborhood whose residents lived a life of leisure in the Roman style.
It seems that the most of the Upper City’s population were ‘Cohanim’ (priests) who lived among the aristocracy and worked in the Temple. Although influential among the governing class they were abhorred by the masses that considered them corrupt. The remains of many of the houses in the Upper City have an abundance of ritual baths as well as utensils made of stone. Both the baths and the stone vessels were necessary for ritual purity. A table and stone utensils found in the excavations are exhibited at the Burnt House.

The Lower City
The slopes leading down towards the City of David south of the Temple Mount and David’s City itself were called the lower City. Here dwelt the poor. Many of them, such as Miriam, the maidservant in the presentation, served the priests and the wealthy who lived in the Upper City.

The meaning of the name Kathros
The name Kathros is perhaps from the Greek meaning ‘oak tree’ although, it also means a lyre like instrument. Who were the residents of this house? The Kathros family was one of four aristocratic lineages of important priests who abused their power and status. They also managed to give members of their family positions of importance in the Temple. The Talmud tells us of the Kathros family:
“Woe is me because of the House of Kathors, woe is me because of their [poison] pens… For they are the High Priests, and their sons are treasurers, and their sons-in-law are trustees, and their servants beat the people with staves”. (Talmud Bavli, Pesachim 57, I)

The Burnt house of Kathros
This splendid residence contained a paved courtyard, a number of rooms, a small kitchen, and a ritual bath. However, only the ruins of the basement, containing household utensils, have survived the ravages of destruction and fire. This basement housed a small laboratory-like workshop where materials where ground, weighed, measured and cooked. Among the finds was a stone weight on which were engraved the words “{of} Bar Kathros” (“{of} the son of Kathros”) leading the archeologists to assume that here was the residence and workshop of the infamous Kathros family. What was this inscribed stone weight used for? Perhaps spices for the incense used in the Temple service were ground and weighed on these premises?

Why were stone vessels used?
The Upper City was inhabited by priests who meticulously observed the laws of ritual purity not only in the Temple but also in their homes. Stone vessels, which cannot acquire impurity as earthenware ones can, are most appropriate for use by priests. Excavations of the Jewish Quarter uncovered stone tables, jars and dishes as well as ritual baths in which the priests immersed themselves and in which they could purity kitchen utensils and dishes.

The Drainage Channel
Underlying the dwellings of the Upper City was a sophisticated drainage system consisting of tunnels. During the Great Revolt these underground networks were used for hiding and secret communication. Josephus Flavius, the contemporary historian, wrote of the last day of battle:
‘The rebels…escaped…one by one they disappeared into the tunnels…the Romans were puzzled because they could not find their enemies…they burnt the houses with all who had taken refuge within…’ (The Jewish War, 5,6,8)
It seems that tunnels of the type discovered under the Burnt House served the fleeing warriors.

The Spear
This Roman weapon was found in the Burnt House. Although this spear probably served a Roman soldiers who broke into the house to slaughter its inhabitants it might also have fallen from the hands of a Jewish warrior defending his life.

On the ninth of the month of Av in the year 70 C.E. the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed. One month later, on the twenty-eighth of Elul Jerusalem’s Upper City was torched, its houses destroyed, and its inhabitants – those that survived the famine and epidemics caused by the prolonged siege – killed by Roman swords. The survivors were taken captive. Josephus Flavius reported 110,000 casualties and 97,000 captives.

Thus ended the brave and devastating war. Historians offer many explanations for the failure of the rebellion. However the ancient Rabbis had a special perspective:
“…The Second Temple period, whence Torah was studied, its commandments observed, and acts of loving-kindness were performed – why was it destroyed? Because of unwarranted hatred which is as bad as idol worship, incest and murder” (Talmud Bavli, Yoma 9,2)
May our generation find the way to create an abundance of love!

The discovery of the house
It happened suddenly without prior notice. The archeologists were busy removing debris and remains of buildings in an area marked for construction. This was during 1970 – the first year of excavations in the Upper City of Jerusalem.

In the eyes of the archeologists the rubbish was transformed into a painful visual reminder – these were building stones blackened by soot. Among them were burnt utensils, charred wooden rafters, and blackened walls. Soot was everywhere as well as on the faces of the excavators. Slowly, the picture clarified: here was a house burnt by the Roman Legionnaires. When the house collapsed it buried all that was in it. Professor Nachman Avigad, who led the excavations, discovered this house exactly 1900 years after its destruction. “On that day I was somewhat excited” he wrote in his diary. The excitement was contagious and many, as well as the international press, came to see the striking discovery.

Today, a residential house was has been built above the burnt remains.

The Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem ltd.

Rothschild House, Batei Machaseh Square, the Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem
P.O.B 14012 91140
tel. 02-6288141-2 tourism 02-6288767 fax 02-6287212

The H. Schaffer Foundation


Jerusalem Videos

אתרים וסיורים קשורים ​

סרטוני וידאו קשורים​


Fill the form on the right side and we'll get back to you.