Why does the UN love these Israeli caves? Jesus Christ Superstar, obvs!

What makes a place so special that it might be considered the inheritance of all humanity — a World Heritage site, as it were?

If you were to consult UNESCO’s list of World Heritage criteria, you would see that the international body that determines such status considers ten benchmarks. Does the site “bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization,” for instance, does it “contain superlative natural phenomena”? All those things are, no doubt, very important.

But when it comes to one of the most recent additions to the U.N.’s list, Israel’s Beit Guvrin Bell Caves, there’s even less doubt as to what the real reason was: “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Oh, you won’t find a hint of the rock opera in UNESCO’s announcement, or in any of the various press reports — but trust me.

The Bell Caves served as the location par excellence for a crucial early set piece in the 1973 film version of the musical, directed by Norman Jewison. The disciples and their women have set up camp (goats and all) more or less at the feet of Jesus, and are exuberantly demanding to know (in the parlance of the time): “What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s a-happenin’!” Jesus insists that even if they knew the path they trod, they wouldn’t understand, but the excited acolytes will not be dissuaded. Mary Magdalene comes along and soothes Jesus with a cool face-and-foot wash, and Jesus allows as only she knows what he really needs.

But then! A drastic tonal change: In comes Judas….

To read the rest, please click through to The Forward.

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