2,000-year-old stone workshop discovered near where Jesus turned water into wine
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Only four Second Temple stoneware production centers have been unearthed in Israel

2,000-year-old stone workshop discovered near where Jesus turned water into wine

Because it was immune to ritual impurity, the use of stoneware was rife among Jews during the Roman era

Amanda Borschel-Dan is The Times of Israel's Jewish World editor.

  • Dr. Yonatan Adler on-site at the stone quarry and tool production center excavations at Reina in Lower Galilee. (Samuel Magal/IAA)
    Dr. Yonatan Adler on-site at the stone quarry and tool production center excavations at Reina in Lower Galilee. (Samuel Magal/IAA)
  • Stone vessels unearthed inside the ancient workshop at the stone quarry and tool production center excavations at Reina in Lower Galilee. (Samuel Magal/IAA)
    Stone vessels unearthed inside the ancient workshop at the stone quarry and tool production center excavations at Reina in Lower Galilee. (Samuel Magal/IAA)
  • An in situ image of stone vessels unearthed inside the ancient workshop at the stone quarry and tool production center excavations at Reina in Lower Galilee. (Samuel Magal/IAA)
    An in situ image of stone vessels unearthed inside the ancient workshop at the stone quarry and tool production center excavations at Reina in Lower Galilee. (Samuel Magal/IAA)
  • General view of the excavation site at Reina in Lower Galilee. (Samuel Magal/IAA)
    General view of the excavation site at Reina in Lower Galilee. (Samuel Magal/IAA)

There are few worse prospects for the hostess of a Jewish wedding than running out of drinks. Empathizing with such a predicament as a guest at a wedding in Cana some 2,000 years ago, Jesus’s mother Mary asked her special son to step up and “do something.”

Although he initially demurs, Jesus eventually orders servants to bring six special stone jars filled with water, which he transmutes into wine — his first public miracle. This week, archaeologists may have discovered where those stone jars were made.

A large 2,000-year-old Second Temple period chalkstone quarry and workshop was discovered at Reina in lower Galilee by a team of archaeologists headed by Dr. Yonatan Adler, senior lecturer at Ariel University and director of the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A manmade chalkstone quarry cave was recently discovered between between Nazareth and the village of Kana. What is unique in this excavation is the additional find of a stoneware workshop — one of only four in Israel.

Dr Yonatan Adler, director of excavations at a site dating to the Roman period, shows chalkstone mugs and cores uncovered two-months prior, in the Israeli village of Reina, near the northern city of Nazareth, on August 10, 2017.(AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)
Dr Yonatan Adler, director of excavations at a site dating to the Roman period, shows chalkstone mugs and cores uncovered two-months prior, in the Israeli village of Reina, near the northern city of Nazareth, on August 10, 2017.(AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

Although pottery was also in use during this period, archaeological digs around the region point to an uptick in stoneware during the Second Temple period — likely for ritual purity reasons, as attested in the Talmud.

“In ancient times, most tableware, cooking pots and storage jars were made of pottery. In the first century of the Common Era, however, Jews throughout Judea and Galilee also used tableware and storage vessels made of soft, local chalkstone,” said Adler.

Archaeological excavations inside the ancient workshop at Reina in Lower Galilee. (Samuel Magal/IAA)
Archaeological excavations inside the ancient workshop at Reina in Lower Galilee. (Samuel Magal/IAA)

“According to ancient Jewish ritual law, vessels made of pottery are easily made impure and must be broken. Stone, on the other hand, was thought to be a material which can never become ritually impure, and as a result ancient Jews began to produce some of their everyday tableware from stone,” he said.

What is rare, however, is to find a production center for such vessels. The four locations uncovered to date in Israel — two near Jerusalem, this one in Reina, and a fourth site found recently in its vicinity which is currently under excavation — highlight “the pivotal role of ritual purity observance not only in Jerusalem but in far-off Galilee as well,” said Adler.

The small cave in Reina was uncovered during the construction of a municipal sports center. So far archaeologists have unearthed thousands of pieces of chalkstone that were scooped out from the inside of cups and bowls as they were formed, and other types of production waste, including fragments of stone mugs and bowls in various stages of production, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

An in situ image of stone vessels unearthed inside the ancient workshop at the stone quarry and tool production center excavations at Reina in Lower Galilee. (Samuel Magal/IAA)
An in situ image of stone vessels unearthed inside the ancient workshop at the stone quarry and tool production center excavations at Reina in Lower Galilee. (Samuel Magal/IAA)

The Reina find is “very exciting,” said Yardenna Alexandre, an archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority who specializes in the study of Roman Era Galilee.

“Throughout the years we have been discovering fragments of these kinds of stone vessels alongside pottery in excavations of houses in both rural and urban Jewish sites from the Roman period, such as at Kafr Kanna, Sepphoris and Nazareth. Now, for the first time, we have an unprecedented opportunity to investigate a site where these vessels were actually produced in Galilee.”

The workshop is situated in an artificially hewn cave, marked by chisel marks in its creation. Inside the cave, archaeologists discovered the detritus of lathe-made stoneware — thousands of stone cores. According to the IAA, hundreds of unfinished or damaged vessels were also found.

“The production waste indicates that this workshop produced mainly handled mugs and bowls of various sizes. The finished products were marketed throughout the region here in Galilee, and our finds provide striking evidence that Jews here were scrupulous regarding the purity laws,” said Adler.

“The observance of these purity laws was widespread not only in Jerusalem, but also throughout Judea as well as Galilee at least until the Bar Kokhba rebellion which ended in 135 CE. The current excavations will hopefully help us answer the question of how long these laws continued to be observed among the Jews of Galilee during the course of the Roman period,” he said.

Stone vessels unearthed inside the ancient workshop at the stone quarry and tool production center excavations at Reina in Lower Galilee. (Samuel Magal/IAA)
Stone vessels unearthed inside the ancient workshop at the stone quarry and tool production center excavations at Reina in Lower Galilee. (Samuel Magal/IAA)
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