Hebrew carvings on column lend weight to Galilee village’s Jewish past
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Hebrew carvings on column lend weight to Galilee village’s Jewish past

IAA says discovery of 1,800-year-old limestone capital bearing inscriptions reinforces association of Druze village of Peki'in with Roman-era center of Jewish scholarship

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Margalit Zinati, sole Jewish resident of the Druze village of Peki'in in the Galilee, with an 1,800-year-old limestone capital bearing two Hebrew inscriptions found there in February 2017. (Ritvo courtesy of Beit Zinati)
Margalit Zinati, sole Jewish resident of the Druze village of Peki'in in the Galilee, with an 1,800-year-old limestone capital bearing two Hebrew inscriptions found there in February 2017. (Ritvo courtesy of Beit Zinati)

A pair of 1,800-year-old Hebrew inscriptions carved into a capital found last week in the Druze village of Pekiin may lend support to a tradition linking the Galilean village to an ancient center of Jewish scholarship.

The inscriptions, etched into a limestone block buried beneath a courtyard of a building adjacent to the village’s 19th-century synagogue, were found during restoration work, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday.

The antiquities authority was tight-lipped about the find and refused to disclose the text of the inscriptions, saying they were still being studied and wouldn’t be published until they appear in a scholarly journal.

The IAA also wouldn’t say how archaeologists who inspected the inscriptions determined they were 1,800 years old. The IAA did disclose that the inscriptions appeared to be dedications by donors to the synagogue, lending support to the tradition of a Jewish presence during the Roman period.

The restoration work was carried out in the synagogue and adjacent Beit Zinati, which belong to the sole remaining member of the village’s historic Jewish community and today serves as a visitor’s center.

The 1,800-year-old limestone capital bearing two Hebrew inscriptions found in Peki'in in February 2017. (Ritvo courtesy of Beit Zinati)
The 1,800-year-old limestone capital bearing two Hebrew inscriptions found in Peki’in in February 2017. (Ritvo courtesy of Beit Zinati)

The village Peki’in, in the northern Galilee, is believed to have been the site of a Jewish community since the Roman era, and Jewish tradition associates the modern village with a town mentioned in Josephus’s “Jewish War” and the Talmud as Beka. According to the Talmud, the town was a center of Jewish scholarship during the Roman period and Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai hid in a cave there for 13 years.

The association of the modern village of Peki’in with the ancient town mentioned in the Talmud has been challenged by scholars in recent years, however.

“At the same time, researchers debate the location of ancient Peki’in,” Yoav Lerer, an archaeologist with the IAA said in a statement. “I believe that these inscriptions will add an important layer to our understanding of the Jewish settlement in the village of Peki’in during the Roman and Byzantine periods.”

It remains to be seen whether the ancient Jewish community of Peki’in can be conclusively linked with the traditions affiliated with it.

During the recent renovations and research work conducted around the synagogue, researchers unearthed the capital around 30 centimeters (a foot) beneath the courtyard of an adjacent house, Beit Zinati director Uriel Rosenbaum told The Times of Israel.

“We saw this big stone, we took it out, we put it aside and saw it was the capital of a column and realized it had inscriptions upon it in Hebrew,” he said. Rosenbaum said that two easily legible Hebrew words were discerned: “made” and “it.”

Until this discovery, Rosenbaum said, “it wasn’t possible to prove that there was something here 2,000 years ago, but this stone has a slew of words written upon it in Hebrew.”

In fact, however, earlier excavations at the Peki’in synagogue in the early 20th century turned up several ancient decorated stones believed to have been part of an ancient synagogue. The reliefs date to the late second or early third century, around the same time as the newfound capital. They include a menorah flanked by a lulav and shofar, a common motif in the post-Temple period, and a Torah ark with closed doors.

They were both incorporated into the new synagogue built in 1873.

For the time being the capital is in the hands of IAA researchers, but Rosenbaum hopes it will be returned for exhibition in Peki’in once it is thoroughly studied.

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