Saturday, January 30, 2016

1,700-year-old funerary inscriptions exposed in Zippori

 Researcher Aharoni Amitai with the inscriptions uncovered in Zippori
Copyright: Miki Peleg, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority

Three 1,700 year old funerary inscriptions written in Aramaic and Greek were recently revealed in Moshav Zippori in the north. This occurred in the wake of information received from residents of the moshav which resulted in uncovering the inscriptions in a joint effort carried out by researchers of the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology of the Kinneret Academic College and the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Aramaic was the everyday language used by the Jews in the period of the Mishnah and Talmud, but some of them also spoke and read Greek, and thus there are also funerary inscriptions in that language. The two Aramaic inscriptions mention individuals referred to as "rabbis" who were buried in the western cemetery of Zippori; their names have not yet been deciphered.

According to Dr. Motti Aviam of the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology, the importance of the epitaphs lies in the fact that these reflect the everyday life of the Jews of Zippori and their cultural world. Researchers are uncertain as to the meaning of the term "rabbi" at the time when Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nasi resided in Zippori together with the Tannaim and after him by the Amoraim - the large groups of sages that studied in the city’s houses of learning.

One of the surprises in the newly discovered inscriptions is that one of the deceased was called "the Tiberian". This is already the second instance of someone from Tiberias being buried in the cemetery at Zippori. It is quite possible that Jews from various parts of Galilee were brought to Zippori to be buried in the wake of the important activity carried out there by Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nasi. Another possibility is that the man moved to Zippori and died there, but wanted to be remembered as someone who originally came from Tiberias.

In the second Aramaic epitaph the word le-olam (forever) appears for the first time in inscriptions found at Zippori. The term le-olam is known from funerary inscriptions in Bet She‘arim and elsewhere and means that the deceased’s burial place will remain his forever and that no one will take it from him. Both inscriptions end with the Hebrew blessing shalom.  

The Greek inscription mentions the name Jose, which was very common amongst Jews living in Israel and abroad.

The Greek inscription at Zippori
Copyright: Miki Peleg, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority

So far, 17 funerary inscriptions have been documented in the Zippori study, most of them written in Aramaic, which was the everyday language of Jews in Israel at that time. Contrasting this are the funerary inscriptions found in Tiberias - the second capital of the Galilee - which were mainly written in Greek. Several of the ancient inhabitants from Zippori are mentioned in these inscriptions, which include the names of rabbis and often have the names of the professions they were engaged in.

Zippori was the first capital of the Galilee from the time of the Hasmonean dynasty until the establishment of Tiberias in the first century CE. The city continued to be central and important later on and was where Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nasi resided and compiled the Mishnah. The Jewish life in the city was rich and diverse as indicated by the numerous ritual baths discovered in the excavation; while at the same time the influence of Roman culture was also quite evident as reflected in the design of the town with its paved streets, colonnaded main roads, theater and bathhouses. The wealth of inscriptions from the cemeteries attests to the strong Jewish presence and the city’s social elite in the Late Roman period.

The inscriptions will be studied by a team of researchers consisting of Dr. Motti Aviam, Aharoni Amitai and the historian Dr. Jacob Ashkenazi of the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology and Miki Peleg, the Lower Galilee District Archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority. This joint effort is also likely to lead to new discoveries soon. Upon completion of their research the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Kinneret Academic College will present the inscriptions to the general public.

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