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Beit She'arim

An ancient city in the Lower Galilee, near the modern town of Kiryat Tivon on the Nazareth-Haifa road. Although settlement at Bet She'arim apparently started in Bible times, the city is first mentioned at the end of the Second Temple period.

During talmudic times, important scholars lived there. Bet She'arim reached great prosperity in the late second century when Rabbi Judah ha- Nasi went to live there and made it the seat of the Sanhedrin. From the beginning of the following century, it became the central burial place for Jews of Erez Israel and the Diaspora. The city was destroyed by Romans during the suppression of the Jewish revolt in 352 c.e. However, a small settlement continued there during the Byzantine period.

The city of Bet She'arim extended over the summit of a hill --- an area of 25 acres, 450 feet above sea level. It was surrounded by a wall, two sections of which have been discovered. Remains of large buildings, including a large synagogue, have been found, as well as a glassmaking shop and about 1,200 bronze coins struck in the first half of the fourth century. An oil press used mainly in the Byzantine period was found nearby.

Rock-cut catacombs that were prepared to provide burial places for sale to people outside Bet She'arim were found in all these areas. The soft limestone rock of the area was easily carved, and many simple decorations were found on the walls of the burial chambers. Most favored were religious symbols and ritual objects, especially the seven-branched menorah and the Ark of the Law, with columns and steps. Also the shofar, lulav, etrog and an incense shovel of the Temple were depicted. Heavy ornamental stone doors were decorated to imitate wooden doors, complete with panels, nailheads and knockers. Among others, many rabbis and sages were buried in these chambers. Two-hundred and fifty epitaphs in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic were found, and one of them reads: "He who is buried here (is) Simeon, son of Johanan, and on oath, whoever shall open upon him shall die of an evil end."


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