woensdag 8 juli 2015
Second Temple-era catacomb Beit She'arim declared UNESCO World Heritage site
Second Temple-era catacombs for Jewish leaders, carved out of the soft bedrock at Beit She'arim. (Photo by Moshe Gilad)
The incomparable ancient catacombs at the Second Temple-era town of Beit She’arim joined the UNESCO World Heritage List on Sunday.
Beit She’arim was once the headquarters of the Sanhedrin, a city covering some 100 dunams (25 acres) that flourished from the second to the fourth century CE. The decision to mark the spot was made at the 39th session of the organization’s World Heritage Committee, convening in Bonn, Germany.
The most famous resident of Beit She'arim was Rabbi Judah the Prince, who lived in the 3rd century CE and – fearing that the Jews' crushing defeat by the Roman Empire and subsequent exile would lead to the loss of Torah – redacted the Mishnah.
It was Judah the Prince's death and interment in the city that caused the town to become a magnet-cemetery, as it were. Inscriptions discovered in excavations, starting in the 1930s, reveal that Jewish community leaders were brought for burial from as far away as what are now Arabia, Turkey, Iraq and Syria.
The ancients dug their cave-tombs into soft limestone rock walls by the town, resulting in a total of some 30 catacombs with more than 200 stone coffins.
Other major finds discovered in excavations at Beit She'arim, which is south of Haifa in the hills of the lower Galilee, include an ancient synagogue; a basilica (a type of Roman public building, not a church); an olive press - and the necropolis, which features three different burial sections, each in a different architectural style.
The latter is one of the largest Jewish cemeteries to have survived since antiquity, and Jews from both Israel and abroad have long sought to be buried there, near the grave of Rabbi Judah.
Dr. Tsvika Tsuk, the Nature and Parks Authority’s chief archaeologist, termed the decision “a greeting from 1,800 years ago from Beit She’arim’s city of the dead.” He said the site’s archaeological findings include hundreds of inscriptions along with dozens of reliefs of seven-branched menorahs and other Jewish ritual objects.
UNESCO erkend Beit Shearim als werelderfgoed