An ancient rock inscription of the word “Shabbat” was uncovered near Lake Kinneret this week – the first and only discovery of a stone Shabbat boundary in Hebrew.
The etching in the Lower Galilee community of Timrat appears to date from the Roman or Byzantine period.
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Natan Ben Yehuda was staying with his grandchildren in Timrat earlier this month when he went for a stroll around the community. Stumbling upon the demarcation stone, he called Yoram Hoffman of the Internet blog "Bible Walks", who promptly uploaded photos of the remarkable find and contacted Mordechai Aviam, head of the Institute for Galilean Archeology at Kinneret College.
“This is the first time we’ve found a Shabbat boundary inscription in Hebrew,” Aviam said. “The letters are so clear that there is no doubt that the word is ‘Shabbat.’”
Aviam said Jews living in the area in the Roman or Byzantine era (1st-7th centuries CE) likely used the stone to denote bounds within which Jews could travel on Shabbat. The Lower Galilee of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages had a Jewish majority – many of the Talmudic sages bore toponyms indicative of Galilee communities.
The engraving uncovered in Timrat is the first and only Shabbat boundary
marker yet discovered in Hebrew – a similar inscription was found in
the vicinity of the ancient Western Galilee village of Usha, but its
text was written in Greek.
Aviam and his colleagues plan to enlist local help in scouring
neighboring areas to locate additional inscriptions, and eventually to
publish their findings in an academic journal.
“This represents a beautiful, fascinating link between our modern world
and antiquity, both emotional and archeological,” Aviam said. “Certainly
for those of us who are religiously observant, but also for the secular
among us who enjoy a stroll on Shabbat to know that we’re walking in
places where Jewish history lived two thousand years ago.”