1,800-year-old Hebrew stone inscriptions found in ancient Galilee synagogue

Preliminary analysis concludes words are dedicatory inscriptions honoring donors who contributed to synagogue.

The 1,800-year-old inscribed stone. (photo credit: COURTESY OF BEIT ZINATI)
The 1,800-year-old inscribed stone.
An 1,800-year-old limestone column capital engraved with two Hebrew inscriptions dating to the Roman period was discovered during a recent restoration and conservation project carried out in an ancient synagogue in Peki’in, located near the Western Galilee.
The Israel Antiquities Authority said the work is being conducted by the Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel as part of a project by the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry.
“The stone was found upside down in the building’s courtyard, and upon discovery of the inscriptions, archeologists from the IAA arrived at the site to examine the special find,” the Authority said in a statement on Tuesday. “A preliminary analysis of the engravings suggests that these are dedicatory inscriptions honoring donors to the synagogue.”
According to Yoav Lerer, the IAA’s inspector of the Western Galilee, the Talmudic and Midrashic sources tell of Galilean sages who lived in Peki’in, including Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who hid from the Romans in a cave.
However, he noted that there are scholars who disagree with the identification of the location of Peki’in.
“I believe that these inscriptions will add an important tier to our knowledge about the Jewish settlement in the village of Peki’in during the Roman and Byzantine periods,” said Lerer.
In the past year, restoration and conservation work was carried out in Peki’in’s ancient synagogue and nearby Beit Zinati to upgrade the visitor center located at the latter.
When completed, the visitor center will inform tourists of the 2,000-year-old history of the Jews inhabiting the village, and the unique story of the Zinati family, the village’s oldest remaining Jewish residents.
Margalit Zinati, the last member of the clan, resides in a house next to the synagogue.
Margalit Zinati, of the Peqi’in village, poses with the ancient stone. (Courtesy of Beit Zinati)Margalit Zinati, of the Peqi’in village, poses with the ancient stone. (Courtesy of Beit Zinati)
Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage, Ze’ev Elkin, described Peki’in as one of the most significant sites in the Galilee.
“It is a place where there has always been a Jewish presence,” said Elkin. “It’s a great honor for me that during my tenure in office such an important discovery has been made that tells this 2,000-year-old story of the Land of Israel.”
Uriel Rosenboym, director of Beit Zinati, described the find as a “historical discovery of unparalleled importance,” that unequivocally confirms what the late president Yitzhak Ben-Zvi long maintained in the early 20th century about the Jewish settlement at Peki’in.
“No one can argue with a written artifact,” said Rosenboym. “There was an ancient synagogue here, and the synagogue was built in its current form in recent centuries.
We thank the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage, which aims to preserve the heritage of Peki’in’s Jews.”
Rosenboym continued: “We are pleased to open the new museum, with a historic message about this ancient community. Although the stone itself was taken to be studied by the Israel Antiquities Authority, this unique story of the keepers of the flame in Peki’in is revealed in the renewed museum.”