Archaeologists found 1,700-year-old inscriptions carved in stone – which possibly indicate the burial place of rabbis – at an ancient cemetery in Israel.
The inscriptions were discovered at Sepphoris (or Zippori), a village and archaeological site located Galilee. Zippori was once the capital of Galilee.
Motti Aviam, an archaeologist at the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology, and his colleagues have found and documented hundreds of ancient tombs from Zippori, over the past three years. According to Aviam, the burial rounds were used from the second to the late fourth century CE.
Locals told the team of archaeologists about a place near the modern moshav (a type of Israeli town or settlement), where they had seen a few stones with inscriptions. The archaeologists analysed the tree inscriptions written on stone lintels – two written in Aramaic and one in Greek – and came to the conclusion that they used to be placed at the entrance to ancient graves.
Aviam said that inscriptions are not as common as other archaeological discoveries in Israel, which is why the new findings were quite surprising. Most inscriptions are discovered on mosaic floors of churches and synagogues, he explained.
The Israel Antiquities Authority reported that the inscription written in Greek mentions the name “Jose.” The other two inscriptions written in Aramaic indicate the burial place of rabbis. However, the archaeologists said that the title ‘Rabbi’ may have had a different meaning 1,700 years ago.
Even so, they noted that elite rabbis were indeed religions and social leaders back then. For instance, there is Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi who lived in the second century CE – he compiled the Mishnah and was a resident of Zippori. (note: Mishnah is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions)
The stone artefacts were taken by the Israel Antiquities Authority. The next step is for specialists in Greek and Aramaic to observe the inscriptions and decipher the names of the possible rabbis.
From the first analysis, researchers found the phrase “from Tiberias” written on one of the lintels, which may hint at the individual’s hometown called Tiberias (a city in Galilee that became more powerful than Zippori in terms of political importance).
One of the two tomb markers written in Aramaic has the epitaph “le-olam,” which can be translated to “forever,” according to Aviam. In the ancient world that could have meant ‘Don’t interrupt my resting place —I want to be here forever,’ he explained.
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