or BETH SHEARIM Israel.
i n the Valley of Jezreel on the border of Lower Galilee.
The site, known by its Arabic name esh-Sheikh Ibreiq,
was identified by an inscription found on the site. It was
the center of the royal estates of Berenice (Joseph. Vit
24.119). By the name of Beth Shearim it is mentioned
in the Talmud. In the 2d and 3d c. A.D. it was a Jewish
town, and for some time the seat of the Sanhedrin and
of several famous Jewish scholars, outstanding among
which was Rabbi Judah the Patriarch.
The town extended over an area of 4 ha, occupying
the summit of a hill, on the slopes of which was a large
Jewish necropolis. The site has been extensively excavated and the five occupation levels range from the
late 1st c. B.C. to Mameluke times. Of most interest are
the results of the excavations in the necropolis. The number of catacombs, ranging from small family sepulchers
to large public catacombs, some with more than 400
burial places, is estimated at ca. 100. Of these about 30
have been excavated. Some of the larger catacombs are
arranged in two or three tiers, access to which is given
by means of a deep, narrow corridor in which staircases
hewn in the soft rock lead to the openings of the burial
halls. Most of the catacombs are of the type just described, but two are outstanding in plan and architectural
decoration. Both are preceded by spacious courts, and
the facade of each is decorated by three arches. Of great
interest is the decorative repertoire. On the walls of the
catacombs are many representations of the menorah and
of human beings. On the sarcophagi are animals (lions,
oxen), various birds (mostly eagles), and even scenes
taken from Greek mythology, such as the Amazonomachy and Leda and the Swan. One sarcophagus displays a head of Zeus. The art of Beth Shearim confirms what is otherwise known from that of contemporary
Of the many inscriptions found at Beth Shearim a great
number are in Greek. Hebrew inscriptions are also quite
numerous; Aramaic and Palmyrene are rarer. Some of
the inscriptions reveal the social standing and occupation of the deceased. Many of the deceased were brought
from the Diaspora, mostly from Phoenicia, Syria, Palmyra, and Arabia.
The extensive excavations at this site are a major
source for the study of the architectural, artistic, religious,
social, and economic history of the Jews of Palestine and
the Diaspora in the Late Roman period.
N. Avigad, Beth Shearim, Volume
Three: The Archaeological Excavations during 1953-1958
(1971). In Hebrew. (English edition is forthcoming.)