Sunday 11 April 2010

They all wanted to be buried at Bet She'arim

 Bet She'arim was a flourishing, wealthy Jewish town from the 2nd-4th centuries CE. At one point the town became the seat of the Sanhedrin (Jewish religious council), after Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi moved his study centre there. The Sanhedrin later moved, together with Rabbi Yehudah, to Tzippori – only some 15 km (10 miles) away and almost ‘up the road’, as it were. 

But the town's claim to fame was not, as you will readily see, who lived there, but who was buried there! Following Rabbi Yehudah's burial in Bet She'arim, it became at matter of honour for Jews from Israel and the diaspora to be buried close to him. You will find evidence that Rabbis Shimon, Gamliel and Hanina were all buried there in vaults and stone coffins decorated according to status - and pocket, no doubt.

File:Cave of coffins.jpg

Bet She'arim's former wealth is evident by the vast, ornately decorated necropolis discovered beneath the town. Numerous courtyards, corridors and stairways lead to the many underground burial chambers, all beautifully decorated in the artistic styles of the time, some from Greek mythology, such as the battle of the Amazons. What would we make of similar demands today? We can only speculate, but my guess is that it would be ‘lo with an alef!’

As usual, the inhabitants revolted against the yoke of Rome, this time in the year 351 CE, perhaps with the Jewish inhabitants getting a whiff of the impending fall of the Western Roman empire, just 60 years away. Unsurprisingly, however, it was brutally suppressed and the town, as well as surrounding towns, was burnt and destroyed. A climb to the top of the hill, where the remains of an ancient basilica still stand, will give you a beautiful panoramic view of the Jezreel Valley and Carmel Mountain Range. One of the vaults has been turned into a museum. Visit and marvel at the glory of the former town – and those who were buried there.

Bet She'arim can by found just off Route 722, the road linking Routes 70 and 75, south of Qiryat Tivon.
To view a Google map of this site, please click here 

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