Friday, August 26, 2011

Mystery Stone Resolved

During the Roman and Byzantine eras (1st-7th centuries) the Lower Galilee was home to a flourishing Jewish community with major centers in Tiberias, Sepphoris, and more.  Given the large number of communities dotting the area, it was important to set Shabbat boundaries.  These were marked by poles or stones set approximately 1 km from the municipal area.   It’s likely that members of these communities erected the techum Shabbat reminder.

The area around the Timrat techum Shabbat rock.  The ancient road leads to nearby towns

Surviving ancient Shabbat boundary markers are rare, and this one is even rarer. 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.  The letters are so clear that there is no doubt that the word is ‘Shabbat.’”

The marker in Timrat was probably set up in relationship to Mahalul (modern day Nahalal) or Simonia, located around the nearby Tel Shimron. These towns led to Roman highways.
A similar Shabbat boundary stone was found near the ancient village of Usha, in the Western Galilee, also on the side of a Roman road.  But that stone’s text is in Greek – CAB – probably the beginning of the word CABAT, Shabbat. 

The Usha stone: CAB (Shabbat) & GOYMCBA - perhaps the name of the Shabbat district

“This [Shabbat boundary marker] 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.”  
For more on getting in touch with this history in person, check out Genesis Land for a taste of Bible times and Kefar Kedem for life in the days of the Mishnah and Talmud. 

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