Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ancient Shabbat marker found in the Galilee

From JPost:
An ancient rock inscription of the word “Shabbat” was uncovered near Lake Kinneret this week – the first and only discovery of a stone Shabbat boundary in Hebrew.

The etching in the Lower Galilee community of Timrat appears to date from the Roman or Byzantine period.

News of the inscription, discovered by chance Sunday by a visitor strolling the community grounds, quickly reached 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,” he said. “The letters are so clear that there is no doubt that the word is ‘Shabbat.’”

Aviam said Jews living in the area in the Roman or Byzantine era (1st-7th centuries CE) likely used the stone to denote bounds within which Jews could travel on Shabbat. The Lower Galilee of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages had a Jewish majority – many of the Talmudic sages bore toponyms indicative of Galilee communities.

The engraving uncovered in Timrat is the first and only Shabbat boundary marker yet discovered in Hebrew – a similar inscription was found in the vicinity of the ancient Western Galilee village of Usha, but its text was written in Greek.
One of the very cool things about Israel is that an ordinary person, walking his dog, can stumble upon an archaeological treasure like this - which is what happened.

Biblewalks also tries to figure out which town this was the marker for:

We speculate that the marker in Timrat is related an ancient town, located approximately 1kmto the south-east of the marker. This Jewish Roman town was called “Mahalul”, and flourished from the commercially strategic location during the Roman/Byzantine times (Mishna and Talmud). It is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud (Megila page 2 , 2 1:1, Hebrew): “Nahalal is Mahalul”, and listed among the walled cities from the period of Joshua. The distance from the Roman village to the Timrat Sabbath stone fits the exact range of the perimeter as defined by the Jewish tradition.

Another candidate for the town related to the marker is Simonia, located around the nearby Tell Shimron. This was another Jewish town during the Roman and Byzantine periods. It is also located about 1.5KM from the marker, on the south-west side.

(h/t Yoel)