About two millennia ago, a Galilean sage and his son were reputed to have sought shelter from a horde of Roman soldiers inside a secret cave hideout. Recently, a piece of limestone was found with 1,800-year-old engravings in Hebrew that may point to the exact location this man hid from his enemy.
The ancient artifact was found while construction crews worked to restore the site of an ancient Israeli synagogue. Now antiquities experts believe that the Hebrew carved into this stone could shed light on the people who lived in the area about 1,800 years ago.
When analyzed experts discovered that the texts revealed the history of the Galilean sages who lived in Peqi’in. This included the famous Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochi. He was reputed to have hidden from the Romans during a raid.
Peqi’in was a place where Jews and Druze lived peacefully. But if first became famous when Rabbi Yochi and his son Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon escaped the Romans and hid in the cave after the Bar Kokhbar revolt in 132 CE.
There has been a Jewish presence in the city since 70 CE until the present day. But over time the Jews adopted the customs and dress of their Arab neighbors to blend in but never compromised on their religion.
But Arab riots in 1936 caused most Jews to flee. Only a few returned to the historic homeland.
Some scholars disagree with the findings. But the team that discovered it claims it adds a new layer of understanding to the history of the area a few hundred years after the birth of Christ.
Yoav Lerer, the Israel Antiquities Authority inspector in the Western Galilee, said: “The Talmudic and Midrashic sources tell of the Galilean sages that lived in Peqi’in, including Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who hid from the Romans in a cave. However, there are those who disagree with the identification of the location of Peqi’in.
“I believe that these inscriptions will add an important tier to our knowledge about the Jewish settlement in the village of Peqi’in during the Roman and Byzantine periods.”
If crews had not been hard at work restoring the ancient synagogue, this influential inscription might not have been found. The area has a long history. The Zinati family, which is the nearby village’s oldest Jewish family, has been ongoing for more than a thousand years. And the elderly Margalit Zinati, the last member of the family, lives in the house next to the synagogue to “keep the flame alive.”
Uriel Rosenboym, director of Beit Zinati, said: “This is a historical discovery of unparalleled importance. This confirms what the late President Yitzhak Ben Zvi maintained in the early twentieth century about the Jewish settlement at Peqi’in. No one can argue with the written artefact. There was an ancient synagogue here and the synagogue was built in its current form in recent centuries.”