We are at the foot of the western side of Beit Shearim, in the Menorah Caves complex, where six burial caves were found, including dozens of reliefs of the Menorah with its seven branches which originally was in the temple.
From the end of the 2nd century CE, Beit Shearim became an important burial place to which the dead were brought from all over the country and from outside Israel. Burial in the 1st & 2nd centuries was apparently not subject to municipal supervision and funding. Each person bought or dug for his extended family a tomb-cave and each family buried its dead in the lands it owned. At the same time, due to the overall complexity and although there is no information about the entity that organized the burial in Beit Shearim, it is clear that this was not a sporadic initiative of individuals. The quarrying of graves and their preparation for burial required central organization and funding, and as can be seen from the walls, and the passages between the various burial caves, it is clear that a central entity took care of this. According to various testimonies, its seems that the presidency of the Sanhedrin or an entity on its behalf, organized and coordinated the activities on the site. The presidency was the only entity that operated among the Jewish public and could handle a project of this magnitude.
The“Cave of the Ark” – This cave includes four halls and about a hundred tombs. The cave received its name following the unique relief including the ark, lions, an altar and a Menorah – engraved in its main hall. Most of the tombs here are arcosolium type. Such a tomb consists of a niche whose ceiling is arched – this type of a tomb is originated from the Hellenistic and ancient Rome cultures.
The change in the status of Beit Shearim occurred after the failure of the Bar-Kochba revolt in 136, while Jewish refugees moved from Judea to Galilee settlements, usually choosing rural villages without signs of foreign culture. Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi had a unique status and position, both among the Jewish public and with the Roman government, hence his arrival to Beit Shearim, made this location an important Jewish center which also brought permanent presence of public institutions.
The ”Warrior’s Cave and his Menorah“. The cave is named after an impressive relief – of a three-legged Menorah placed on a warrior’s head. On one hand he is dressed as a Roman warrior, yet on the other hand, the inscriptions in the cave indicate that the cave was used for the burial of Jews from the city of Tadmor. How can we settle this conflict, is there a conflict? So, I am going to leave it to each of you, creative conflict solvers, to resolve this point. In the video, you can also see above the same grave, the amazing seashell, perhaps symbolizing naval activity that is somehow related to the soldier. In the cave, there are five halls and about 80 tombs, and there are reliefs of Menorah’s in different places.
The tombs caves of Beit Shearim contain the largest concentration of tombs in the country from the Late Roman period. The place initially served the local population and later also the Jews from the diaspora. As we have already seen, burial was done in the hewn caves. The local rock is based on the chalk rock which due to its lack of crystalline structure is convenient for quarrying and on the other hand has a high impermeability to water.
The location of the tomb’s caves is remoted from Beit Shearim settlement located on the hill, and this is for several reasons: (1) the concern from impurity, that is, the concern of the proximity of the living to the dead, and (2) the prevention of odor nuisances. As the wind blows from the west, it strengthens up the slope of the hill and weakens greatly over the hill. There a vortex develops and the direction of the wind blowing is reversed. However, if the burial was east of the city, the odor nuisances on the hill would be severe as the hills slow down the flow of wind blowing from the east. It seems that after the arrival of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi to Beit Shearim, the tombs caves planners took well into considerations the various geographical aspects of the place with the intention of achieving a better quality of life to its residents.
The City of the Dead provided work for many of the residents, including grave diggers, caretakers of the dead and bringing them for burial, suppliers of perfumes and pottery, manufacturers of ossuaries, and others.
The Mausoleum tomb cave (# 11), is located at the highest point of the Menorah Caves complex. Its entrance structure and the mosaic on the floor are impressive. An important find was fragments of a marble slab engraved with a Greek inscription including the original name of Beit Shearim.
As I already mentioned, the dead came also from different countries. Getting here was relatively convenient. Near Beit Shearim are two imperial Roman roads connecting Legio, a Roman base near Megiddo and Acre. These roads were already built in the days of the emperor Hadrian who is responsible for suppressing the Bar Kochba revolt in 136 CE. The road west of Beit Shearim was intended to create a quick and convenient connection from Legio army camp to Acre, where the main port of Israel was at that time. Acre was the most important logistical base of the Roman in the region. The port of Acre served as a central point for the Romans, connecting between Israel and the Western countries and also Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi relations with the Roman administration utilized the port of Acre.
At the end of the fourth century, during the Byzantine period, the Jewish settlements in Galilee were almost completely abandoned, whether following the Gallus revolt in 353 CE or due to the earthquake in 363 CE that struck many locations.
There is much more to see in Beit Shearim, of course the tomb of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, the main tombs caves complex which includes the amazing coffin cave, also the city on the hill – you can watch all these places in the various videos.
And finally, as usual, a question for you – As can be seen in the video, there are many reliefs of the menorah in this caves complex, and the question is – in which book in the Bible the commandment be make a Menorah was made – the answer will appear at the end of the video.