A Prayer From the Past: “Let Me Return to Eternity”

This is the entrance to a network of tombs in Israel.The most important burial place in the Jewish world during the mishnaic and talmudic periods.  Located in the western part of the lower Galilee and within easy access of Haifa, Beit She’arim flourished from the second through the fourth centuries when a necropolis was created deep into the hillside.

Beit She’arim is not mentioned in the Bible but began its history as a village in the Roman era.  Courtyards, corridors, and staircases lead to the catacombs with their burial chambers and stone sarcophagi. The chambers and sarcophagi are decorated with bas-reliefs, epitaphs, and frescoes, some of which are religious while others are decorative.

The Cave of the Syrian Jews contains a large menorah carved on the wall.  There are also  inscriptions in Greek and Aramaic such as “Let me return (to eternity).

Most inscriptions are in Greek because Hebrew had disappeared as a spoken language, except for the religious services. Some inscriptions are in both languages and Aramaic is also used.

Some inscriptions are religious, some are warning about disturbing the bones and others are of a personal nature,  “The Loved One rests here.”

In the fourth century, the town was burnt, by the Romans during a Jewish revolt. A village remained, and during the Arab period the dilapidated catacombs were ransacked.

These tombs are quite eerie and the parts that have been opened to the public are not hidden behind barriers.  You can actually walk around the tombs and the sarcophaguses.  With the complex being underground there is also a big contrast with the light and darkness which hits you when you go back outside.   It must have taken an incredible effort to get the caves ready for the burials and to carve the coffins out of solid rock.  As you can see from the pictures, the carvings are very much intact from two thousand years ago.

It feels like a real journey back in time.

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