For the First Time: 2,000-Year-Old Jewish Settlement Uncovered in Beersheva

Thursday, April 04, 2019 |  David Lazarus

The shard of a rare oil lamp depicting a menorah with nine branches has been uncovered in the southern town of Beersheva. This is one of the earliest artistic depictions of a Jewish menorah ever discovered.

In addition to the beautifully-crafted nine-branched menorah, the archeological excavations have revealed further evidence of Jewish day-to-day life in the central Negev town, including limestone vessels used by Jews for ritual purity, a watchtower and more. The site, dated from the 1st century CE until the Bar-Kokhba Revolt in 135 CE, also features underground hidden passageways used by the Jewish fighters against the Romans.

This is the first time that remains of a Jewish settlement from the Second Temple period have been discovered in Beersheva. According to the excavators, Dr. Peter Fabian of the Ben-Gurion University in the Negev and Dr. Daniel Varga of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Remains of the settlement cover an area of c. 2 dunams (2500 sq. yards) and include several structures and installations, such as the foundations of a large watchtower, baking facilities, ancient trash pits and an underground system that was probably used as a Jewish ritual bath (mikveh). Signs of a conflagration discovered in some of the structures evince a crisis that the settlement experienced, probably that of the First Jewish Revolt in c. 70 CE.” That was the same year that Jerusalem’s Second Temple was destroyed.

The site is located along the southern border of the ancient kingdom of Judah, next to a road that led from Tel Beersheva to the southern coastal plain along the Mediterranean Sea. The site’s strategic value along the road was probably the reason for the construction of a 10 x 10-meter tall (32 x 32 foot) watchtower. The remains of a staircase that would have led to the two upper levels of the tower was also uncovered.

There was great excitement when the shard of the oil lamp was cleansed, and its decorative nine-branched menorah revealed. According to Dr. Fabian and Dr. Varga, “This is probably one of the earliest artistic depictions of a nine-branched menorah yet discovered.” It is interesting to note that of the few lamps found featuring a menorah, they are never seven-branched. This was in accordance with a ruling in the Babylonian Talmud stating that only the menorah in the Temple could have seven branches and lamps for domestic use have between eight to eleven branches.

Dozens of bronze coins were also discovered at the site belonging to the period of Roman rule over the Land of Israel. Some were minted in Ashkelon, and others were minted in cities from throughout the Roman Empire.

The public is invited to visit the archaeological excavation beginning April 8, between 15:00-17:00 at no charge.

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