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date: 22 November 2019

Beth Shearim [Beth She’arim]locked

  • Rachel Hachlili

Extract

[Beth She’arim]

Jewish necropolis near the town of Beth Shearim in the lower Galilee. In the early 3rd century ad the site became a noted centre of learning under the great scholar Rabbi Judah ha-Nassi (c. 135–217). His burial there made the site holy ground, and it became the chief burial place for Jews from the land of Israel and neighbouring regions. It was destroyed in ad 352. The necropolis consisted of catacombs, most of them of the 3rd and 4th centuries; they had courtyards in front and portals, with stone doors made to resemble wooden doors with nails. Each catacomb contained numerous tombs; some had several burial halls spaced out along corridors that were cut into the rock of the hillside. The tombs were mainly loculi [compartmented graves] or arcosolia [vaulted niches]. The dead were laid in arcosolia, coffins or decorated stone, marble or terracotta sarcophagi. On the walls were carved, painted or incised decorations; like those of the sarcophagi, they were in a popular style that combined Hellenistic and Oriental elements. Characteristic of the style are scenes from pagan mythology and Jewish motifs, such as the menorah, the Ark of the Scrolls and various ritual objects. Some of the catacombs belonged to one family, others were public. Burial at Beth Shearim was a commercialized public enterprise directed by a burial society, which may have sold burial places....

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