Ancient Jewish Art

This tour takes us to different sites across the Galilee to show how Judaism without a Temple developed into a religion which was no longer dependent on sacrifices.

1-2We begin at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Beit She’arim. In the early 3rd century CE the highest Jewish Authority was the Court of Law known as the Sanhedrin. Rabbi Judah the Prince who would codify Jewish Law into a work called the Mishnah in nearby Sepphoris asked to be buried in his hometown of Beit She’arim. This would spark an interest by Jews not only in the country but in communities around the Mediterranean to be buried here too near the famous Rabbi.

The site boasts a number of caves with sarcophagi decorated sometimes with pagan imagery. One example which is exhibited at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem even depicts a popular Greek Erotic Myth known as Leda and the Swan! We will walk through the necropolis examining the mix of Pagan and Jewish symbols and discuss how the Editor of the Mishnah could be buried in such an environment.

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Sepphoris Synagogue

Next on our tour is the city of Sepphoris located only a couple of miles north of Nazareth. This is one of my favorite sites in the country as I participated in the excavations here in 1989 when I was in college. The city has a Jewish quarter atop the mountain with many homes containing Mikva’ot (Jewish ritual baths). We will examine the different mosaics at the site including the one related to our topic: the 5th century Zodiac Synagogue. We will also discuss the combination of Astrology and Judaism and show how it is still practiced today, even in the most traditional of synagogues!

After a Lunch Break we will visit The Hamat Gader Bathhouse. Not just a site with ruins, it is an active spa with hot springs and we will have some time here to relax in the therapeutic waters. The site also boasts a zoo with the only Alligators in the country.

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Hamat Gader Roman Bathhouse