Bet Shearim National Park
Meet Bet Shearim National Park
The importance, value and renown of Bet She’arim were due to the fact that it was home to a great rabbi – Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi – who was the religious, spiritual and political leader of the Jewish people at the time, and compiler of the Mishnah (the oral laws). Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi wanted to be buried in Bet She’arim, and his tomb was built during his lifetime. The story of the town encapsulates the story of Jewish settlement of the time, the story of its people, their actions, and their great faith.
Main points of interest
- The synagogue
- The basilica
- The olive press
- The statue of Alexander Zaid – the “Watchman”
- Sheikh Abreik
- The upper path – a hiking trail focusing on the summit of the Bet She’arim hilltop
- The lower path – a hiking trail among the burial caves in the central part of the park
- The Coffins Cave
- The cave of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi
- The Museum Cave
- The Menorah Caves
- The synagogue – a rectangular building (35 m in length and 15 m wide), built of large dressed masonry blocks. The synagogue façade faces towards Jerusalem, and has three large entrance gates. Alongside the synagogue was a courtyard and a small building. Two interesting Greek inscriptions were found in this building. One is a dedicatory inscription to two men engaged in burial at the site, while the second one reads: “Jacob of Caesarea, head of the synagogue of Pamphylia. Peace” – the word ‘peace’ (shalom) is the only word written in Hebrew.
- The Basilica – the basilica was a public building, with a main hall divided into three areas by two rows of columns. The rear section of the central area had a raised dais, and the two side areas were called “aisles”. The basilica walls were plastered with colored plaster at a later period, and marble panels were set into them, with inscriptions and decorations. With one exception, the inscriptions were written in Greek and expressed appreciation and dedication to the generous donors who contributed to the building, and to the officeholders.
- The olive press
- The statue of Alexander Zaid – the “Watchman” – at the summit of the Bet She’arim hilltop, which is known as Shekh Abrek and stands on the remains of the town of Bet She’arim, is a bronze statue of the watchman Alexander Zaid, mounted on his horse and looking out over the fields of the Jezreel Valley. Zaid immigrated to pre-state Israel in 1904, and was one of the founders of the Bar Giora defense group, which later established the Hashomer (Guild of Watchmen) organization. Zaid was a courageous guard, but in 1938 he was murdered in an ambush set by local Arabs. The statue in his memory was erected in the place he loved and protected, with a breathtaking view over the Jezreel Valley.
- Shekh Abrek – the summit of Bet She’arim hilltop, which stands on the ruins of the town of Bet She’arim, called Shekh Abrek in Arabic. Near to the statue of Alexander Zaid is the tomb of Shekh Abrek, a two-domed structure, alongside which a tiny spring used to flow. The hilltop on which the statue and the tomb stand covers parts of the ruins of the town of Bet She’arim, and in the coming months an archaeological excavation will be carried out here.
- The upper path – a hiking trail focusing on the summit of the Bet She’arim hilltop. The path passes among and connects the burial caves and public structures. Parts of the path are circular, while other parts have no exit. The stations along the trail are:
The mausoleum – to the right of the path are the constructed foundations of a square structure, which appears to have served as the base of a splendid mausoleum.
Large cistern – the walls of the cistern are plastered. The cistern was originally a burial cave, and was later turned into a water cistern. Excavations have uncovered finds from the Byzantine period – hundreds of pottery vessels, glass vessels, and gold coins.
Small cistern – this cistern and the two alongside it are at the side of the road leading up from the necropolis to the town of Bet She’arim. They stored the water reserves of Bet She’arim.
Unexcavated cave – a cave that has not yet been excavated, although its door has been moved slightly by grave robbers. The entrance courtyard to the cave is paved with ashlar blocks, and it contains a large sarcophagus.
The benches building – a spacious courtyard surrounded by stepped benches in the form of a horseshoe. It is assumed that commemorative events were held here (lessons, homilies and prayers) on memorial days for great public figures, or for the people buried in the cave beneath the courtyard (the Cave of the Coffins).
The Sarah Cave – a set of four burial chambers around a central courtyard. A Greek inscription on the basalt lintel of the right-hand chamber reads: “The burial place of Theodosia, also called Sarah, from Tyre”. Under the influence of Hellenistic culture, the Jews in exile used to have a Greek name in addition to their Jewish name. A marble panel found in the courtyard has the Greek inscription: “The tombstone of Calliope the elder, who was also the freedwoman of Procopius, of blessed memory”. The inscription indicates that there was slavery among the Jews, but also that there was a law regarding the emancipation of slaves, determining when and how slaves or maids were to be freed from their masters (see Exodus 21:1, Deuteronomy 15:12). In any event, the name of Procopius, Calliope’s master, is mentioned with affection. It may be assumed that Calliope became renowned after she was freed, and therefore was privileged to be buried at Bet She’arim.
The Cave of the Sarcophagus – a large courtyard in which there are benches, a burial chamber, and the remains of an above-ground structure. According to the original plan, the place was intended for burial in coffins, but only one sarcophagus was found here. At a later stage additional burial areas were built in the form of rooms with domed (vaulted) ceilings. Carved rectangular tombs (trough tombs) were found in these burial chambers.
From here, the path goes up to the Piers Cave (on the right).
The Piers Cave – this cave has one hall with two sculpted piers (pillars carved in the wall). Today it is not possible to enter the cave.
The Lulav Cave – a cave with two chambers. On the lintel of the entrance is a Greek inscription: “Lord remember your servant Sarkados”, and above it, a Greek inscription “Lord remember your maidservant Primosa”. It is possible that Primosa was the wife of Sarkados. On the doorposts of the second arch, on the left and right sides, two palm branches (lulavs) are carved.
The path passes another benches structure above the tomb of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, and is apparently connected to ceremonies held in honor of the rabbi and his family. One of the benches is shaped in the form of a semicircle, which is exceptional at Bet She’arim.
The ‘Here lies the beloved” Cave – exceptional in its shape, carved as a narrow corridor. Four vaults have been carved out on either side of the central hall, one story in height. On the plaster covering the furthest vault on the right is a Greek inscription in red, only part of which has been preserved: “Here lies the beloved… Esther”. The door is decorated with two roses enclosed in circles.
The Cloth Merchants Cave – a cave with three halls, containing six inscriptions. The inscription in the eastern hall is written in Greek, in red: “Benjamin ben Julius, the cloth merchant, son of the most excellent Macrobius”. Another inscription in the same hall reads: “Saviris son of Savinos, chief cloth dyer”. The mausoleum apparently belonged to a family engaged in the cloth trade.
On the lintel at the entrance to the western hall is a carved relief of a head, and alongside it a candelabrum and the inscription: “Of Socrates”. A Greek man was buried in this hall, but the candelabrum and the tomb indicate that he saw himself as Jewish in every respect. On a white marble panel, set in a special indentation some 80 cm above the lintel, is a bilingual inscription alongside a seven-branched candelabrum on a triangular stand. In Greek it says: “Daniel son of Ido of Tyre”, followed by the word “Peace” (shalom) in Hebrew.
- The lower path – a hiking trail passing among the burial caves in the central section of the park. The upper path reaches a courtyard, and descends by a flight of stairs to the Cave of the Syrian Jews, the Cave of Curses, and the Cave of Virtues.
The Cave of Curses – a cave with four halls. In Cave 12 are inscriptions in Greek and Aramaic, some of which are curses, such as “Whoever opens this tomb… will eventually die a bad death”.
The cave of Syrian Jewry is on the left. To the right of the entrance, a large candelabrum is carved. By the foot of the candelabrum, grave robbers have broken through the wall separating this cave from the Cave of Curses. Further in, on the left, is a Greek inscription: “The vault of Aidesios, head of the Council of Elders, a man of Antioch”. Next to this inscription are the names of other family members buried by him, including his wife and two daughters.
The Cave of Virtues – a complex set of caves, built on three levels. Only one of them is open to visitors. The ascending staircase and additional level are closed, as well as the staircase going down to the Cave of the Lady Miki, which is 14.5 m long. The Cave of Virtues has a long courtyard, around which twelve halls have been carved out, on two levels, containing 26 inscriptions in Greek and Hebrew. One of the Hebrew inscriptions, in red, says: “This is the resting place of Yudan, son of Levi. Forever in peace. May his resting place be [set?] in peace. Of Yudan, son of Levi.” Another inscription, in Greek, commemorates “the Lady Miki”.
From here, the path returns to the plaza, on the way visiting another series of caves.
- The Cave of the Coffins (no. 20) – the Cave of the Coffins is the largest and most impressive burial complex found at Bet She’arim. This cave too is characterized by a splendid triple-arched façade, and is of impressive size (75 x 75 m). 135 coffins were found in the cave. Some of them have beautiful decorations taken from the animal world, including bulls’ heads, eagles, lions, birds and fish. On the wall of the cave is a 1.9 m high relief of a candelabrum. Well-known rabbis and their families were also buried in the cave complex.
- The Cave of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi (no. 14) – the largest burial complex, with a courtyard, cave, and the remains of an above-ground structure. The façade has three entrances, topped by three arches, 8 m in height. Buried in this cave, among others, are Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Anina (Hanina) HaKatan, and Rabban Gamliel. In the inner room are two rectangular graves, carved next to each other in the floor. The double tomb was covered with heavy stone slabs, and there were no inscriptions on the tombs. Researchers assume that a man and his wife were buried here, and these graves are also in line with Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi’s will – he asked to be buried in the ground and not in a sarcophagus. Moreover, the names inscribed on the other tombs in the cave are familiar from Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi’s environs: his sons were Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Gamliel, and Anina was the name of the rabbi who ordained him. The combination of these details has led to the conclusion that this is likely to have been the grave of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi.
- The Museum Cave (no. 28) – the cave is in a water cistern that was converted to a glass manufacturing workshop. On display in the museum are impressive finds from Bet She’arim, including a huge block of glass weighing 8.8 tons.
- The Menorah Caves (1-4) – the Menorah Caves complex was opened to visitors in 2009. It includes six burial caves richly decorated with engravings, reliefs, and inscriptions. Among these, the cave walls are embellished with dozens of reliefs of seven-branched candelabra, the menorah that became the emblem of the modern state of Israel. Near to the caves, a Haganah weapons cache was found from the days of the British Mandate. These finds led the Israeli Knesset to adopt the caves, contribute to their conservation, and open them to the public. The Menorah Caves can be visited with a Nature and Parks Authority guide or as part of an organized tour, by advance arrangement (tel: 04-9831643).
Bet Shearim National ParkUseful Information
Entrance to the park closes one hour before cited closing timeSummer hours: Sunday–Thursday and Saturday: 17:00 - 08:00 Friday and holiday eves: 16:00 - 08:00 Winter hours: Sunday–Thursday and Saturday: 16:00 - 08:00 Friday and holiday eves: 15:00 - 08:00 Holiday eves: 13:00 - 08:00 Yom Kippur eve: 13:00 - 08:00
Entry for dogs is prohibited
Visitors center offering souvenirs, popsicles, coffee and tea, and light refreshments.
Tours of the Menorah Caves, by arrangement and accompanied by a site guide, depart on Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 and 11:00 am.
take road 4 to Furedis Junction, and turn left (east) onto Road 70. Follow the road to Yokne’am Junction and then continue along Road 722 to Hashomrim Junction. Take the first left turn to Bet She’arim National Park. (10 minutes from the center of Kiryat Tivon)
Reserving a visit to Bet Shearim National Park
|Adult in group||₪ 19.00|
|Child in group||₪ 8.00|
|Israeli senior citizen||₪ 11.00|