Ancient Inscriptions Found in Tzippori

The Greek inscription at Tzippori. (Miki Peleg, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority)
The Greek inscription at Tzippori. (Miki Peleg, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority)

Three inscriptions written in Aramaic and Greek believed by archeologists to be 1,700 years old, were recently discovered in Moshav Tzippori in the north of Israel.

The two Aramaic inscriptions mention individuals referred to as “rabbis” who were buried in the western cemetery of Tzippori; their names have not yet been deciphered.

One of the surprises in the newly discovered inscriptions is that one of the deceased was called “the Tiberian.” This is already the second instance of someone from Tiberias being buried in the cemetery at Tzippori. It is quite possible that Jews from various parts of Galil were brought to Tzippori to be buried in the wake of the redaction of the Mishnah carried out there by Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi. Another possibility is that the man moved to Tzippori and died there, but wanted to be remembered as someone who originally came from Tiberias.

In the second Aramaic epitaph the word l’olam (forever) appears for the first time in inscriptions found at Tzippori. The term l’olam is known from funerary inscriptions in Bet She‘arim and elsewhere and means that the deceased’s burial place will remain his forever and that no one will take it from him. Both inscriptions end with the word shalom.

The Greek inscription mentions the name Jose, which was very common amongst Jews living in Israel and abroad.

So far, 17 funerary inscriptions have been documented in the Tzippori study, most of them written in Aramaic, which was the everyday language of Jews in Israel at that time.
Tzippori was the first capital of the Galil from the time of the Hasmonean dynasty until the establishment of Tiberias in the first century CE. The city continued to be central and important later on and was where Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi resided and compiled the Mishnah. The Jewish life in the city was rich and diverse, as indicated by the numerous mikvaos discovered in the excavation; while at the same time the influence of Roman culture was also quite evident as reflected in the design of the town with its paved streets, colonnaded main roads, theater and bathhouses. The wealth of inscriptions from the cemeteries attests to the strong Jewish presence and the city’s social elite in the Late Roman period.

This discovery was made thanks to information received from local residents which led to a joint effort carried out by researchers of the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology of the Kinneret Academic College and the Israel Antiquities Authority.