Researchers Say Tiberias Basilica May Have Housed Sanhedrin

Antiquities Authority excavations in Tiberias may have uncovered the site of a structure used by the Sanhedrin, researchers believe. The excavations began in March in the central part of the city and in recent days have moved eastward toward route 90. The main finding in the new excavation area is a basilica structure.

Excavation director Prof. Yizhar Hirschfeld from Hebrew University of Jerusalem says the basilica, which was built during the third century C.E., could have been used by the Sanhedrin, which at the time was called Beit Hava'ad. Identical structures, such as one at Beit Sha'arim, were also used for judicial purposes. In Tiberias the site could have also be used for writing the Jerusalem Talmud, researchers believe.

Supporting theory

Prof. Aharon Oppenheimer, a historian from Tel Aviv University whose field of expertise is the Talmud-Mishna period, recently visited the Tiberias excavation and supports the theory that the basilica was the home of the Sanhedrin.

Archaeologists have in recent days also discovered a mosaic at the entry to the large bath house of Tiberias. Green and yellow hues in the work come from glass mosaic tiles; vines bearing fruit are drawn on the mosaic. Another mosaic discovered in the bath house during the 1950s was not preserved - it had pictures of animals (lions and elephants).

The archaeological team has also started to document dozens of stone doors, which were lined up along roads in the city. One theory holds that they were doors of family burial caves (doors were used for similar purposes at Beit Sha'arim).

Prof. Hirschfeld believes the caves were destroyed in a major earthquake in 363 C.E., and the stones remained as decorated pillars.