Seventy-three years after the famous watchman Alexander Zaid went looking for a stray goat and stumbled upon ancient burial caves, Beit Shearim national park yesterday held a ceremony for two newly opened caves in the ancient necropolis, whose burial vaults date to Mishnaic times, roughly the first two centuries C.E.
Zaid, famous as the founder of the Bar Giora and Shomer self-defense groups active before the founding of the state, was just being a shepherd in 1936 when he found the caves dug out of rock. Conservation work began there four years ago, and the two new caves were discovered. They contain a relief of a seven-branched menorah, and so the newly opened site is being called "the Menorah caves."
This menorah is the symbol of the Jewish State and is tied to the history of the Jewish people, prompting Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) to attend the dedication ceremony.
He had been responsible for assuring Knesset funding for conservation work at Beit Shearim.
A spokesperson from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said the new find "adds an entire wing to the Beit Shearim site, which is now becoming richer and more complex."
Beit Shearim was one of the sites in the north that was home to the Sanhedrin, the highest judicial and ecclesiastical council of the ancient Jewish nation. It was where Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi began to compile the Mishna.
He died in 220 C.E. and was buried there, and it became a popular burial site. Findings at Beit Shearim include elaborate sarcophaguses, which indicate that Jews from what is now Lebanon, Syria and Yemen were buried there.
Another two newly discovered burial caves not far from the current archaeological site will be opened to the public in three months.
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