JERUSALEM, Israel – A restoration project at an ancient synagogue and visitor's center in the Western Galilee uncovered 1,800-year-old Hebrew inscriptions on a column capital. The inscriptions, which appear to be the names of donors who contributed to the synagogue, confirm the Jewish history of the 2,000-year-old village.
The project, sponsored by the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage and carried out by the Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel, is taking place in the synagogue and neighboring Beit Zinati visitor center at Peqi'in.
After discovering the Hebrew inscriptions on an overturned column capital in the building's courtyard, the team contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority to examine the discovery.
"The Talmudic and Midrashic sources tell of the Galilean sages that lived in Peqiʽin, including Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who hid from the Romans in a cave," IAA inspector in the Western Galilee Yoav Lerer said. "However, there are those who disagree with the identification of the location of Peqiʽin. I believe that these inscriptions will add an important tier to our knowledge about the Jewish settlement in the village of Peqiʽin during the Roman and Byzantine periods."
The project, which has been taking place for about a year, confirmed the Jewish history of the 2,000-year-old village and the Zinati family, its oldest Jewish residents.
Margarlit Zinati, the last member of the family, lives next door to the synagogue.
"Peqiʽin is one of the most significant sites in the Galilee and is a place where there has always been a Jewish presence," said Ze'ev Elkin, minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage. "It is a great honor for me that during my tenure in office such an important discovery has been made that tells this 2,000 year old story of the Land of Israel."
"This is a historical discovery of unparalleled importance that confirms what the late President Yitzhak Ben Zvi maintained in the early 20th century about the Jewish settlement at Peqiʽin," said Uriel Rosenboym, director of Beit Zinati.
"No one can argue with the written artifact. There was an ancient synagogue here and the synagogue was built in its current form in recent centuries," Rosenboym said.
"We thank the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage, which aims to preserve the heritage of Peqiʽin's Jews. We are pleased to open the new museum with a historic message about this ancient community. Although the stone itself was taken to be studied by the Israel Antiquities Authority, this unique story of the keepers of the flame in Peqiʽin is revealed in the renewed museum."