Storage jar casts light on ancient Jewish life

The discovery of a single stone storage jar, similar to those found in Jerusalem, could upset a number of accepted theories about Jewish life in Galilee during the Roman period.

The jar was found recently near the ancient city of Zippori (Sephoris) in a dig conducted this summer under the auspices of the Hebrew University Institute of Archeology. The excavations, directed by Dr. Zeev Weiss, have so far revealed five rooms of what appears to have been a two-story, stone farmhouse built around a courtyard, in use during the third and fourth centuries C.E.

The large, decorated, limestone container is of a type which was used for storing ritually pure water, since stone vessels, in contrast to clay jars, were considered incapable of acquiring impurity according to Jewish law. The stone vessels were used widely by Kohanim, members of the Jewish priestly caste, in Jerusalem until the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.

This is the first time that such a vessel has been found in the Galilee. Its presence indicates that Jews in the area may well have used them during the third and fourth centuries C.E.

This contradicts previous thinking that the vessels were characteristic of Jewish life in Judah and ceased to be used shortly after the Temple's destruction.

The discovery may also show that contrary to earlier assessments, Jews in Galilee engaged in farming well into the Roman period. Among the items found in the excavations were storage vessels and household and farm utensils.

The farm appears to have been in use from the third century C.E. and destroyed during the fourth century. Its discovery opens a new perspective on the life of Zippori, which was a mixed, prosperous, Jewish-Roman city of great importance during the period of Roman rule.

Zippori, known also in ancient times by the Roman name of Diocaesarea, is located west of Nazareth and was the home of the Sanhedrin, the central body of Jewish and legal and spiritual life during the Roman period. It was also the home of Rabbi Judah Hanasi, codifier of the Mishna.