During restoration work on a synagogue in Peki’in, a Druze village in the northern Galilee, workers made a surprising and significant discovery: A limestone apex block of a column with Hebrew inscriptions dating back 1,800 years.
It has always been rumored that Jews had ancient ties to the village, but experts say this find provides solid proof.
Pending further research, the Israel Antiquities Authority has disclosed that the Hebrew engravings found on the capital block of limestone appear to be dedications by donors to the synagogue. This confirms the age of the inscriptions based on known Jewish tradition at the time of the Roman occupation.
The capital was buried beneath a courtyard of a home near the village’s non-active synagogue. This is not the first significant discovery at that location. Excavations at the Peki’in synagogue in the early 1900s revealed numerous decorated stones that most likely formed part of an ancient synagogue. The pieces dated back to the late 2nd or early 3rd century – the same time period as the newest discovery.
The artifacts were then incorporated into the new synagogue, which was erected in 1873. They are recognizable symbols from the post-Temple period, common motifs such a menorah flanked by a lulav and shofar, and a Torah ark with closed doors.
Previous restoration was carried out on the 19th century place of worship in Beit Zinati, and the house which belongs to the sole remaining Jewish member of the village’s historic Jewish community, Margalit Zinati. Her family claims to have lived in Peki’in since the time of the Second Temple. Her home and the synagogue complex is a small but unique visitor’s center focusing on the vast Jewish history.
Whether the Druze village of Peki’in features in Jewish tradition and literature is debatable. In Josephus’ Jewish War and in the Talmud, the town was called Baka and it was a Jewish study center during the Roman period where apparently Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai hid in a cave for 13 years. The Arabic name for the village is Buqei’a, which some scholars say is proof that this is the same town in Jewish writings. This has been disputed, however with time and research conclusive links will be revealed.
At present, the apex stone is with IAA experts and may be returned to its original location and added to the exhibition. The details of the inscriptions and all other research will be made public in future editions of an archaeological journal.