Jürgen K. Zangenberg
Recent years have proved very prolific for Galilean archaeology of the Greco-Roman Period, making the Galilee perhaps the most intensively researched area in a region that already belongs to the best-known of the ancient Mediterranean world. Of course, ongoing archaeological activity both in the form of field work and publications does not only increase the quantity of our available data and fill gaps in our records, it also helps improve methodological awareness and invites to rethink current models of Galilean culture and society.
Despite the fact that Galilean archaeology has a distinctly regional focus of activity and that it finds the majority of its recipients among students of Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity who often use archaeological data as “raw material” to address issues originating from the study of texts, it is nevertheless necessary that Galilean archaeology continues to develop its methodological instruments in close dialogue with the wider debate in general archaeology. Just as ancient Galilee was never isolated, but is to be perceived as one region within the broader regionality of the Eastern Mediterranean, the study of its material remains cannot flourish without input from neighbouring disciplines.
In recent years large-scale excavations (such as in Tiberias and Magdala) produced important evidence for the high degree of Hellenization in the larger cities of the Galilee, at the same time chance discoveries (such as the synagogue in Magdala) or excavations in rural sites added important information on Jewish material culture in the first centuries CE, and – perhaps the most important new trend – renewed interest in rural Galilee helps fill in many “blank areas” between towns and cities and develop a more accurate picture of daily life in rural Galilean communities – a major factor in the earliest Jesus tradition.1
Tiberias Too long did Tiberias stand in the shadow of cities like Skythopolis or Caesarea Maritima whose monumental buildings fuelled popular imagination of “Hellenistic” cities in ancient Palestine. Now, Hellenistic-Roman Tiberias is dramatically reemerging from layers of archaeological sediment.
Resumed by Yizhar Hirschfeld, excavations in Tiberias have concentrated on the area around the remains of a bath house and the so-called market place. Hirschfeld was able to show that the central, pillared structure previously associated with the market, in fact likely was a 9th century mosque, one of the earliest in the region.2 After large parts of a monumental peristyle villa (the so-called “basilica”, taken by Hirschfeld to be the seat of the Tiberias sanhedrin) had already been excavated in 2004, Hirschfeld started deep soundings in April 2005 below the structures of the 4th century. A large amount of broken marble tiles and fragments of painted wall plaster were found in fills. As the soundings were extended, remains of several rectangular rooms were exposed that had been covered with carefully cut white, black and brown tiles – apparently remains of a delicate opus sectile floor very similar to what is known from Herodian-period palaces like Masada, Jericho and Kypros. Soundings below this level demonstrated that the building was erected on a deep layer of undressed field stones to protect the foundations from the nearby lake and ground water. Preliminary readings of ceramic points to a construction of these rooms in the early 1st century CE, a deep conflagration layer shows that the complex was destroyed late in the 1st century CE. Future excavations will have to clarify the wider architectural and historical context of this complex, but it seems likely already that the building was used by the very top of Tiberias’ population, if not by Antipas himself who founded the city in 18 CE. More fragments of similar painted plaster from 1st century fills at various other spots around the bath house testify that more remains from the 1st century can be expected if excavations are expanded. After Hirschfeld passed away in November 2006, excavations were continued by the Hebrew University under the direction of Dr. Katia Cytryn Silverman in 2009. 3
Extensive work was carried out in recent years in the context of developing Tiberias into a major tourist site. Dr. Walid Atrash and Avner Hillman on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) re-exposed the Southern Gate, already excavated and backfilled by Gideon Foerster in the 1970 s, together with a large section of the southern city wall. The gate was built just north of a natural stream bed that marked the southern end of Tiberias. To the north, the stone paved cardo ran through the city, remains of which Foersters had already been able to trace. Originally built as free-standing monumental entrance to the city with two round towers of 7 m diameter and accessed by a stone bridge from the south (still unknown to Foerster), a city wall was added to the gate in the Byzantine period at the latest. The first phase of the gate very much resembles the socalled “Tiberias Gate” on the Gadara plain from the Flavian period. 4 Did the gate in Tiberias serve as model for the Gadarene “Tiberias gate”? Several times the Tiberian gate was refurbished and especially the bridge had to be rebuilt and strengthened, but recent reexcavation seems to have confirmed Foersters suggestion to date the gate’s first phase to the foundation of the city.
The second focus of IAA activity was the massive Roman theater, an almost circular depression on the eastern foot of Mount Berenike which had been misused as city dump since the 1950s. 5 Hirschfeld exposed a small section of the outer edge, discovered several layers of finely dressed masonry and identified it as part of a 2nd or 3rd century CE Roman theater. Recent excavations fully exposed the structure and firmly established two main architectural phases, correcting the late date proposed by Hirschfeld: the foundation phase clearly dates back to the times of Antipas who transferred his seat from Sepphoris to newly erected Tiberias in 19 CE. The second, larger phase dates to the Roman period (3rd century CE) when Tiberias served as civic center for a large and affluent Jewish population which enjoyed good relations with the Roman authorities. Fine masonry and lavish decoration are witness to the exceptionally high architectural standard of the theater. Although the size of Tiberias’ population in the times of Antipas is not known, it seems likely that the theater not only served the immediate inhabitants, but also functioned as central meeting space for wider region.
Next to the South gate and possibly also the remains of the palatial building, the theatre is the third monumental building that can be associated with the building activities of Antipas and a key find in several respects. First of all, it is certainly reason enough to reevaluate the date of the Sepphoris theater whose problematic archaeological situation has many archaeologists led to believe that it was built only after 70 CE.
Seen in a broader context, the theater is further welcome evidence for how intensively Antipas emulated his father Herod as great builder and Hellenistic ruler. If one accepts the possibility that the remains below the peristyle villa just 200 m northeast of the theater are remains of Antipas’ palace and if one considers an Antipas date for the first phase of the south gate, the grandeur of his new residence city comes out even more impressively. What more and more turns out as fully fledged “building program” (including what he has built in Sepphoris) must have had a massive impact on the region around the Lake. A building like the Tiberias theater requires continuous investment and provides skilled and unskilled workers employment over a long period of time. This does not seem conceivable without the stable political conditions that Hoerning Jensen envisions for Antipas reign. 6 But what were the long-term effects? What did themassive redistribution and influx of capital (much of which must have come from outside the Galilee) do to local industries? Of course, regional inhabitants must have benefited from continuous employment and wages. That local population increased and settlements grew during the 1st century CE is demonstrated by surveys carried out and recently published by Uzi Leibner (see below). But did food production keep up with a growing population? Was the social unrest described in our sources after the reign of Antipas not a result of the end of Antipas investments instead of its direct consequence? Could the population increase under Antipas have led to a food shortage a generation later and thereby contributed to the social tensions that fuelled later rebellion?
Magdala While evidence of the urban and “Hellenistic” character of Tiberias was not difficult to expect, recent excavations in Magdala by the “Magdala Project” since 2007 under the direction of Stefano de Luca (Studium Biblicum Franciscanum) produced surprising results.7 So far, no detailed reports of these most extensive excavations on the site since 1971–76 are published, but what is known through presentations and websites profoundly changes the picture of the cultural profile of the region along the western shore of the Lake.8 It more and more becomes apparent how “urban” and “Mediterranean” this site has been since its foundation in the 2nd century BCE. It is entirely justified to see Magdala in the same category as the large Hellenistic cities in Greece or Asia Minor. Apparently, Magdala followed the Hippodamic model and was spread over wide areas of the neighboring plain including much territory west of modern route 90. De Luca was able to expose large portions of the paved cardo maximus as well as of the perpendicular decumanus. Underneath these magnificent urban boulevards drainage channels were laid who fed numerous wells and fountains, parts of the city’s sophisticated water supply system. Also connected to the supply system was a large public bath complex whose courtyard (palaestra) was taken by the first Franciscan excavators to be the main piazza of the city. Instead, it was a quadriporticus: a peristyle surrounding an open courtyard which gave access to separate bathrooms with pools, basins and other installations. Closer examination of the mud from several pools produced a large number of well-preserved objects, among them complete sets of ceramic and wooden vessels. De Luca identified two phases of the bath complex: having been erected in the 1st century CE in the context of a reorganization of urban space, the complex was refurbished in the 3rd/4th century only to be destroyed in the earthquake of 363 CE.
Immediately east of the bath complex De Luca found Magdala’s harbour, its economic heart, separated from the city by a plastered wall. De Luca found the massive foundations of a tower with casemates, a quay and a large L-shaped harbour basin with breakwater and six mooring stones, the largest and best preserved harbour on the Lake of Galilee discovered so far.
Where did all the wealth come from? Catching and processing fish from the Lake certainly played a large role (see Magdala’s Greek “alias” Tarichaea), but also trade with the Decapolis on the eastern shore and shipyards may have added their shares.Without government investment, however, such massive infrastructural buildings were impossible to set up in the first place. If De Luca’s preliminary data hold up, it seems that Magdala’s harbour and bath complex were not built by Antipas but already during the Hasmonean period. Did they want to safeguard their trade and influence on the Lake in competition to Hellenistic settlements like Philoteria, et-Tell, Hippos and Gadara? In any case, Magdala was the only real city on the western shore of the Lake before the foundation of Tiberias and has a much more Hellenized character than previously thought.
Everywhere in his excavations De Luca encountered damage caused by the First Jewish Revolt in which – according to Josephus –Magdala played a major role.
While De Luca’s excavations confirmed my assumption that the “minisynagoga” excavated by the Franciscans between 1971 and 1976 in fact was a latrine,9 the first synagogue from Magdala has in the meantime been found by IAA archaeologists Dina Avshalom-Gorni and Arfan Najar during salvage excavations on private property earmarked for the construction of a hotel on Migdal beach in connection to a pilgrims center. 10 The structure covers about 120 m2, has stone benches along the walls and is decorated with a floor mosaic and painted walls.
Several phases seem to be attested, but the excavators date the first building to the late Second Temple period. In the center of the building a square, engraved stone was found decorated with floral, geometric and architectural elements and a relief of the menorah flanked on either side by a kantharos and a column. Contrary to what was promulgated by the media, this menorah (if indeed carved before 70) is not the only one from the time when the Temple was still standing, but it apparently is the first and only specimen from pre-70 Galilee so far. Since no detailed report has been published yet, however, such conclusions are necessarily preliminary.
Rural Galilee Not only cities like Tiberias or Magdala received much attention in recent years, study on rural Galilee fortunately is also revived.
Uzi Leibner published an important diachronic study based on surface surveys in a region west of the Magdala plain in Eastern Galilee. 11 Leibner is able to show that a considerable increase in settlement occurred during the Late-Hellenistic and early Roman period as well as His study on the location of the toponym Gennesaret/Ginnosar is a good example of the value and dangers of survey archaeology for resolving textual problems (see the contrary results of Zangenberg). 12 Since 2007 Leibner digs at the site of Wadi Hamam on the northern foot of the Arbel cliffs under the auspices of Hebrew University, adding valuable data on rural towns in the Galilee, such as a new multi-phase synagogue with a fragmented Byzantine mosaic showing a building scene (constructing the city of Jerusalem?) and evidence of the Second Revolt in Galilee.
Even smaller sites are in the focus of the new excavations on Horvat Kur, a small village site 2 km west of the Lake of Galilee directed by the author in collaboration with partners from the universities of Berne and Helsinki and under the auspices of Kinneret Regional Project (www.kinneret-excavations.org) 13.
The first season of systematic excavations in June and July 2010 concentrated on two areas A and C on the northern and southern fringes of themain plateau. Already in the second week of the campaign, the team in area A uncovered almost the entire western wall (ca. 10 m) of a building, including an entrance for a double-winged door, a simple stone bench running along the entire wall on the inside (only interrupted by the entrance) and a stretch of a high-quality, grey plaster floor. The wall is made of carefully dressed basalt ashlars which very notably differ from walls of domestic buildings excavated elsewhere on Horvat Kur (e. g. in Area C). On the basis of current evidence, the building measures ca. 11 x 7 mand was oriented North-South (the entrance in the west likely serving as side entrance).
To the west of the building, a cobblestone pavement covered a small courtyard whose roof very likely was supported by a simple porch. Most remarkable of all finds from the cobblestone area was a very large number of small bronze coins scattered in several clusters between and on top of the pavers. Tens of thousands of simple, single tesserae (mosaic stones) and many broken roof tiles were found in fills in and around the building. Several nicely sculptured architectural fragments of limestone and, above all, basalt demonstrate that the building was once very carefully executed. Preliminary numismatic and ceramic evidence from the 2008 test excavations tentatively indicate that the building might have been in use at least from the beginning of the 5th c. CE. A taboon (oven) and very late Byzantine/early Arab pottery on the plaster floor likely represent the last use of the building sometime in the mid-8th century CE. Careful lab analysis of the pottery and the coins from the 2010 campaign will allow a more secure dating of the building from its construction until its final destruction. The evidence collected so far urged us to assume that the building was public and has served as synagogue for the ancient village on Horvat Kur. No inscriptions or Jewish symbols were found so far, however, nor have we discovered a miqwe yet.
Parallel excavations in a domestic area at Horvat Kur produced important data about everyday life in a Galilean village during the Early Christian/Talmudic periods. Parts of an insula with segments of a courtyard and two houses separated by a small alley were found, as well as data collected on architecture visible above surface that will help us understand the structure of the village of Horvat Kur. Excavations and surveys will be continued in 2011 to fully expose further domestic areas within this ancient village and continue collecting data from its surrounding environment.
Villages indeed deserve more attention. First of all, it seems that the more research is being carried out, the more complex the phenomenon “village” turns out to be.14 Instead of being the arbitrary stage for a repetitive and primitive lifestyle, villages turn out to be tremendously diverse. It appears that villagers had to be masters of adaptation and innovation to secure survival. Instead of seeing villages as traditionalistic and backwater, many of them actually were hotspots of cultural development and testing grounds for coping with outside influences and the constantly changing conditions of life. It is into this direction that we want to go with our project. Inspired by methods and questions of Mediterranean archaeology, the project aims at understanding how an average rural settlement from the Hellenistic to Byzantine period functioned, how such a settlement developed in correlation to transformations (human-made or natural) of the surrounding landscape and how that village relates to the wider Mediterranean context (characteristics, interactions). Starting at the household level, the project will investigate the spatial organization and articulation, areas of activities and social and economic differentiation on and off-site. To reach this goal, detailed excavation work, pedestrian landscape survey, ethnographical, ethnoarchaeological as well as geo-scientific studies will be carried out and subjected to continuous methodological reflection.
Recent excavations have shown that Galilee still offers many surprises. The biggest of them, perhaps, is the simultaneous existence of a seemingly very traditional rural world next to strongly urbanized centers of Hellenism beginning already in the 2nd century BCE (Magdala) and continuing well into the 1st century CE (Tiberias). The role of “public spending” seems to have been more important for the development of Hellenistic and Early Roman Galilee than previously thought, and one asks oneself how far this was inspired by competition with the thriving urban centers on the Eastern side of the Lake (especially Gadara, Hippos). It more and more turns out that the Western Decapolis (and here especially Hippos and Gadara) need to be considered part of the territory at the Lake and therefore to a certain extent part of the cultural sphere of Eastern Galilee although for Josephus and other authors they were outside of Galilee proper.
A second point needs to be mentioned. Recent excavations more than ever show that both the urban and the rural worlds were Jewish worlds. And to what extent did these worlds really differ? Both worlds shared many elements of material culture with each other, as recent excavations demonstrate, but more research is certainly necessary. Contrary to a supposedly wide-spread town-countryside divide, archaeological excavations indicate that elements of urban culture were in fact attractive for many country dwellers.
Despite distinctive elements of life and material culture, Galilee more turns out to have been a bridge between the Mediterranean and the Decapolis/Syria, and the political situation in the early Roman Empire opened the Eastern Mediterranean for Western influences (and vice versa). How far did this affect the life of the Galilean population? Jewish religion, it seems, did not prevent some people to assimilate and adapt Hellenism, resistance was not the only option. On the other side: participation in wealth distribution was not equally spread over all levels of society. But did this mean that the “Mediterranization” of Galilee automatically deepened the split between the Galilean elite and the urban and rural lower classes? Why did the number of inhabitants and settlements increase during the most intensive Hellenization if all-out poverty had reigned?Or did it rather improve the situation of the poor by having them indirectly participate (through building programs and patronism) in what the elite directly had at their disposal?
The more archaeological research is carried out, the more complex ancient Galilee turns out to be. What does this mean if we try to find a place for Jesus of Nazareth in this region? Of course, Jesus came from Galilee, but how “Galilean” was he? How typical, how representative for “the situation in Galilean” was is message ? It more and more seems that Jesus, as is presented in the New Testament, is not the spokesperson for “the average Galilean”, he rather is a representative of a certain milieu that existed in the Galilee, but which is not “Galilean” per se in the way that it directly reflected and responded to social problems and religious needs in the Galilee of Antipas. So: Who were the poor that Jesus addressed, and where were they? Of course, the contours of that milieu certainly need to be further explored, but I have the impression that Jesus’message is more inspired by a theological interpretation of reality than by the complex reality itself. It is somewhat ironic that archaeology which has to a large extent and so successfully set out to contextualize Jesus of Nazareth and the early Jesus movement within ancient Galilee, now more and more makes us aware of the complexity of the environment and instead of serving us with direct parallels or backgrounds for what the New Testament reveals about Jesus’ social context. It is just this new distance between Jesus and “the” Galilee which I expect will have the most stimulating effect for the dialogue between Galilean archaeology and Jesus research.
1 ) For a new overview see Killebrew, “Village and Countryside”. For complete bibliographical data cf. the bibliography at the end of this article.
2 ) On the latest results from Hirschfeld’s excavations see Hirschfeld and Galor, “New Excavations”.
3 ) See http://archaeology.huji.ac.il/Tiberias/ .
4 ) See Weber, “Gadara and the Galilee”.
5 ) On the theater see http://www.antiquities.org.il/Dig_Item_eng.asp?id=1165. Archaeological News from the Galilee 473
6 ) Hørning Jensen, Herod Antipas in Galilee.
7 ) Latest information e. g. on www.magdalaproject.org.
8 ) See e. g. Shanks, “Exclusive!”
9 ) Zangenberg, Magdala am See Genezaret.
10) On the Magdala synagogue e. g. see the 2009 press release “One of the Oldest Synagogues
in the World was Exposed at Migdal (9/13)” at http://www.antiquities.org.il/
11) Leibner, Settlement.
12) Leibner, “Identifying Gennesar”; Zangenberg, “Observations”.
13) I thank my colleagues Stefan Münger, RaimoHakola, Lucas Petit, Jesús García Sánches and Rick Bonnie as well as the 2010 KRP excavation team for their great work.
14) See e. g. Hirschfeld, “Jewish Rural Settlement” and Hirschfeld, “Farms and Villages”.