Queen Berenice—the daughter of the 1st-century-CE Judean king Herod Agrippa I and the sister of Herod Agrippa II, the last king of Judea—built one of her palaces near the Galilean village of Beyt She’arim, which became a major center of Jewish intellectual life during the early talmudic period (ca. 70-400 CE). Having spent the last three years leading an excavation of the village’s remains, Adi Erlich summarizes his and his colleagues’ findings:
The story of Beyt She’arim that is emerging from our excavations starts in the Iron Age II period [ca. 1000-550 BCE, i.e., the earlier biblical period], of which only sporadic sherds of pottery survived. From the Hellenistic/Hasmonean period (3rd-1st centuries BCE) there are buildings, quarried pits, and small finds. The early Roman period (1st century CE)—the era of Queen Berenice’s estate on the hill—is represented by impressive walls, . . . possibly belonging to that estate, and small finds.
The heyday of Beyt She’arim (2nd-4th centuries CE), the days of the Jewish sages and [the town’s famous] cemetery, are well attested in buildings, streets and alleys, cisterns, quarried installations, and many small finds. The town was well planned, perhaps fortified, and the dwellings and public buildings indicate the high socio-economic status of the residents. Various installations for collecting water were constructed. The Jewish character of the inhabitants is attested by ritual baths and the use of stone vessels, typical of Jewish households. The town was destroyed in the mid-4th century CE, perhaps by the 363 CE earthquake.
The town recovered for a short time (ca. 380-420 CE), but was ruined again, probably by another earthquake. The pottery and glass industries north of the gate belong to that period. There are also some late Byzantine finds (5th-6th centuries CE), but only little architecture and it seems that the town declined in the mid-5th century. The almost [complete] lack of Byzantine coins is striking in this regard. . . . The special place of Beyt She’arim as a living Jewish town, the home of Rabbi Judah, [who codified the Mishnah around 200 CE], and the Sanhedrin, is now coming into better focus.
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