An Ancient Jewish Lamp Workshop in the Galilee

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on July 8, 2015.

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First, it demonstrates that lamp production in Galilee was not confined to cities, Strange said. That hypothesis was proposed a few years ago.

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The second kind of lamp is called a Darom or southern lamp, Strange continued. It was originally made in theDaromaregion of Israel, south and west of Jerusalem. Most famously, lamps of this type were found in hideaway caves near theDead Sea.

The discovery of the lamp workshop at Shikhin is important for a number of reasons, dig director James Riley Strange toldBible History Daily.

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Excavations at Shikhin have revealed the remains of an ancient synagogue, amikveh(Jewish ritual bath) and stone vessels typical of Jewish villages in the region, thus confirming the Jewish identity of Shikhin. More than simply having a lamp workshop, furthermore, Shikhin appears to have been a Roman pottery production center, as indicated by the sheer quantity of pottery production waste and cast-offs discovered at the sitefar more vessels than needed by the villagers. Its likely that Shikhin supplied many towns in the Galilee with bowls, storage jars, cooking pots, oil lamps and other ceramic vessels.

Read more about the lamp workshop at Shikhin in a Samford University press release.

The nozzle and a portion of the body of a Herodian lamp from Shikhin.Photo: Courtesy Shikhin Excavation Project.

Ceramic oil lamps discovered this summer at Shikhin suggest the ancient Jewish village once had a lamp workshop.Photo: Courtesy Shikhin Excavation Project.

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Pottery heap at Shikhin.Photo: Courtesy Shikhin Excavation Project.

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Led by director James Riley Strange of Samford University and associate director Mordechai Aviam of Kinneret College, theShikhin Excavation Projectwas in its fourth season of excavation at the ancient Jewish village of Shikhin. Working amid the remains of a building north of the villages synagogue, an archaeological team found about a dozen nearly intact ceramic oil lamps. The lamps were poorly made and composed of low-quality clay, suggesting, according to the excavators, that they had been manufactured by apprentices of the workshop.

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Excavations conducted in 2015 in an ancient Jewish village near Nazareth, Israel, uncoveredthe remains of an oil lamp workshopin operation during the late firstearly second centuries C.E.

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Furthermore, the finds confirm that there were two main types of mold-made lamps being made nearNazareth, as was hypothesized previously. The lamps from Shikhin are estimated to have been made between 70 and 135 C.E.between the end of theFirst Jewish Revolt against Romeand the end of theBar Kokhba Revolt.

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Lamp fragment found at Shikhin bearing images of thelulavand seven-branchedmenorah.Photo: Courtesy Shikhin Excavation Project.

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The lamp workshop may also provide insights into the lamp makers themselves.

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A Darom lamp from Shikhin.Photo: Courtesy Shikhin Excavation Project.

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It may tell us something about the migration of Jewish lamp makers north into the Galilee from Jerusalem and Judea after 70, and perhaps again after 135, bringing their artisan traditions with them and distributing their wares in the Galilee, said Strange.

One type of lamp is a relatively plain lamp that resembles the well-known Herodian lamp with a spatulated or knife-pared nozzle, explained Strange. It was made in two molds, one for the bottom half of the lamp and another for the top halfboth halves also molding the nozzle, which was pared after the two halves were joined.

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The hilltop village of Shikhin, located in the Lower Galilee, was called Asochis byJewish historian Josephus. Occupied from the Late Hellenistic to Late Roman periods (second century B.C.E. through fourth century C.E.), Shikhin was closely tied to nearby Sepphoris, the largest city of Roman Galilee.

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This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2015. It has been updated.

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