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Meron - an old story may be getting older (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Ran Shapira 05/05/05)Source: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/572477.html HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
The synagogue and the splendid buildings uncovered in the many excavations carried out during the last century at Meron in the upper Galilee, near the eponymous moshav at the foot of Mt. Meron, have left scholars with little doubt: This was the site of an important Jewish settlement during the Roman period, from the late first century BCE until the fourth century CE.

During the Middle Ages, the Jews of Safed believed the Messiah would come if and when the gate of the Meron synagogue fell. Archaeologist Yossi Stepansky of the Israel Antiquities Authority has pinpointed the beginning of this tradition in the Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, page 98a, where it is written that the Messiah will be found among the injured in the battle of the End of Days near the "gate of the city," near the cave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. That cave is in Meron. Later, it was also taught in the name of Rabbi Yossi Ben Kisma that "the falling of the gates" will bring about the coming of the Messiah.

Since archaeological research began at Meron in the 1920s, the accepted belief has been that the site was not settled before the Roman period.

Surveys of the area had turned up shards from the Late Bronze Age (3,500 years ago) and the Iron Age (identified with the period of Israelite settlement and the establishment of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah). However, during the 1950s, the prominent archaeologist Yohanan Aharoni determined that "Meron has no early finds," a position that became widely accepted in the archaeological community. This made it impossible to accept the theory that the spring at the foot of the site, Ein Meron, was "the waters of Merom" mentioned in Joshua 11:5 and 11:7, or to identify the site with a Canaanite settlement called Merom.

A series of discoveries at Meron over the past decade have changed the picture. Last year, for example, Stepansky excavated a small area north of the center of the ancient site of Meron. Under the layer containing stones and remains of a wall from the Roman period, three Bronze Age layers were uncovered: remains of a round installation and pottery shards from the Middle Bronze Age IIA (about 4,000 years ago), a floor of ash and remains of pottery vessels imported from Syria during the Intermediate Bronze Age (between the Middle and Early Bronze Ages, 4,000-4,200 years ago) and an earlier layer containing flint implements and pottery, also from the Intermediate Bronze Age.

In the course of two inspection digs conducted within the grounds of the Bar Yochai Yeshiva in Meron, Stepansky unearthed pottery from the Chalcolithic period (about 5,700 years ago), the Iron Age (about 3,200 years ago) and even the Persian and Hellenistic periods. Shards and pieces of basalt cultic objects from the Chalcolithic period and the Early Bronze Age I (about 5,500 years ago) were found near the cave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in 2000. According to Stepansky, the finds show that the site at Mount Meron was apparently settled continuously from the Chalcolithic period until post-Roman times. The discovery of the biblical-era finds, Stepansky said, is not enough to identify the site with a particular biblical place, but it does make it possible to reopen debate over the identification of Ein Meron as the biblical Waters of Merom.

If this identification is accepted, it is not expected to affect the chances of verifying the tradition of the Messiah coming when the gates of Meron fall. Back in the 1960s, the then-Antiquities Department reinforced the gate with concrete, thus reducing the chances of its ever falling down. (© Copyright 2005 Haaretz. 05/05/05)

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