Ein Gedi - A Very Large Village of Jews
Curator: Yizhar Hirschfeld

Preface (from the exhibition catalogue): Ofra Rimon, museum curator and director

Archaeological evidence has revealed that human activity first began in the desert oasis of Ein Gedi thousands of years ago because of its unique qualities, in particular its copious water sources. Archaeological excavations and surveys at the site were initiated in 1949 with the sounding and survey conducted by Benjamin Mazar. Yohanon Aharoni and Joseph Naveh carried out additional surveys there in the 1950s, and large-scale excavations, directed by Mazar on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Israel Exploration Society, took place in the 1960s. These excavations uncovered a Chalcolithic compound on the mountain terrace above Ein Gedi, the remains of settlements from the Israelite to the Byzantine periods at Tel Goren, and a Roman bathhouse in the middle of the plain between Naḥal David and Naḥal ‘Arugot. From 1970-1972, the various phases of a synagogue dating to the Roman-Byzantine period were revealed in excavations directed by Dan Barag of the Hebrew University and Yosef Porat of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
From 1984-1989, Gideon Hadas conducted a survey and salvage excavations in the Ein Gedi oasis on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, during which Roman tombs were revealed. Between 1996 and 2002, excavations were directed by Yizhar Hirschfeld, under the auspices of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Hirschfeld excavated six sites within the oasis, including locations outside the settlement itself, such as terraces and irrigation systems, a flour mill, an installation for the production of balsam perfume, the ‘Arugot fortress, and a site with isolated structures that, in the opinion of the excavator, constituted dwellings of the members of the Essene cult. The present exhibition, whose curator is Yizhar Hirschfeld, focuses on his excavations within the Jewish settlement, in particular the finds uncovered in the residential quarters in the vicinity of the synagogue.
The exhibition also displays finds from the synagogue itself – a seven-branched menorah, a bronze goblet, and a fragment of a mosaic floor that contains a dedicatory inscription in Aramaic mentioning all the inhabitants of Carta (the town) and Jonathan the Hazan, all of whom paid their share to repair the synagogue. This inscription is displayed here for the first time for the general public. A significant portion of the exhibition is dedicated to the finds from the Roman tombs, enabling a closer look at the burial customs of the inhabitants of the oasis.
The name of the exhibition, “Ein Gedi – A Very Large Village of Jews,” was inspired by the words of Eusebius, one of the Church fathers, who in the 4th century CE wrote in his work The Onomasticon: “Now it is a very large village of Jews, Engaddi, lying beside the Dead Sea, from which balsam comes." (The Onomasticon by Eusebius of Caesarea, translated by G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville, Jerusalem, 2003: 51, 86). His description is evidence of the prosperity of this Jewish settlement at the beginning of the Byzantine period. The archaeological finds complement the picture portrayed by the written sources and further illuminate the flourishing Jewish settlement at Ein Gedi during the Roman and Byzantine periods. The settlement came to an end in the mid-6th or early 7th century CE, with the weakening of the Byzantine Empire and its final surrender to Islamic conquerors.
We wish to thank the curator of the exhibition, Prof. Yizhar Hirschfeld, who greatly assisted in “raising” the Jewish settlement of the Mishnah and Talmud periods in the desert oasis of Ein Gedi to the top of the Carmel Mountains. We also express our appreciation to all the scholars who contributed to the publication of the exhibition catalog. Our gratitude is extended to the staff of the Israel Antiquities Authority: Hava Katz, Michael Sabanne, Orit Shamir, Adi Ziv-Sodri, Donald Ariel, and Robert Kool; to Pinchas Peled, who constructed the model of the Ein Gedi settlement, and Malcha Mossberg, a volunteer who helped him; to Daphna Zoran of the Archaeological Institute of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and to Dudi Mevorach of the Israel Museum. Thanks are also due to the Department of Museums of the Israel Ministry of Education and the management of the Hecht Foundation.
The exhibition and its catalog will, we are sure, provide an opportunity for the interested public to expand its knowledge and enjoy the archaeological discoveries that have enabled the telling of the exciting story of the Jewish community of Ein Gedi in the first half of the 1st millennium CE.
print