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History & Archeology

Underwater stone slab in Hebrew reveals Biblical-era ruler of Judea

The stone,  dating to the second century,  was found underwater at Tel Dor,  south of the city of Haifa. (University of Haifa)

Israeli archaeologist have made an important underwater discovery: a rare inscription on stone slab that was constructed around 5, 000 years ago, finally revealed the definite identification of Gargilius Antiquus as the Roman governor of Judea during the Bar Kokhba revolt, one of the most heroic events in Jewish history.

The stone built in a crescent shape, it is about 150 meters (492 feet) long and 20 meters (66 feet) wide at its base and a weight of over 600 kg. was found during Haifa University’s  underwater archaeological survey in and around the Biblical city of Dor which was active until the fourth century.

The stone bore a seven-line inscription in Greek. “The stone probably formed the base of a sculpture from the Roman period. As far as we know, this is the longest inscription found underwater in Israel, ” Prof. Yasur-Landau explained.

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Over the last 70 years, the site has yielded a treasure trove of pottery, anchors and other artifacts from ancient Israel. Two research students Ehud Arkin-Shalev and Michelle Kreiser, uncovered the giant slab while looking in the water of the Dor Nature Reserve.

The work on the eroded stone has not yet been completed, but the researchers have already made two exciting discoveries. Firstly, and most importantly, the inscription mentions the name Gargilius Antiquus, and states that his position was governor of Judea.Antiquus’ name also appears on another inscription that was found some 70 years ago, but in that case the name of the province in which he served as governor was not preserved.

An academic debate had followed, with some scholars arguing that Antiquus was the governor of the province of Syria, while others suggesting that he may have been the governor of Judea. The newly-found inscription proves beyond all doubt that Gargilius Antiquus was the Roman governor of Judea during the period leading up to the outbreak of the Bar Kochba revolt in 131 CE.

But the identification of Antiquus’ position is not the only exceptional feature of this finding. To date, the name “Judea” has only been found on one other Roman inscription – a famous item from Caesarea which mentions the name of the prefect Pontius Pilate. Thus the finding doubles the number of appearances of the name Judea.

“Immediately after the Bar Kokhba revolt, the Romans decided to abolish the province of Judea and to obliterate any mention of its name. The province was united with Syria to form a single province called Syria-Palestine, ” Yasur-Landau said. “So what we have here is an inscription dated to just before Judea ceased to exist as a province under that name. Of the two inscriptions mentioning the name Judea, this is the latest, of course. Because such findings are so rare, it is unlikely that we will find many later inscriptions including the name Judea, ”



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