Situation and characteristicsThe archeological site of Bet Shearim, 20km/12.5mi southeast of Haifa, is reached by taking a side road which goes off the Haifa-Nazareth road on the right soon after Qiryat Tivon. Bet Shearim is an important site in the Jewish rabbinical tradition, particularly notable for the impressive catacombs excavated by B. Mazar in 1936 and later by N. Avigad. They lie in a beautiful setting, within an area of 2 hectares/5 acres which has been declared a National Park.HistoryBet Shearim acquired particular importance in 135, when, after the failure of the Bar Kochba rising, Rabbi Judah Hanassi moved his seminary here from Yavne, making Bet Shearim the spiritual center of Jewry. The Sanhedrin, as leader of which Rabbi Judah bore the title of Hanassi ("Prince"), also met here for a time. Many members of the Sanhedrin were buried in Bet Shean, and its fame led other pious Jews to have themselves buried here.
Statue of Alexander Zaid
On the highest point of the site at Bet Shearim, can be seen a statue of Alexander Zaid, who discovered the necropolis in 1936.
After the statue of Alexander Zaid the access road to Bet Shearim takes a sharp bend to the right and comes to the entrance to the site and the ticket kiosk. There is a parking lot inside the National Park. The necropolis consists of a series of catacombs hewn from the rock on the hillside, each containing between 20 and 400 tombs. The catacombs had all been robbed, and the excavators found neither human remains nor grave goods. The sarcophagi, mostly of the local limestone, are decorated with Jewish symbols (seven-branched candlesticks, Torah shrines, etc.) but also with figures of human beings and animals. The carving shows no great artistic skill. Many of the catacombs have a stone doorway preceded by an open forecourt. Of the 26 catacombs so far discovered there are usually only two open to visitors, including No. 20, the largest of them all.
Before the access road reaches the entrance to the National Park in Bet Shearim the remains of a large three-aisled synagogue of the second or third century, its facade oriented towards Jerusalem, can be seen on the left. Farther along is an oil-press, with two rooms.
Catacomb 14 at the archeological site of Bet Shearim, which also has a triple-arched facade, contains a number of informative inscriptions in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, for example on the sarcophagi of Simon and Gamaliel, presumably sons of Rabbi Judah Hanassi, who was himself buried in Bet Shearim.
Catacomb 20 at the archeological site of Bet Shearim has a facade, partly restored, with three arched stone doorways. There is a broad central corridor with a number of passages opening off it. In this underground palace were found over 200 sarcophagi, many of them weighing between 3 and 5 tons. At the far end of the first passage on the left note particularly the Hunting Sarcophagus (a lion hunting a gazelle) and the Lion Sarcophagus. In the first passage on the right is the Eagle Sarcophagus; in the second on the right a sarcophagus with the face of a bearded man; and in the third, at the far end, the Shell Sarcophagus, with particularly elaborate decoration.
In one of the main chambers in Catacomb 20 at the archeological site of Bet Shearim is a museum displaying finds from the site, including a modern-looking relief of a menorah.