After lunch, we drove to Bet She’arim National Park (which means “House of Gates) to see the Cave of the Coffins – the most ancient large Jewish cemetery in the world, founded during the reign of King Herod in the first century BCE. It is located just a couple of miles from the Moshav also called Bet She’arim and about 20 km east of Haifa. The United Nations established it as a World Heritage Site, with writings and inscriptions documenting two centuries of historical and cultural achievement in several languages.
Below is the entrance which has 3 arched doorways. Note how tiny the openings of the two closed side doors are. These doors under the archways look like wood — see detail of the bottom of a door in the featured strip at top of this page too — but they are actually made of stone.
It was quite dark in the caves, so we have only a few pictures showing the various kinds of tombs and decorated boxes called sarcophagi which were used for burial. The one in the middle, below, depicts a winged angel.
Besides the sarcophagi, there are also catacombs where many rabbis were buried, and there is evidence that many Jews living in Yemen and as far away as Tyre brought their deceased relatives here to be buried in the lands of their forefathers. Many tombs are caves cut into the rocks and have heavy hinged stone doors.
After the destruction of the Second Temple, the Sanhedrin (supreme court of the Jewish people) was relocated at Bet She’arim. Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, editor of the Mishna and head of the Sanhedrin, had an estate in the area given to him as a gift by his friend, Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. He and his sons, Rabbis Gamliel and Shimon were buried in Catacomb #14 where an inscription describing his burial was found.