one of four major villages in Upper Galilee (Tetracomia), located just 1 km (1.6 mi.) north of the closest village, Khirbet Shema῾, at 750 m above sea level (33°00′ N, 35°27′ E; map reference 191 × 265). The site lies on the eastern ridge of the Meiron range (Jarmaq) and enjoys a plentiful water supply from rainwater (about 75 cm or 30 in. per year) and from the Spring of Meiron in the wadi to its south. The site is not to be confused with Merot in Josephus (War 2.573, 3.39), which is located just north of Safed. Rather, Meiron is to be identified with the Talmudic village associated with Simeon bar Yochai. The ruins of Meiron attracted Jewish pilgrims in medieval times, attention being focused on the traditional grave sites of sages and the ruin of the ancient synagogue. The Jewish feast of Lag B'Omer has been celebrated at the site since the thirteenth century CE.
The synagogue ruin was cleared and surveyed by Heinrich Kohl and Carl Watzinger (Antike Synagogen in Galiläa, Leipzig, 1916, pp. 80–88) at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, because the synagogue's western wall and floor are cut from natural rock, not much has survived except one of the southern portals (the others were restored by the Israel Department of Antiquities in the 1950s). [See Synagogues.] Excavations were sponsored by the American Schools of Oriental Research from 1971 to 1977, directed by Eric M. Meyers. They represent the only systematic work done at the site, which has suffered greatly from modern construction and pilgrimage during Lag B'Omer. The 1971 and 1972 seasons were conducted concurrently with the excavations at Khirbet Shema῾. [See Shema῾, Khirbet.] After 1972, work at Meiron, Gush Ḥalav, and Nabratein was conducted under the framework of the Meiron Excavation Project. [See Gush Ḥalav; Nabratein.]
Soundings made up against the eastern closing wall of the synagogue produced limited results. Several rooms or annexes were uncovered with clear debris of the late third century CE and may be associated with the founding of the synagogue structure. Unfortunately, most of the synagogue's architectural elements had been robbed, so that the expedition was only able to alter slightly Kohl and Watzinger's plan. The building is a standard basilica with a portico with two rows of columns running north–south. [See Basilicas.] The facade, with three doorways on the south wall, possibly with a Torah shrine, was certainly the wall of orientation, and a gallery for extra seating can be reconstructed from existing architectural fragments. Significant medieval remains once covered the eastern end of the destroyed synagogue, but their poor state of preservation makes it impossible to identify their purpose.
The main focus of the excavation was the domestic areas located considerably downslope on the east, where preservation was better and the depth of debris considerable (2–4 m). Although pockets of Late Hellenistic and Early Roman debris were found, the major periods of occupation were the second-fourth centuries CE, with a clear floruit in the third-fourth centuries. Of special interest in the lower city was the insula, or block, known as MI. In this area a courtyard served as a major open space; it adjoined an interior space used for chores and specific trades (e.g., carpentry, as evidenced by small finds such as a bronze plane). The second story was most probably used as a sleeping space. An earlier ritual bath and cistern(s) also were discovered in this area. [See Ritual Baths; Cisterns.] Important details of everyday life, while ample, are difficult to reconstruct fully because of the poor state of preservation caused by extensive rock tumble.
Several houses in the next insula, MII, provided further details of domestic existence in Late Roman contexts. Of note is that a common space apparently connected two distinct units, both of which utilized the site's natural topography to full advantage. In both dwellings in this area, as in MI, evidence was recovered of a fourth-century abandonment, especially in a sealed room whose contents were apparently purposely charred and set aside (as hekdesh, i.e., for the future Temple). The foodstuffs identified were wheat, barley, legumes, fûl beans, and walnuts. The courtyard, with an oven in the larger unit, is particularly well preserved. Soundings to the north of the settlement revealed cultivation areas and small field structures that would have been used to store supplies and for other agricultural activities.
The excavation of a tomb farther up the slope and to the west provided numerous small finds, intact pottery, and skeletal remains from the Late Hellenistic, Early Roman, and Late Roman periods. Secondary reburial of remains from kokhim or loculi predominate, while important evidence of endogomy was posited from the skeletal remains, suggesting family continuity over a very long period. Fairly extensive pottery remains were uncovered from the cisterns throughout the site. [See Burial Sites; Tombs; Burial Techniques.]
The significance of the Meiron excavations is their concentration on domestic/private rather than public buildings. The picture of everyday life revealed is consistent with life in rural, mountainous Upper Galilee. The large corpus of material culture published is one of the major building blocks available for reconstructing daily life in Roman Palestine.
- Meyers, Carol L., et al. “Excavations at Meiron in Upper Galilee, 1971, 1972: A Preliminary Report.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 214 (1974): 2–25.
- Meyers, Eric M., et al. “Excavations at Meiron in Upper Galilee, 1974, 1975: Second Preliminary Report.” Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 43 (1978): 73–98.
- Meyers, Eric M., et al. “The Meiron Excavation Project: Archaeological Survey in Galilee and Golan, 1976.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 230 (1978): 1–24.
- Meyers, Eric M., et al. The Excavations at Ancient Meiron, Upper Galilee, Israel, 1971–1972, 1974–1975, 1977. Cambridge, Mass., 1981. .
Eric M. Meyers