Photo Credit: Courtesy Dr. Mordechai Aviam
Basalt lioness relief weighing some 1,320 lbs.

The relief statue of a lioness carved in a basalt rock was recently discovered in a pile of debris that had been evacuated by a tractor from the Beit Ha’Bek excavation site by the northern Kinneret. It is estimated that the statue was placed at the entrance to a Jewish synagogue that operated there or at the entrance to another significant structure from the time the site was known as the lost Roman city of Julias, formerly the village of Bethsaida, which, according to Christian tradition, was the home of Jesus’ apostles Peter, Andrew and Philip. The age of the statue is estimated at more than 2,000 years.

Two researchers who were touring the area noticed in one of the dirt piles removed by the tractor an unusual looking stone. As they approached it and cleaned it up a little, they noticed the outline of a lion. The archaeologists, Mark Turnag and Eli Shukron, contacted the Director of Excavations at the site on behalf of the Kinneret Academic College, Dr. Mordechai Aviam, who arrived at the scene.

Basalt lioness lifted by crane. / Photo credit: Courtesy Dr. Mordechai Aviam
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“It turned out to be a magnificent statue of a carved lioness in a large basalt block, weighing 1,320 lbs.,” Dr. Aviam related. “With a quick effort, a truck with a crane was brought over, and with careful and painstaking work the statue was raised, loaded onto the truck and transported to safety.”

Dr. Aviam added: “The lioness statue is completely whole, starting with the short mane, the big fangs, the tongue sticking out and even the carved tail along the hind legs.”

He added that “the statue is very similar to statues of lions and lionesses that have been discovered in synagogues in the Golan Heights, which is why it seems that in this case, too, it is a remnant of a Jewish synagogue. However, since there is also the possibility that this was the location of the lost city of Julias, the statue may have originated in another magnificent structure.”

Last July, archaeologists from Kinneret College in Israel and Nyack College in New York completed excavations at el-Araj, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, which has long been considered a possible location of ancient Julias, a.k.a. Bethsaida, which is mentioned in the writings of first-centuryJewish scholar, historian and hagiographer Flavius Josephus, born Yosef ben Matityahu.

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