“Only God help the beautiful property of Master Adios, amen,” is the 1,600-year-old inscription recently found in an Israel Antiquities Authority excavations at Tzur Natan. The excavations were carried out ahead of new neighborhood construction initiated by the Israel Lands Authority, and ended this week.
Tzur Natan is a cooperative community built on a hilltop in western Samaria, 500 ft. above sea level, on a ridge in the foothills of the Samaritan Hills, some 14 miles from the city of Ra’anana.
The inscription, in Greek, was deciphered by Prof. Leah Di Segni of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It is dated to the early fifth century CE, the period during which Samaritan settlements reached the height of their power and prosperity in the southern Sharon Plain.
According to Dr. Hagit Torge, director of the excavations on behalf of the IAA, “the inscription was discovered in an impressive winepress that was apparently part of the agricultural estate of a wealthy individual called Adios. This is only the second such winepress discovered in Israel with a blessing inscription associated with the Samaritans. The first was discovered a few years ago in Apollonia, near Herzliya.”
Herzliya borders Ra’anana.
The archaeologists discovered stone quarries with rock-cut depressions used for cultivating grapevines near the winepress, apparently part of Master Adios estate.
“‘Master’ was an honorific given to senior members of the community and attests to the high social standing of the owners of the estate,” says Torge, adding, “The location of the winepress is near the top of Tel Zur Natan, where remains of a Samaritan synagogue were found with another inscription, and reveals Adios’ high status.”
The Tzur Natan Samaritan synagogue was converted into a church in the sixth century. A compound was discovered nearby a few years ago, featuring large rooms and spaces for producing wine, oil and flour. In one of these was found a Pompeian donkey-driven mill, incised with a seven-branch candelabrum.
The inscription in the Samaritan winepress is additional testimony to the extensive Samaritan settlement in the southern Sharon Plain during the Byzantine period.
The emergence of the Samaritans as a distinct ethnic and religious community appears to have taken place after the Assyrian conquest of the Kingdom of Israel in approximately 721 BCE.
During the Byzantine period the Samaritans revolted in an attempt to maintain their identity. After the revolts the community diminished in size and returned to the Mount Gerizim area, where A Samaritan community still lives today.