1,800-year-old grave of convert to Judaism discovered, relevant to upcoming festival

The archaeological find times well with the upcoming Shavuot holiday that celebrates one of Judaism’s most famous converts, Ruth the Moabite.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The recent find of the first-ever confirmed grave of a Jewish convert in the large ancient necropolis of Beit Shearim will be presented at an archeological conference Wednesday, timing well with the upcoming Shavuot holiday that celebrates one of Judaism’s most famous converts, Ruth the Moabite.

The 1,800-year-old inscription in red paint says, “Yaakov the Convert swears in those who open the grave [cave] that no one will open it. 60 years old.” The age was written with a different hand, leading researchers to think that it was added after his death by one of Yaakov’s relatives.

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), this is the first inscription uncovered in the last 65 years at the tomb system for which Beit Shearim is most famous, making the find an important one. But what makes it almost unique is the fact that the person publicized his status as one who chose to become a Jew, the researchers said, as inscriptions attesting to the interred being a convert is rare.

Most converts’ inscriptions found to date have been from the time of the Second Temple or early Roman period, they said, when Judaism was the major religion in the area, while this one is from the late Roman or early Byzantine period.

“Despite the decline of Judea, and after a number of failed Jewish revolts and the strengthening of Christianity and its spread in the empire, we see that there are still people who choose to join the Jewish faith and even declare it with pride,” they explained.

The IAA has preserved the stone tablet under proper conditions, they continued, and “one day perhaps we will be able to present it to the public, to mention and remember Yaakov, who, like Ruth the Moabite, joined the Jewish people and even asked that this be written on his gravestone.”

The story of Ruth is read in the synagogue every year on Shavuot, the holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, as she is an example of piety who became the ancestress of King David, and therefore of the future Messiah. Shavuot will be celebrated this year on Sunday.

Dating back to the First Temple period (ninth century BCE), the Lower Galilee settlement gained in importance after the Bar Kochba revolt following the destruction of the Second Temple, with the Jewish nation’s top court, the Sanhedrin, relocating there after the fall of Jerusalem. Famous religious leaders were buried in Beit Shearim, including Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, Sanhedrin president and compiler of the Mishnah.

Dozens of burial caves have been found over the last 80 years, with inscriptions on and near tombs written in various languages, especially Greek, like the most recent discovery. Although the inscription was only recently translated, Yaakov’s cave was discovered accidentally about a year ago by Jonathan Orlin, head of conservation in the northern region at the Nature and Parks Authority.

In 2015 the entire necropolis of Beit Shearim was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.