Ancient statue of lioness found near Sea of Galilee

Impressive half-ton statue carved from basalt block could have adorned a house in “lost city” of Julias.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A large statue of a lioness has been found in the Beit Habek (Al Araj) excavation site on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The statue is at least 2,000 years old – and almost wasn’t discovered at all.

It seems that a tractor was clearing away piles of rubble from the site, and two archaeologists happened to notice that in one of the heaps there was a stone that looked out of place, reported Ynet. When they cleaned up the stone, they saw the outlines of a lion.

The two archaeologists, Bar-Ilan University doctoral candidate Mark Turnage and Eli Shukrun, immediately called the director of the site, Dr. Mordechai Aviam, who hurried over. “Surprisingly, it turned out that this is a magnificent statue of a carved lioness in a large basalt block weighing 600 kilograms,” said Aviam.” Working quickly, a truck with a crane arrived and the statue was carefully hoisted onto the truck and transported to safety.

Aviam added, “The lioness statue is completely whole, starting from its short mane, large fangs, tongue lolling out and even [up to] the carved tail along the hind legs.”

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There are two working theories as to the statue’s origin. “Similar statues have been found in synagogues in Golan Heights,” Aviam explained, “so it could be that this, too, is a remnant of a Jewish place of worship. However, since it is possible that this place is the location of a city called Julias, it could be that the statue stood in a different magnificent building.”

This past summer, remnants of a Jewish fishing village named Bethsaida that existed at the time of the Second Temple were found at the site. However, according to famed ancient Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, Philip, the son of King Herod, transformed Bethsaida into a Roman city, and called it Julias after Julia Augusta, the mother of the Roman Emperor Tiberius.

According to Christian tradition, Julias was the home of three of Jesus’ apostles.