On the Heels of Hanukkah: The Biblical Significance of a Rare Underwater Find

“In those days also saw I the Yehudim that had married women of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab; and their children spoke half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Yehudim’ language, but according to the language of each people.” Nehemiah 13:23-24 (The Israel Bible™)

Last month, archaeologists in Israel retrieved from under the water a massive, inscribed slab of stone dating back to the second century CE. The stone was found at the Tel Dor archaeological site, an area located on Israel’s Mediterranean coast about 30 km south of Haifa.

The 85 cm, 600 kilogram (1300 pounds) stone is inscribed with seven lines of clearly visible Greek writing. Following its translation, it was discovered that the writings divulge the name of the Roman procurator, Gargilius Antiquus who ruled in Judea prior to the second century during the Bar-Kochba Revolt. Researchers are assuming that the slab is from the base of a statue from Roman times.

“This is only the second time that a reference to the name Judea was revealed in any inscription from the Roman period,” University of Haifa archaeologist Professor Assaf Yasur-Landau, who managed the excavation, and Dr. Gil Gambash, the head of the Maritime Civilizations Department, who helped decipher the inscription, said in a joint statement.

“This is a significant discovery, especially on the heels of the holiday of Hanukkah which commemorates the Israelites’ success over Greek rule in the Holy Land,” said Roni Segal, academic adviser for eTeacher, an online Hebrew language academy, to Breaking Israel News. “It is fascinating that the Talmud states that one may fulfill the Rabbinical dictate to read the weekly Torah portion by scrolls written only in Hebrew or Greek.”

Segal is referring to the fact that the Greeks conquered and lived in the Holy Land from around 330 BCE until the seventh century. The holiday of Hanukkah commemorates the miracles that occurred in 165 BCE. At that time, a weak Jewish army, led by the Maccabees, successfully defeated the much larger and stronger Syrian-Greek army who had invoked numerous prohibitions in order to destroy the Jews’ connection to God and His Bible.

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Additionally, the Greeks defiled the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by bringing idols into the sanctuary. Following the war, the Jews entered the Holy Temple and discovered one sealed flask of pure olive oil which was used to light the menorah in the Temple. Due to the small amount of oil it contained, the flask’s contents should have been enough to only last one night. God, however, brought about a miracle and caused the oil to burn for eight days, allowing enough time for more pure oil to be pressed and prepared for the menorah.

Another significant occurrence relating to the Greeks occurred in 246 BCE. The Greek-Egyptian emperor Ptolemy forced 72 Biblical sages to translate the Hebrew Torah into Greek. Locking them in separate rooms, each was ordered to produce a translation of the holy scroll.

“Hebrew is a complex language with many nuances,” continued Segal to Breaking Israel News. “Studying the Bible in its original language leads to a much deeper and clearer understanding of God’s word. Yet, God made a revealed miracle and all of these sages presented the exact same translation in Greek, known as the Septuagint or ‘of the seventy’, even altering the text 13 times to protect the sanctity of the Bible.”

As exciting as finding this Greek slab is, historically it also is a reminder of a tragic time in the Holy Land’s history. The Romans abolished the province of Judea and erased all traces of its name. Therefore, with the slab identifying Antiquus as the ruler of Judea in 131 CE,  this is a particularly unique find.

“Yet, as Jews all over the world celebrate Hanukkah, we remember that the ancient Greeks are long gone and the Jewish people continue to live on,” Segal said with a smile. “And, Judea has been reestablished with the State of Israel and continues to thrive in a miraculous way.”

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