Judean Refugees in Galilee?

Oil lamps shedding light on an ancient migration

Pottery Kiln, Shikhin Area

POTTERY PRODUCTION AT SHIKHIN is eloquently evidenced in this and other pottery kilns excavated at the site.
Credit: Photo by Steven Meigs; Courtesy of the Shikhin Excavation Project

Caravans of migrants, uprooted families, filthy refugee camps, and overfilled detention facilities—images all too common in our daily news feed. Several migration crises currently affect entire nations and drive public debate on a global scale. They are being continuously monitored, documented, and reported on. So while assessments of, and solutions to, specific migrations vary greatly among people, no one can deny the harsh reality of true human suffering. Due to modern technologies, all this is happening before our very eyes.
But what about ancient migrations? Were there human migrations and refugees in antiquity? Yes, of course. Environmental change, wars, religious conflicts, and poverty are among the most powerful factors that have been driving human migration for millennia—from the Sea Peoples to the Huns to the Quakers to modern Syrians or Guatemalans. How do we learn about forced or voluntary migration in antiquity, with no newspapers or TV coverage to inform us? Can human displacement be detected archaeologically, if contemporary written records are not available?

Herodian Lamp Mold

LAMP MOLD Carved in stone, this lamp mold from Shikhin features vines and grapes arranged around the fill hole, and an amphora on the nozzle.
Credit: Photo by Yeshu Dray, Restoration of Ancient Technologies / Courtesy of the Shikhin Excavation Project

In his article “Shedding Light on the Judean Refugees,” in the Spring 2020 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, James Riley Strange of the Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, focuses on a very specific ancient migration: Judeans fleeing their homes and resettling in Galilee as a result of the First Jewish Revolt and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. “Archaeologists studying Galilee normally do not have much cause to think about refugees arriving in the region following 70 C.E. This is because we have little archaeological evidence of the abandonment of Judean villages after the revolt,” says Strange, explaining why we never hear about Judean refugees in Galilee. If there are no signs of people leaving Judea in any considerable numbers, is there any archaeological evidence of Judean refugees arriving in Galilee? This is also problematic, because material culture and the underlying customs and religion of Judeans

Menorah Lamp

THOUSANDS OF WASTERS (pottery ruined in production) were found at Shikhin, including this fragment of a ring around the lamp’s fill hole. Its decoration shows a seven-branched menorah flanked by palms (lulavs) growing from the menorah’s base. This mold-made lamp is an example of the Darom type, which most likely originated in Judea and might be an evidence for Judean refugees.
Credit: Photo by Gabi Laron; Courtesy of the Shikhin Excavation Project

and Galileans in this period were virtually the same.
Even if Judeans did move into Galilee, they would have been archaeologically invisible; the material culture of Judean refugees would have blended into the cultural backdrop of their new home. So where do we go from there? Director of excavations at Shikhin in Lower Galilee, Strange believes he has spotted Judeans in two specifically Judean types of lamp that were excavated in large numbers at Shikhin, suggesting a local production. His logical conclusion is that the know-how for producing the two mold-made types—Northern Undecorated and the so-called Darom (or Southern) lamps—came from Galilee. And because they appear at Shikhin only after the destruction of Jerusalem, an ancient migration provides the most plausible explanation for the new technology.
For the full analysis of archaeological evidence of Judean refugees at Shikhin (one mile north of Sepphoris), read “Shedding Light on the Judean Refugees,” published in the Spring 2020 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.


Subscribers: Read the full article “Shedding Light on the Judean Refugees” by James Riley Strange in the Spring 2020 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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Related reading in the BAS Library, accessible to all digital or All Access subscribers:

How Jewish Was Jesus’ Galilee? Jesus’ Galilee was generally considered rural Jewish terrain. Then archaeologists made some astounding finds.

How the Wealthy Lived in Herodian Jerusalem The City of David and the area adjacent to the Temple Mount have been the principal objects of archaeological expeditions since the beginnings of modern research in the city, over a century ago.

Fleeing the Romans The Second Jewish Revolt against Rome, also known as the Bar Kokhba Revolt after its almost legendary leader, lasted from 132 to 135 C.E. Like the First Jewish Revolt of 66–70 C.E., it was brutally crushed. But, unlike the First Revolt (in which the Temple was destroyed), there was no Josephus to record its history. For an account of the Second Jewish Revolt, we are dependent almost entirely on archaeology.

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