An Ancient Jewish Lamp Workshop in the Galilee

Bible and archaeology news

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2015. It has been updated.—Ed.


Ceramic oil lamps discovered this summer at Shikhin suggest the ancient Jewish village once had a lamp workshop. Photo: Courtesy Shikhin Excavation Project.

Excavations conducted in 2015 in an ancient Jewish village near Nazareth, Israel, uncovered the remains of an oil lamp workshop in operation during the late first–early second centuries C.E.

Led by director James Riley Strange of Samford University and associate director Mordechai Aviam of Kinneret College, the Shikhin Excavation Project was in its fourth season of excavation at the ancient Jewish village of Shikhin. Working amid the remains of a building north of the village’s synagogue, an archaeological team found about a dozen nearly intact ceramic oil lamps. The lamps were poorly made and composed of low-quality clay, suggesting, according to the excavators, that they had been manufactured by apprentices of the workshop.

The discovery of the lamp workshop at Shikhin is important for a number of reasons, dig director James Riley Strange told Bible History Daily.

“First, it demonstrates that lamp production in Galilee was not confined to cities,” Strange said. “That hypothesis was proposed a few years ago.”

The Galilee is one of the most evocative locales in the New Testament—the area where Jesus was raised and where many of the Apostles came from. Our free eBook The Galilee Jesus Knew focuses on several aspects of Galilee: how Jewish the area was in Jesus’ time, the ports and the fishing industry that were so central to the region, and several sites where Jesus likely stayed and preached.

Furthermore, the finds confirm that there were two main types of mold-made lamps being made near Nazareth, as was hypothesized previously. The lamps from Shikhin are estimated to have been made between 70 and 135 C.E.—between the end of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome and the end of the Bar Kokhba Revolt.

“One type of lamp is a relatively plain lamp that resembles the well-known Herodian lamp with a ‘spatulated’ or ‘knife-pared’ nozzle,” explained Strange. “It was made in two molds, one for the bottom half of the lamp and another for the top half—both halves also molding the nozzle, which was pared after the two halves were joined.”


The nozzle and a portion of the body of a Herodian lamp from Shikhin. Photo: Courtesy Shikhin Excavation Project.

“The second kind of lamp is called a ‘Darom’ or ‘southern’ lamp,” Strange continued. “It was originally made in the Daroma region of Israel, south and west of Jerusalem. Most famously, lamps of this type were found in hideaway caves near the Dead Sea.”


A “Darom” lamp from Shikhin. Photo: Courtesy Shikhin Excavation Project.

The lamp workshop may also provide insights into the lamp makers themselves.

“It may tell us something about the migration of Jewish lamp makers north into the Galilee from Jerusalem and Judea after 70, and perhaps again after 135, bringing their artisan traditions with them and distributing their wares in the Galilee,” said Strange.


Pottery heap at Shikhin. Photo: Courtesy Shikhin Excavation Project.

The hilltop village of Shikhin, located in the Lower Galilee, was called Asochis by Jewish historian Josephus. Occupied from the Late Hellenistic to Late Roman periods (second century B.C.E. through fourth century C.E.), Shikhin was closely tied to nearby Sepphoris, the largest city of Roman Galilee.


Lamp fragment found at Shikhin bearing images of the lulav and seven-branched menorah. Photo: Courtesy Shikhin Excavation Project.

Excavations at Shikhin have revealed the remains of an ancient synagogue, a mikveh (Jewish ritual bath) and stone vessels typical of Jewish villages in the region, thus confirming the Jewish identity of Shikhin. More than simply having a lamp workshop, furthermore, Shikhin appears to have been a Roman pottery production center, as indicated by the sheer quantity of pottery production waste and cast-offs discovered at the site–far more vessels than needed by the villagers. It’s likely that Shikhin supplied many towns in the Galilee with bowls, storage jars, cooking pots, oil lamps and other ceramic vessels.

Read more about the lamp workshop at Shikhin in a Samford University press release.

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on July 8, 2015.


Learn more about Shikhin in Bible History Daily:

Excavating in Jewish Galilee by James Riley Strange

Life on the Shikhin Excavation Project


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  • Stacey says


  • Gary says

    This is no surprise. The Greek word translated as “carpenter” is best translated as “artisan”. The priestly descendants of the lines of Solomon and Aaron were hiding out in the vicinity of Nazareth for generations before the Roman Conquest. They were the last of the Davidic line, spared only because they were of the priesthood, lived far removed from Jerusalem, and were relegated to minor roles in the Temple by the familial powers in the Temple priesthood, who had more pure Aaronic bloodlines.

    It is alleged that the last descendants of this line went to Nazareth and resettled there at the time of the destruction of the Temple, and were still there in and after the times of Bar Kochba. There were there when all of Judea finally fell.

    And all of them, being landless, were artisans, who served a thriving economy in Sepphoris, which was spared the destruction endemic to the rest of the revolutionary Israel at the time of the destruction of the Temple, by their welcoming in the Roman army. Sepphoris after all, was a cosmopolitan, Herodian City.

    And as Galilee did not support Bar Kochba, Sepphoris was one of the few major cities that escaped both destructions. It was a perfect place for a Jew to hide out within a cosmopolitan Roman population, as Judaism was basically tolerated there, in contrast to the Roman Province of Judea, precisely for their loyalty to the Roman authorities. They rendered unto Caesar, what was Caesar’s. So, they were more-or-less left alone.

  • Kurt says

    Ordinarily, household lamps were made of earthenware, although bronze lamps have also been discovered in Palestine. The common Canaanite lamp was shaped like a saucer, having a rounded bottom and vertical rim.Its rim was slightly pinched on one side, where the wick rested. Sometimes the rim was pinched at the four corners, providing four places for wicks. In time, lamps were made in somewhat different shapes, some being closed except for two holes, one on top (near the center) for filling the vessel with oil and the other being a spout for holding the wick. Certain lamps had a loop handle at the end opposite the spout, sometimes in a horizontal, but more often in a vertical position. The Greco-Roman type frequently bore mythological human or animal forms, but the Jews made lamps bearing such designs as vine leaves or scrolls.

    Early saucer lamps were generally a shade of brown. Varieties made in the first century C.E. were of various colors, including light brown, red orange, and gray. Also, there were those of Roman times that were covered with red glaze.

  • DENNIS says

    I wonder if certain lampmakers had better reputations for higher quality lamps and thus a higher market share?

  • Juan says

    A synagogue in a village near Nazareth. How many kilometers away is the village of Nazareth?

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