Jewish Purification: Stone Vessel Workshop Discovered in Galilee

A 2,000-year-old stone production center points to ritual purity

Where do the “Stone Age” and the time of Jesus meet without the aid of a space-time wormhole? At the Galilean site of ‘Einot Amitai near Nazareth in northern Israel, where archaeologists discovered a 2,000-year-old quarry and workshop that produced chalkstone vessels.


An excavation at a cave in Galilee has uncovered what may be a 2,000-year-old stone vessel production center. In the first century C.E., Jews commonly used stone vessels in observance of Jewish purity laws. Photo: Courtesy Yonatan Adler.

“Stone vessels played an integral role in the daily religious lives of Jews during [the first century C.E.],” explained archaeologist Yonatan Adler, Senior Lecturer at Ariel University, in a press release. “It was a Jewish ‘Stone Age’ of sorts.”

Adler and Dennis Mizzi, Senior Lecturer at the University of Malta, are codirectors of the excavation at ‘Einot Amitai, a project funded by the Israel Science Foundation, Ariel University and the Biblical Archaeology Society. (Read more about the project in Hershel Shanks’s First Person column in the September/October 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.)


A chalkstone fragment discovered at ‘Einot Amitai. Photo: Courtesy Yonatan Adler.

Located on the western slopes of Har Yonah near Nazareth, ‘Einot Amitai features a massive cave hewn into a chalkstone hill. The archaeologists discovered in their inaugural excavation season this summer chalkstone vessels at different stages of production, suggesting that the cave functioned as a workshop.

While vessels—from tableware to cooking pots to storage jars—were usually made of clay in antiquity, Jews throughout Judea and Galilee in the first century C.E. used vessels made of stone.

Archaeologist Yitzhak Magen explains why in “Ancient Israel’s Stone Age” in BAR:

What was it that connected these stone vessels to Jewish purity laws? Simply this: Stone vessels, unlike ceramic and glass vessels, were not subject to impurity.

Laws of ritual purity and impurity are of Biblical origin (Leviticus 11:33 ff.). During the Second Temple period, however, the rules were greatly expanded. Most of the purity laws relate to rites in the Temple. But the territory of the Temple was at least metaphorically expanded beyond the Temple confines, and ritual cleanliness was not limited to the bounds of the Temple but spread through the Jewish community. The laws affected ordinary people.

It made sense to purchase a vessel that could not become unclean, for once a vessel became ritually unclean, it had to be taken out of use. An impure pottery vessel, for example, had to be broken.


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.

Yonatan Adler draws a connection between the ritual use of stone vessels and the story of the wedding in Cana of Galilee—where Jesus performed his first miracle—in the Gospel of John. In the story, when the wedding party ran out of wine, Jesus turned water held in six stone jars into wine (John 2:1–11). The Gospel of John alludes to the Jewish custom of using stone vessels:

“Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons” (John 2:6).


Volunteers excavating at Einot Amitai. Photo: Courtesy Yonatan Adler.

Adler, furthermore, notes that the chalkstone cave at ‘Einot Amitai is located just south of the town of Kafr Kanna, identified by some scholars as Cana in the Bible. Another candidate for Biblical Cana is Khirbet Cana (“the ruins of Cana”), located four miles northwest of Kafr Kanna in Galilee.

“It is certainly possible—perhaps even likely—that large stone containers of the type mentioned in the Wedding at Cana story may have been produced locally in Galilee in a cave similar to the one we are now excavating,” Adler said.

‘Einot Amitai codirector Dennis Mizzi, however, cautions that thus far the excavation has only found small vessels—mugs and bowls.

“Fragments of large jars have not been unearthed,” he explained.

Nonetheless, the discoveries in this first intensive excavation season at ‘Einot Amitai are promising. The Ariel University press release describes the significance of the investigation:

“While fragments of stone vessels have been found in the past at numerous Early Roman period sites throughout Israel, and two workshops are known from the Jerusalem area, this is the first time that full-scale excavations [have been] conducted at a stone vessel production site in Galilee.”

Which finds made our top 10 Biblical archaeology discoveries of 2016? Find out >>


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Mikveh Discovery Highlights Ritual Bathing in Second Temple Period Jerusalem

Excavating in Jewish Galilee

An Ancient Jewish Lamp Workshop in the Galilee

Where Did Jesus Turn Water into Wine?

Biblical Pharisees and Jewish Halakhah

Making Sense of Kosher Laws

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on August 25, 2016.


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2 Responses

  1. Awakened2Truth - Disciple of Jesus the Christ @YouTube says:

    Excerpt from

    Jesus never told us to call anyone “RABBI” but Him, and neither did Jesus or the Apostles teach “Christianity” (it’s why the word isn’t in the Holy Bible) but for argument sake in the article below, for now “Christianity” means “New Testament Faith” but that’s the funny thing.. “Christianity” comes from Egypt circa 200 years previous and the word “Christian” was never used by Jesus or Paul (maybe because Paul knew the word was a severe appellation of scorn) since truthfully in the first century the word is an insult used by pagans and heathens who believed they were ‘gods’ and blindingly assumed the Apostles and later disciples saw themselves as little ‘gods’ (Christians) but hey, not all are deceived by satan who loves going to the woman first to pull in men after so satan catches them both, just like the Garden of Eden;

    “Rabbi” Louis Finkelstein in Volume 1 of The Pharisees, the Sociological Background of their Faith says, “Pharisaism became Talmudism, Talmudism became Medieval Rabbinism, and Medieval Rabbinism became Modern Rabbinism. But throughout these changes of name, inevitable adaption of custom, and adjustment of Law, the spirit of the ancient Pharisee survives unaltered.”

    Biblical scholars Robert and Mary Coote clearly show in their book Power, Politics and the Making of the Bible that neither is Christianity a patched up Judaism, nor is Rabbinic Judaism automatically synonymous with the religion of Moses and the old Hebrews.

    The Cootes’ illustrate the religious climate in Judea two millennia ago: “The cults, practices, and scriptures of both groups, rabbis and bishops, differed from those of the temple; thus we reserve the terms Jew, Jewish, and Judaism for the rabbis and those under their rule and use Judean, contrary to custom, for the common source of Judaism and Christianity….”

    “Despite the ostensible merging of Judean and Jew even in certain New Testament passages and by the rabbis who became rulers of Palestine in the third century and continued to use Hebrew and Aramaic more than Greek, the roots of Christianity were not Jewish. Christianity did not derive from the Judaism of the pharisees, but emerged like Judaism from the wider Judean milieu of the first century. Both Christians and Jews stemmed from pre-70 Judean-ism as heirs of groups that were to take on the role of primary guardians or interpreters of scripture as they developed on parallel tracks in relation to each other.” (Power, Politics, and the Making of the Bible).

    The few New Testament ‘proof texts’ utilised by Christian Zionists and secular proponents of the modern Judeo-Christian myth are the product of poor translation. Messianic Jewish writer Malcolm Lowe in his paper “Who Are the Ioudaioi?” concludes, like Robert and Mary Coote, that the Greek word “Ioudaioi” in the New Testament should be translated as “Judeans”, rather than the more usual “Jews”. The Israeli scholar David Stern also came to the same conclusion when translating the Jewish New Testament.

    Few Christians are aware that the translators of Scripture often mistranslated the word “Jew” from such words as “Ioudaioi” (meaning from, or being of: as a geographic area, Judean). The word Judean, mistranslated as “Jew” in the New Testament, never possessed a valid religious connotation, but was simply used to identify members of the native population of the geographic area known as Judea.

    Also it is important to understand that in the Scriptures, the terms “Israel”, “Judah” and “Jew” are not synonymous, nor is the House of Israel synonymous with the House of Judah. The course of history is widely divergent for the peoples properly classified under each of these titles. Accordingly, the authoritative 1980 Jewish Almanac says, *”Strictly speaking it is incorrect to call an ancient Israelite a Jew or to call a contemporary Jew an Israelite or a Hebrew.”*

    A writer for The Dearborn Independent, published in Michigan back in 1922, summarised the problem thus: “The pulpit has also the mission of liberating the Church from the error that Judah and Israel are synonymous. The reading of the Scriptures which confuse the tribe of Judah with Israel, and which interpret every mention of Israel as signifying the Jews, is at the root of more than one-half the confusion and division traceable in Christian doctrinal statements.”

    *”We have already seen substantial evidence that any notion of Pharisaism (or later rabbinic Judaism) as the true and direct descendants of the Old Testament is contradicted by the most fundamental assumptions of one Mishnah-tractate after another. These stand wholly separate from the Priestly Code… and generally contradict it!”* –Jacob Neusner _A History of the Mishnaic Law of Purities_ (Brill Academic, 1974), p. 7. – ISBN-10: 9004038973

    The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia confirms that Judaism is based on the teachings of the Pharisees and not upon the Law of Moses: *“The Jewish religion as it is today traces its descent, without a break, through all the centuries, from the Pharisees. Their leading ideas and methods found expression in a literature of enormous extent, of which a very great deal is still in existence. The Talmud is the largest and most important single member of that literature.”* – Vol. VIII, p. 474 (1942).

    This article should be using the word “Israelites” and/or “Judahites” not this recent apocopated corruption of “Jew” which clearly shows above even the “Jew’ish” Almanac making it clear, right from the horses mouth.

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