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Meron

MERON

MERON , city located just north of the Wadi Meirun on one of the eastern spurs of Mt. Meron (map ref. 191/265) at an elevation of 2,450 ft. (750 m.) above sea level around the ancient synagogue. It is not to be confused with Merom, as in the "waters of Merom" in the Hebrew Bible (Josh 11:5, 7), near where Joshua defeated Jabin, King of Hazor, or the city which appears in the list of Caananite cities conquered by Thutmosis iii, Meron is also frequently confused with the site of Meroth (map ref. 199/270), which is most likely the one mentioned in Josephus as being fortified in 66 c.e. on the eve of the great revolt against Rome (Wars 3: 573; Life 188) and excavated in the 1980s by Z. Ilan.

Meron may be identified with the rabbinic town of that name which is associated with Rabbi *Simeon bar Yoḥai (Tosef. Dem. 4.13) and his son Eleazar, who are believed to be buried there. It is also listed as one of the towns or villages of the priestly courses (i Chron. 24; Mish. Ta'an. 4.2, etc.) where the family of Jehoiarib was located. By medieval times Meron was an important pilgrimage site associated with the festival of *Lag ba-Omer and influenced by the mystical traditions that emerged in nearby Safed, just 6 miles (9 km.) away. R. Moses Basola mentions the festival as early as 1522. The name Meron also appears in this connection in the various poems of Kalir and other liturgical authors.

The synagogue site was first surveyed and documented in the important work of Kohl and Watzinger published in 1916, though 19th century explorers and travelers knew the ruin as well. The site was excavated between 1971 and 1977 by Eric M. Meyers and an American team and their finds were published in 1981. A subsequent Israeli salvage excavation was carried out by N. Feig and published in 2002. One of the most important observations to be made is that there was a very modest settlement in the late Hellenistic period, ca. 200–63 b.c.e., and the Early Roman period represented even less in scant remains. No evidence for Josephus' fortification was uncovered in any excavation, which has led the excavators to abandon the idea that Meron and Meroth of Josephus were one and the same place. The heyday of occupations was the rabbinic period, or the Middle-Late Roman era, from ca. 135–363 c.e., the latter date the year of the great earthquake that contributed to the abandonment of the site; and significant remains of domestic buildings and structures survive from this period as do important agricultural installations. The main building identified with this period is the great synagogue on the summit, which is a long basilical structure with the familiar triple doorway on the Jerusalem-facing wall. A shallow portico with six columns was attached to the southern façade wall. The interior of the synagogue has two rows of eight columns, making it the longest of the Galilean synagogues, and while no trace of a Torah Shrine was found it is likely that one stood on the interior of the southern wall. Most of the remains of the building had been robbed in antiquity, and only a small attached room along the southeastern corner has survived. In its rubble foundations were found materials from the third century, allowing the excavators to posit a date for the construction of the building in the third century c.e. It may be assumed that its final period of use came in ca. 363, when the rest of the town was abandoned.

Remains from the lower city show a vibrant town with shops and living complexes that reflect the indigenous life style of the Land of Israel in late antiquity, with many industrial and agricultural installations dotting the interior spaces of the town in the rabbinic period. Olive oil production was very common in the region and its importance is reflected in the material culture of Meron. A room full of charred foodstuffs, possibly intended as *hekdesh, was found in one of the more upscale homes in the lower city, as was a mikveh in another, pointing to a community that observed Jewish laws.

After the abandonment of the site in the second half of the fourth century the site was reoccupied in the 13th–14th century, while some evidence for the 15th century also exists along with the evidence of pilgrim travelers such as Rabbi Obadiah of *Bertinoro (1495). In the 16th century Meron was a Muslim village with approximately 500 souls with an economy similar to the ancient one and based on the cultivation of wheat, fruit, and olives. In early modern times cotton was also raised, and there were some 60 known olive presses known to have been in operation at this time.

[Eric M. Meyers (2nd ed.)]

The modern moshav Meron, at the foot of Mt. Meron, affiliated with the Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi Moshavim Association. Founded in 1949, near the yeshivah and remnants of the ancient Meron synagogue, by immigrants from Hungary and Czechoslovakia, it specialized in hill farming, with deciduous fruit orchards, dairy cattle, and poultry as major branches. In the mid-1990s, the population was approximately 605, increasing to 805 in 2002.

[Efraim Orni]

bibliography:

H. Kohl, and C. Watzinger, Antike Synagogen in Galilaea (1916); E.M. Meyers, J.F. Strange, and C.L Meyers, Excavations at Ancient Meiron, Upper Galilee, Israel (1981); N. Feig, "Salvage Excavations at Meron," in: Atiqot, 43 (2002), 87–107.

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