Khirbet Kerak or Tel Beth Yerah “House of the Moon (god)” in Hebrew is a tel (archaeological mound) located on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The tel spans an area of over 50 acres—one of the largest in the Levant—and contains remains dating from the In the tell are finds from many periods, from the Chalcolithic period to the Crusader period, as well as the remains of a synagogue from the Talmudic period and the remains of a Byzantine church. Tel Beit Yerah identified with the ancient settlements of Beit Yerah and Sennabris – two adjacent Jewish towns, often mentioned in post-biblical Jewish writings and other sources from the Roman period.
Beth Yerah in Antiquity
The first settlement at Beth Yerah originated in the Chalcolithic period (about 6,000 years before our time) – from this period pits were discovered that were used to store food and cooking. From later periods small clay structures were discovered. About 5,000 years ago, the city of Beit Yerach was founded, which became the second-largest city in the country (after Jericho). Unique pottery was discovered from this period, as well as the city walls and cobbled streets that were paved in it. The city walls were built of clay bricks dried in the sun, and the wall thickness reached eight meters.
During the Early Bronze Age, the city grew and unique pottery, known as the “Khirbet Kerak Ware”, was discovered there. From this period a large barn was discovered. The barn was 30 by 40 meters in size and had wharves 10 meters wide that surrounded a paved pit. The foundations of eight round towers were discovered around the barn (there may have been two more towers, but their foundations were not discovered). These towers were used as grain barns, and they were built of mud bricks. This public grain barn could hold 1,500 tons of wheat kernels – an amount that could feed 6,000 people for an entire year.
From the Early Bronze Age, the remains of three walls remain, at least one of which continued in the direction of Degania A., which indicates that the Jordan did not flow in its current channel about 5,000 years ago. A secret tunnel that led to the Sea of Galilee was discovered under the wall. It may be a tunnel for transporting water or bringing water into the city, and if so, it is the oldest water tunnel discovered in the country. At the end of the Early Bronze Age, the city was abandoned, and from the Middle Bronze Age, only a few houses and a unique cemetery were discovered.
The Tel in the Hellenistic – Roman Period
The mound remained abandoned for about 1000 years, until the Hellenistic period in which the city grew again. Remains of pottery vessels from ancient Greece were discovered in the city – indicating a large-scale trade. A cache of silver shekel coins dating to the fourth century BCE was also discovered in the city. During this period, a wall was built around the city that was more than 1,600 meters long, four meters high, and 6-7 meters wide. The wall had alternating square and round towers, and also had a secret passage that allowed for exit from the city without being discovered.
During the period of the Great Revolt, in 67 CE, after the conquest of the city of Yodfat Roman army stayed in the city on its way to the Golan:
“He then came with three legions, and pitched his camp thirty furlongs off Tiberias, at a certain station easily seen by the innovators. It is named Sennabris”Josephus, Jewish War 3.9.7
In Sennabris was the headquarters of the Romans and the soldiers themselves camped around the south of the Sea of Galilee. Vespasian’s goal was to break the spirit of the rebels who saw from the Golan (Gamala) the 18,000 soldiers stationed around the Sea of Galilee. In the Roman period a large bathhouse, a synagogue, and a fortress were built in the city, and in the Byzantine period, a large church was built in the city. The magnificent bathhouse, which was the “community center”, included a cold water hall (frigidarium) which was covered with white marble, and its ceiling was covered with gilded mosaic, a hot room (caldarium), and a tepid room (tepidarium) south and east of the cold water hall. Respectively. The warm room and the tepid room were built on pillars and under the pillars flowed hot air that warmed the rooms.
The Tel in the Byzangtine Period
In the Byzantine period, a water aqueduct was also built that flowed water to the city from a nearby river. The fortress built in the Roman period was a square structure and was built of dressed fieldstones. Towers were built in every corner of the fort. A pillar with a seven-branched lamp, a Lulav (a closed frond of the date palm tree), an Etrog (Citrus Medica), and an ash pan were engraved inside the citadel – probably the origin of the pillar in an earlier structure.
The synagogue was a large structure and was divided by two rows of columns into a central hall and two side halls. In the southern wall, facing Jerusalem, was an apse that served as a shrine. The synagogue was paved with colorful mosaics depicting plants and animals. Remains of a Jewish School were discovered near the synagogue. The city of “Sennabris” is often mentioned in Jewish post canonical texts of the period, especially in the Jerusalem Talmud and Midrashim, both because of its proximity to the source of the Jordan River and because of the local Jewish sage Rabbi Levi Zenbria.
The church built on the site in the Byzantine period was in the shape of a basilica and its floor was decorated with mosaics. The church was enlarged several times, and a mosaic added in the last extension dates it to 529. The church was destroyed in the seventh century, after the Arab conquest.
Beth Yerah in the Early Muslim Period
In the early Arab period, the caliphs of the Umayyad dynasty lived in the city during the winter months. The Winter Palace of the Caliphs was built on the remains of the Byzantine church. In 1113, a battle was fought near the city between the Crusaders and the Muslims, and before the Battle of Horns of Hittin, Saladin’s army camped in Sennabris. After the Crusader occupation, the city was abandoned and not rebuilt.