Our knowledge about the Galilee in the Hellenistic period is extremely limited. Very few historical sources refer to this region between the Assyrian conquest in the eighth century B.C.E. and the Roman conquest in the mid-first century B.C.E. Archaeological data from the interior of the Galilee are scarce, comprising mainly of survey data or sparse finds from beneath massive Roman and Byzantine layers. In fact, the only substantial data used today to study Hellenistic Galilee come from sites outside the region or on it borders, such as Beth Shean to the south, Akko to the west and Tel Kedesh to the north—the latter belonging to the Phoenician realm. As a result, much remains unclear about key matters, such as the material culture or settlement patterns of Hellenistic Galilee. The ethnic identity of the local population—a subject of interest for nearly two centuries of modern scholarship—is also far from clear. While we have ample evidence for a dense Jewish population in the region in the Early Roman period, we do not know if and how this population relates to that of the Hellenistic period. This matter is imperative for understanding the ethnic and cultural background against which early Christianity, and, later, to a large degree rabbinic Judaism, developed in the Galilee.
The meager nature of the archaeological data, especially from the region that would become the heart of Jewish Galilee, is due to a number of factors. First, Hellenistic Galilee was sparsely settled. Second, at many sites remains from this period are obscured because settlement persisted into the Roman and Byzantine periods. Finally, in quite a few cases archaeological excavations did not reach as far down as the Hellenistic strata. In an attempt to deal with these gaps in knowledge and to answer the above questions, in 2014 the Hebrew University of Jerusalem launched the Hellenistic Galilee Project. The purpose of the research is to study the material culture of the region, settlement patterns and the economy and above all, to try to shed light on the ethnic and religious identity of the population. The project is based on two complementary field studies. The first includes an archaeological survey of a strip of the Lower Galilee from the Akko Plain in the west eastward via the large valleys in the region’s center and as far as the Sea of Galilee. The survey aims to study the duration of settlement at Hellenistic period sites and discern differences in material culture between sites in the Western and Eastern Galilee. The second element is extensive excavation at a Hellenistic site with the goal of characterizing the material culture, construction methods and materials, plans of dwellings, water supply and trade ties as well as to identify the typology and chronology of the small finds, particularly the pottery.