The Earliest Synagogue in Israel? Used by the Maccabees?

First of all — Happy Hanukkah!
A SYNAGOGUE USED BY THE MACCABEES?

The folk over at Bible History Daily have drawn attention to  an article “Modi’in: Where the Maccabees Lived Have excavations uncovered the hometown [synagogue?] of the Maccabees, heroes of Hanukkah’s Maccabean revolt?”  Just in time for Hanukkah!

I don’t believe that any tour groups stop at this site so I thought I would share two images of the site (Umm el–’Umdan; Arabic for “Mother of the Columns”).

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View looking west at the synagogue at Umm el–’Umdan (Arabic for “Mother of the Columns”.

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The red “c’s” are column bases. Note the remains of the courtyard, entrance, and benches.

Excavations conducted in the past decade at Umm el-‘Umdan (Arabic for “Mother of Columns”) by authors Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah and Alexander Onn (recently deceased) revealed a previously unknown synagogue—featuring eight imposing columns—likely built during the reign of King Herod. But what about earlier? What was at Umm el-‘Umdan during the time of the Maccabees and the Maccabean revolt?

Directly beneath the Herodian synagogue lies a smaller synagogue constructed during the Hasmonean period, and beneath this was a structure securely dated to the end of the third or beginning of the second century B.C.E. According to the excavators, this structure must have been contemporaneous to the time of the Maccabees and the Maccabean revolt. While this Early Hellenistic building influenced the location and shape of the two synagogues built atop it in subsequent centuries, the excavators believe that there is not enough information at the time to conclude that the Early Hellenistic building was also a synagogue.

If the excavators are correct in their interpretation and dating of the above mentioned three structures, then structures two and three (earliest) might well be the earliest synagogue(s) discovered in Israel!   They seem to suggest that structure 2 is a synagogue.

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A more detailed view of Umm el–’Umdan.

For more evidence confirming Umm el-‘Umdan’s Jewish identity in antiquity as well as a discussion of the linguistic relationship between the Hebrew name Modi’in and the Arabic name Umm el-‘Umdan, see “Modi’in: Hometown of the Maccabees” by Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah and Alexander Onn in the March/April 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Happy Hanukkah!

Changes at Sardis — One of the 7 Churches of Revelation

In October 2021 we led a group of 30 trekkers Following in the Footsteps of Paul to Turkey and Greece. Along the way, we noticed a number of interesting changes and in the next few posts I will share some of them.

We noticed that at Sardis, and a few other sites in Turkey, the “authorities” were adding better amenities for the visitors. For example at Sardis, they had removed the ticket booths and the primitive restroom facilities. These upgrades will add to the visitors’ experience. [congratulations to the “Turkish Authorities”]

One of them was at the Synagogue of Sardis.

The large 4th-6th century Synagogue at Sardis.

At Sardis a major change (upgrade?) is that the “authorities” are going to place a permanent roof over the Synagogue.

The Palestra (exercise area) of Sardis.

The framework for the roof of the synagogue in the Palestra.
On the right, the walls of the Synagogue with the supporting posts in place to receive the new roof of the Synagogue.

I am not certain if this change is “good.” But I assume that it will help preserve the important synagogue remains from the “elements.”

If you would like to explore the possibility of joining our 18-day Following in the Footsteps of Paul: Turkey, Greece, and Patmos (May 15–June 1, 2022), you are invited to contact me for details at 2footstepstours@gmail.com.

New Email Addresses

I recently returned from leading a group of 32 to Turkey and Greece—Following in the Footsteps of Paul. Over the next few blogs I will share some of my impressions and images of how International Travel has changed—as of October 2021.

Carl Rasmussen Copyright and Contact — Our October, 2021 Group at Corinth

Notice: beginning October 1, Comcast shut down all my email accounts with them—while I was abroad. These accounts will remain closed and I do not have access to any of those emails. Sigh!

My new email addresses are:

  • 2footstepstours@gmail.com
  • HolyLandPhotos@gmail.com

For those of you who might be interested, we are offering an 18 day trip to Turkey and Greece, Following in the Footsteps of Paul. You are welcome to contact me if you would like additional information. 2footstepstours@gmail.com.

July 4 in USA — Lycian League — A Model for the Founding of the USA

QUICK — what was the Lycian League?  Not many of us know, but Alexander Hamilton and James Madison knew!  Yes, the “Lycian Confederation” is mentioned four times in the Federalist Papers that were produced between 1787–1788 (#9, 16, 45).  Over 2,000 years ago it met in Patara—the same place where Paul and Luke changed ships on their way to Jerusalem (Acts 21:1-3).

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View of the exterior of the reconstructed Council Chamber (Bouleuterion) at Patara
January 2014 — Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

So what was the Lycian Confederation/League?  First, Lycia was/is a geopolitical region located along the Mediterranean Coast of modern Turkey, often called the Turquoise Coast­ because of its beauty! (see map below) The 23 cities that made up the Confederation/League were located along the Mediterranean coast or in the nearby rugged Taurus Mountains (but the number of cities varied from time to time).

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View of the interior of the Council House at Patara
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

The Lycian Confederation is the first known republic union in history!  One of the features of this Confederation is that they committed themselves to be governed by a central assembly (Greek: synedrion) that they themselves elected.  However, in fairness, the larger cities were allotted more representatives than the smaller ones.  Large cities such as Xanthos, Patara, Myra, Pinara, Tlos, and Olympos were allotted three representatives each (the maximum allowed).

The Lycian Confederation met at Patara—almost certainly in the Bouleuterion pictured above.  It was thus here (at the out-of-the-way site of Patara) that proportional representative government first got its start.  And, it was not until the founding of the United States (2,000 years later!!) that this concept was revived in the US House of Representatives (note the semi-circular seating arrangement of its chamber)!!

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The Rugged Taurus Mountains and the Mediterranean Coast of Lycia
The cities of the Lycian Confederation were located along the coast or in the mountains
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The league itself may go back to around 205 B.C.  This early form of the league would have had the power to decide questions of war, peace, and alliances.   In 168 B.C., while still under Roman control, the Romans allowed these cities to still assemble together to govern themselves as a unit—but the power to decide questions of war, peace, and alliances were now Rome’s prerogative.

This body elected persons who administered the Lycian League for a year at a time.  The council elected judges.  Voted proportional taxes.  A league court decided disputes between the cities.

189_PataraMapI have posted 5 photos of this historic meeting place on my web site,
both before and after it was excavated/reconstructed.

For a great summary article on the Lycian League and Patara see the article in Saudi Aramco World 2007.

The Cave/Grotto of Paul and Thecla at Ephesus

One of the most interesting early extra–biblical stories is the one of Paul and Thecla (2nd century A.D.; Thecla is said to have been a female companion of Paul and eventually [for most of her life] a respected preacher of the Christian faith).

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From right to left: Theocleia (mother of Thecla), Paul, and Thecla
Fresco from the Grotto of Saint Paul at Ephesus
Click on Image to Enlarge

At Ephesus there is a not–too–frequently–visited cave sometimes called “The Grotto of Paul” (= Cave of Paul & Thecla).  It is located on the northern slope of Bülbül Dag, away from the normal visitors’ routes through Ephesus.  It overlooks the site of ancient Ephesus from the south.

On the western wall of the grotto a painting portrays an event from the apocryphal book called The Acts of Paul and Thecla (ca. early second century A.D.).  The painting (5th/6th century A.D.) depicts the initial event described in the book, in the city of Iconium, where Thecla is looking from a window at Paul preaching while Thecla’s mother (Theocleia) looks on.  Thecla, against the wishes of her mother and her finance Thamyris, gave up her betrothal (engagement) in order to remain a virgin and to follow Paul.

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Detail of Thecla looking down from a window at Paul preaching
Paul’s raised hand is visible on the right
Click on Image to Enlarge

Eventually Thecla was separated from Paul and became a significant preacher and witness to her faith.  Her life and impact has been much discussed during the past thirty years and this painting has figured large in the discussions.

In addition, The Acts of Paul and Thecla contains the earliest physical description of Paul:

“And he [Onesiphorus] saw Paul coming [towards Iconium], a man small in size, bald-headed, bandy-legged, well-built, with eyebrows meeting, rather long-nosed, full of grace.”

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Paul and Theocleia (mother of Thecla) — Note the names spelled out in Greek
Also compare the artistic representation of Paul with the literary
Click on Image to Enlarge

The facial image of Paul in the fresco seems to match this description as do iconographic representations of Paul.

The cave seems to have served as a chapel from the early Byzantine period through the early 19th century.

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Vestibule to “The Grotto of Paul and Thecla” at Ephesus

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Plan of “The Grotto of Paul and Thecla”

The grotto is 50 ft. long 6.5 ft. wide and 7.5 ft. high gallery that was expanded to the south in the form of a “presbytery.”  It was excavated by Dr. Renate Pillinger from the University of Vienna in 1995.

Not familiar with the fascinating story of Paul and Thecla?  You can get a Kindle version of the story for only $1.99 in the New Testament Apocrypha—along with 43 other stories!

To view additional images of this Grotto and Frescos Click Here.

Cenchreae — a very unusual find

In a previous post I shared some images of the harbor at Cenchreae and related the site to the Apostle Paul and Phoebe.

Although the site has not been excavated, FIFTY (yes, 50) wooden crates containing glass panels that portray the harbor of Cenchreae were discovered in the harbor.

The panels were never put into place – but they apparently depict the harbor. They evidently were being stored in the Temple of Isis when the earthquake destroyed the harbor in A.D. 375. These panels probably depict the harbor as of A.D. 370. They are labeled as opus sectile panels that are composed of colored glass! I am not sure where they were intended to be placed. On floors? On walls? Or?

The following are a few of the panels that are on display in the nearby museum at Isthmia. I think they will be best viewed if you click on, and enlarge, the image.

Harbor, buildings, fisherman, boat, etc. Please Click on Image to Enlarge for Viewing.

Note the standing fisherman on the right side of the image. of center.  Just to the left and below him the white “lighthouse” that stood on the southern mole is depicted.  To the left of the lighthouse are three windows (filled with yellow light) and to the left of them, a building with six columns is depicted. Also on the left side of the image, from top to bottom note a sailboat and on the extreme left a squid.

The Harbor or Cenchreae—ca. A.D. 370. Please Click on Image to Enlarge for Viewing.

Note the standing fisherman just left of center. Just to the left and below him the white “lighthouse” that stood on the southern mole is depicted. Above him and to the right the “lighthouse” of the northern mole is visible. Note the semi-circular columned wharf that connects the two lighthouses.

Carl Rasmussen Copyright and Contact

Cenchrea — a port of Corinth

Cenchrea was Corinth’s port that was located about 6.5mi. [9 km.] east on the Saronic Gulf.  It was Corinth’s life-line to Athens, to Asia Minor, and to additional ports in the eastern Mediterranean.

Having stayed at Corinth for 18 months, Paul set sail for Jerusalem (via Ephesus and Caesarea) from here at the end of his second missionary journey (Acts 18:18).  Just prior to his departure he cut his hair in Cenchrea—in fulfillment of a vow (18:18)

Later, writing to the church at Rome while staying at Corinth on his third journey, Paul commends Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea to the church at Rome (Romans 16:1-2).

A picture looking north at the north mole that stretches from left (land) to right, out into the sea. The port area is between where this picture was taken and the mole. It has subsided because of earthquakes. On the seaside point of the mole are the remains of a Roman Tower.

View looking south across the harbor at the remains of the southern mole which extends out into the water.
View looking east from the shore at the remnants of the southern mole of the port of Cenchreae.

Due to seismic activity, the harbor of Cenchreae has sunk about 7.5 ft [2.3 m.] from the New Testament era. In Paul’s day this basilica shaped structure may have been a temple for the deity Isis. Later it may have been turned into a church dedicated to Phoebe.

Why Corinth?

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See the full size image below!

At the time of Paul’s visits to Corinth it was a thriving commercial city of over 200,000 people.

Corinth was situated in the northeastern corner of the Peloponnese — very near the narrow land bridge (isthmus) that connected the Peloponnese to the mainland of Greece. Its strategic location was enhanced due to its proximity to the diolkos — the stone-paved roadway that connected the Saronic Gulf with the Gulf of Corinth. By using this overland passageway, passengers and cargo avoided the difficult and time-consuming trip around the southern end of the Peloponnese.

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The Isthmus of Corinth from the air. For comments on this image, see above. To Enlarge and/or Download Click on Image.

The Greek city of Corinth had been (partly) destroyed by the Romans in 146 B.C., but the rebuilding process, as a Roman city, had begun by 44 B.C.  For a long time it had been famous for its immorality (think prostitutes associated with the Temple of Aphrodite) and its commercial character. Its two harbors were Lechaion (Gulf of Corinth) and Cenchreae (Saronic Gulf). Every two years important games were held at nearby Isthmia.

Paul spent 18 months here on his second journey and maybe three months on his third. The letters of first and second Corinthians were written to the church here, and Paul probably wrote first and second Thessalonians and Romans while in Corinth.


To view important artifacts from Corinth, including the Erastus inscription, a menorah, and others, Click Here.

Excavations have been conducted at Corinth for over 100 years. Major finds have helped us understand the history and culture of the city that Paul spent so long ministering in. See the images included in this section and John McRay’s Archaeology and the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1991.  To view for purchase Click Here.

Suggestion:  You may also be interested in the images of the Corinth Canal, the diolkos, the port of Cenchreae, and the Acrocorinth.

God Fearers in the Synagogue and Early Church — Evidence from Miletus

MiletusMap3In the New Testament the book of Acts 13-28 describes the spread of Christianity primarily through the efforts of Paul and his companions.  As they traveled throughout Asia Minor and Greece some Jews and many Gentiles adopted the new faith.  Some of these Gentiles where already interested in the God of the Jews and involved in synagogue worship.  This group is mentioned several times in the book of Acts (Acts 13:16, 26, 43; 17:4, 17).

Clear evidence for the presence of a Jewish population living at Miletus, which Paul stopped at on the return leg of his Third Journey (Acts 20:15ff), is evidenced by an inscription that is located on the fifth row of seats on the southeast side of the large theater at Miletus (see below).

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Greek Theater Inscription
τόπoς Ειουδέων τῶν καὶ Θεοσεβίον”the place for the Jews and the God–worshipers” or
“the place of the Jews who are also God–worshipers”
Click on image to enlarge/download

τόπoς Ειουδέων τῶν καὶ Θεοσεβίον

This inscription seems to mark “reserved seating” for Jews and possibly related “God–worshipers.” There are other “reserved seat” markings in this, and other, theaters.  As it stands the inscription reads “the place of the Jews who are also God–worshipers.”

But some have suggested that whom ever wrote the inscription may have inverted the “τῶν καὶ.” If this is the case, then the inscription could refer to two groups of people, Jews and Gentile God–worshipers (= “the place for the Jews and the God–worshipers”). Compare the same categories found in the book of Acts, although not quite the same terminology (Acts 13:16, 26, 43; 17:4, 17).

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The Theater at Miletus
The “God-Fearer” inscription is located where the two people are sitting near the center of the image
Click on image to enlarge and/or download

To View More Images of Miletus Click Here.

Samos — Another “Hezekiah’s Tunnel”?

Some of the readers of this blog are familiar with the 1,760 ft. long “Hezekiah’s Tunnel” that brought water from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem.  At the southern end of this tunnel, a Hebrew Inscription was found on which it describes how the two gangs of workmen began at each end and worked towards the center.  The tunnel was built in the late 8th century B.C.

Not so well-known is the very similar Tunnel of Eupalinos that brought water to the ancient city of Samos (now called Pythagorio).  This tunnel was about 3,280 ft. [1,000 m.] long and was carved into solid rock by two groups of workmen—one group beginning at each end and meeting near the middle.  It was completed during the rule of Polycrates around 524 B.C.

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Interior of the 3,280 ft. long Tunnel of Eupalinos on the Island of Samos
The woman in the image is 5′ 2″ tall
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

The image above is the interior of the Tunnel of Eupalinos that brought water to the ancient city of Samos (now called Pythagorio).   The outline of the rock-hewn tunnel is very clear in this image.  The woman in the picture is 5′ 2″ [1.57 m.] tall.

The area in which she is standing was actually a “service area” that was used by workmen to maintain the tunnel.  The metal grating behind her, on the left side of the image, covers the deep channel in which the water actually flowed—in clay pipes.

For additional images of the Island of Samos Click Here.