Category Archives: Synagogues

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!

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First Century Synagogue at Magdala — Did Jesus Worship Here?

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Click on Panorama to view descriptive details.

In 2009, in preparation for the construction of a Franciscan Retreat Center on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, excavations took place before the construction began.  Much to the surprise of the excavators they came down upon a first century A.D. synagogue.

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The Interior of the First Century Synagogue at Magdala at the time of excavation
Note the benches around the side, the frescoed columns, and especially the unique stone box in the center of the image
Click to Enlarge — Photo: Gordon Franz

The synagogue measures 33 x 33 ft. and has benches on all four walls.  There is evidence that it was renovated between A.D. 40 and 50.  A coin from A.D. 29 was found among the debris and the synagogue was destroyed in A.D. 67 when Titus (the Roman General, later emperor) leveled the city.

If this dating, and interpretation are correct, it is very probable that Jesus, His disciples, Mary Magdalene, and others worshiped in this structure!!

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The “Stone Box” in-situ
Note the representation of a Seven Branch Menorah (on a tripod) that is flanked by two vases and clusters of columns
Click on Image to Enlarge — Photo: Gordon Franz

This solid “stone box” is totally unique.  Who ever carved the menorah probably saw the ones in the Temple in Jerusalem (prior to its destruction in A.D. 70).

For brief comments on Magdala see below
For 12 images of the Stone Box, Frescos,
and Mosaics of the Synagogue Click Here.
Many of these images are courtesy of Gordon Franz who publishes
articles on his website Life and Land

The site of al–Majdal (Arabic for “tower”) is located 4 mi. northwest of Tiberias, along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.  This is evidently the site of New Testament Magdala (from migdol “tower”) that is the same as Taricheae (“the place of salted fish”) mentioned by Josephus where a bloody naval battle took place between the Jews and Romans during the first Jewish Revolt (ca. A.D. 66–70; War 3.10.1–10 [462–542]).

It was evidently the home of Mary Magdalene, one of the followers of Jesus who is mentioned 12 times in the NT.  It actually may also be the site of “Magadan: (Matt 15:39) and/or “Dalmanutha” (Mark 8:10).

The site was excavated in the 1970’s and more recent (ongoing) excavations have found the remains of an early Jewish Synagogue dated to the first century A.D. as well as ritual baths, streets, houses, and even the wharf.

First Century Synagogues and Corinth Books

The folk over at The Ancient Near East Today, ASOR, newsletter have published a link to a new FREE SBL book Invention of the First–Century Synagogue by Lidia D. Matassa, SBL, 2018. It is a 289 page book in pdf format and is a fee Download HERE.  I have not yet had time to read it but the Table of Contents indicates a treatment of the synagogues at Delos, Jericho, Masada, Herodium, and Gamla.  Please see the comment below as to why other first century synagogues, such as those at  Magdala and Umm el–’Umdan were not included.  (Thank you to Gene Dahmes [below] for drawing this to my attention).

Ancient Corinth: Site Guide (7th edition), 2018, multiple authors.  This is the first official guidebook to the site of ancient Corinth published by the ASCSA in over 50 years, and it comes fully updated with the most current information, color photos, maps, and plans. It is an indispensable resource for the casual tourist or professional archaeologist new to the site.

 

More Interesting Viewing

Here in the USA the Public Broadcasting System is airing Ancient Invisible Cities — three one hour programs on the cities of Athens, Cairo, and Istanbul.  This past week I saw the one on Athens and it was very interesting.  It took me to places that I had not seen before and used computer graphics to investigate a structure such as the Erechtheum on the Acropolis.  It is available online right now at:

Carl Rasmussen Copyright and Contact

And, the folk at Jerusalem Perspective have placed on line a 54 min lecture (with pictures) by Ronny Reich entitled “The Mikveh and Ritual Immerson in the Second Temple Period.”  Ronny Reich is of course famous for many excavations—but especially at the Gihon Spring and the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem.

This is an informative lecture about the archaeology and literary sources that describe miqvaoth.  You will want to have pen and paper at hand to take notes.  Around 14:00–26:00 he describes the minimun requirements for a miqveh.  And talks about miqvaoth discovered in the Jewish Quarter by Avigad and near the Temple Mount by Mazar.  Also ones at Gamla (33:00), Jericho (41:45), Masada (48:20), and Qumran.  I always wondered how they cleaned them and exactly how an otzar worked—here I found out.  But remember, this is as of 2006, before the discovery of many additional ritual baths such as the ones at Magdala.


Here are two miqvaoth samples from Jerusalem that are not discussed by Reich and one question (from me) from Jericho.

This ritual bath (miqveh) is located in Benjamin Mazar’s excavations south of the Triple Gate of the Temple Mount (Haram esh-Sharif) area.

Ritual Bath recently discovered in the Rabbinic Tunnel Complex near the Western Wall.

Note the steps that lead down into the ritual bath (miqvah).  Our guide suggested that this ritual bath may have been used by the priests that served in the Temple itself.  But, since it looks like it would have been difficult to immerse oneself in this bath/pool/basin, our guide said that an alternative view is that it was a place where ritual vessels were washed (purified).  It seems to me that this bath/pool is very similar in design to the larger one that was found by Benjamin Mazar south of the Temple Mount.

This large ritual bath is from the late Second Temple Period  (New Testament era) and is located on the lower eastern  slope of the Western Hill—west of the Temple Mount proper.


My Question: is this a Balsam Processing Pool?  It looks like one of the above Ritual Baths.  Also, see here!

Okay, from Jericho. Is this a Balsam processing pool? Or a Ritual Bath?

This is a view of a pool that, according to the excavator, was used for the soaking of Balsam branches.

The balsam plantations at Jericho were world famous and this precious commodity was shipped all over the Roman World.  To harvest it I believe that usually not-too-deep slits were cut into the branches of the bush with either a sharp bone or piece of glass—never with a metal knife.  The sap that came out was processed for its scent.

Evidently, another method included the cutting and soaking of crushed branches, in a pool such as this, but I am not certain how that process actually worked.  I am guessing that the finished product, although valuable, was not as good quality as that produced by the method described above.

See Netzer, Ehud, and Rachel Laureys–Chachy. The Architecture of Herod, the Great Builder. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008, pp. 42–80.

Magdala — Some Uncertainties

My late, great, and brilliant Professor (and colleague) Anson Rainey use to tell his students, “let me enrich you with some new uncertainties!”

The synagogue during excavation. The “stone box” is in the center of the Image. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Since many readers of this blog have visited Magdala, located along the northern part of the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, I thought I would share a link to a recent article by Dr. David Gurevich who has revisited some of the interpretations of the Synagogue at Magdala—especially those presented by the volunteer guides at the site.  “Magdala’s Stone of Contention.”

Reconstruction of the Synagogue with the entrance on the west side.

For example, Gurevich notes that the entrance of the synagogue on the west side is a complete reconstruction!  He believes that it was on the south side.

Much of the article is taken up with a variety of interpretations of the now-famous “Magdala Stone.”

The “Stone” with the Menorah. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Is it a table for the Torah Scroll?  An Incense Altar?  A representation of the Second Temple?  A Prayer Table?  Gurevich’s article discusses all of these possibilities.

Magdala’ Stone of Contention” by Dr. David Gurevich is scholarly, but non–technical.  IMHO —a worthwhile 10 to 12 minute read.

For 16 photos of the Synagogue Click Here.  For previous blog posts on Magdala see Synagogue, the Stone, and The Chapel.

 

 

Baram — The Synagogue

BaramAlmost all travelers to Israel will visit the justly famous synagogue at Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee—and some will even visit the one at nearby Chorazin.  However, the best preserved of the “Galilean Type” synagogues is the one located at the not-too-frequently visited site of Baram.  It is located in Upper Galilee, about 1.2 mi. [2 km.] south of the Israeli Lebanese border.

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View looking northeast at the southern façade of the synagogue at Baram
This southern wall is still intact—in contrast to the rebuilt walls of the synagogues at Capernaum and Chroazin
Click on Image to Enlarge

Note the light color of the building.  The darker grey upper portion was exposed to the elements over the years while the lighter lower portion was buried—until excavated.

There were eight columns that supported the roof of the porch—the one on the right (east) side is still standing!  The three main doors faced south—towards Jerusalem.  Stylistically, this synagogue is very similar to the more well–known ones at Capernaum and Chorazin.

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View looking southeast at the interior of the synagogue
Click on Image to Enlarge

Like the synagogues at Capernaum and Chorazin, the one at Baram has a central nave, two side aisles, and a back aisle.  The three main doors faced south—towards Jerusalem.   The floor of this synagogue was paved with limestone slabs (not mosaics).  There are indications that there were benches along the two side walls.

The dating of these “Galilean” synagogues is much debated with dates ranging from the third century A.D. (unlikely) to the six century (more probable).

To view additional images of the Baram Synagogue Click Here.

On Monday I will comment on the “modern” history of Baram—Kfar Bir’im.

Magdala: the Chapel of the Encounter — Hemorrhaging Woman

For the many who have inquired, this mural is available for purchase Here.

In a recent visit to Magdala the students of the Jerusalem University College were graciously and expertly hosted by the excavator Arfan Najjar and Jennifer Ristine.

I like to visit Magdala for two reasons. One is to visit the antiquities of the First Century Synagogue and the Second is to reflect on the role of women among the first followers of Jesus.

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The Encounter Chapel, in the lower lever of Duc In Altum, is dedicated to Jesus’ encounter of all of us, as illustrated by the hemorrhaging woman.  Note how she touches the hem of Jesus’ garment.  (Mark 5:25–34)

The Encounter Chapel is first of all an archeological treasure: the floor is that of the original first century market place of the Magdala port.

A port market place is about as busy a spot in any town you can imagine – probably the main metro train station or airport in our terms – where people without any discrimination rub shoulders.
Since we have also discovered significant infrastructure for fish processing, it is most logical that fishermen of the Sea of Galilee, many known to us by on a first name basis, who wanted to sell their fish for export to Rome (documented by Flavius Josephus) would have gravitated to Magdala’s port, probably not unfamiliar to Jesus’ fishermen disciples. Jesus´ ease at sitting in their boats and mingling with large crowds helps us to see many people encountering him in this marketplace and he can engage the workers and the traders.

The large painting (titled “Encounter”) gives us a snapshot of the encounter of the hemorrhaging woman who tries to touch Jesus for healing (Mark 5: 25-29).

The Encounter Chapel, in the lower lever of Duc In Altum, is dedicated to Jesus’ encounter of all of us, as illustrated by the hemorrhaging woman. Located on the marketplace of the first century port, the Encounter Chapel is modeled after the structure of the Magdala First Century Synagogue with room for up to 120 people.

As you visit the Sea of Galilee and reflect on Jesus’ ministry in the area, I commend to you a visit to Magdala—about 1 to 1.5 hours so see it all.


Daniel Cariola is the creator of the mural of the “encounter.”  For more information on the mural I suggest that you contact the folk at Magdala directly:
info@magdala.org
http://www.magdala.org