Tag Archives: Synagogue

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.

Deir Aziz Synagogue (Golan Heights)

Deir Aziz (“Monastery of Aziz”) is a site  located 4 mi. [6.5 km.] east of the Sea of Galilee on the north side of a wadi that flows into the Nahal Qanaf.  There is a very powerful spring at Deir Aziz and the remains of a prominent synagogue that dates to the Talmudic/Byzantine Period.

Synagogue at Deir Aziz — Looking Southwest

View looking down, southwest at the interior of the synagogue.  The woman in the image is sitting near the south wall of the synagogue.  On the upper right note the stairs that lead down into the synagogue.

The synagogue was first built during the sixth century AD and was evidently destroyed in the earthquake of AD 749.  The scattered remains are from the synagogue and subsequent usage.

Deir Aziz — Interior — Looking East

The door on the far side is the entrance to the synagogue from the east.  On the left (north) side of the image notice the three-tiered bench and behind it the plastered wall.  Above the wall notice the projecting stones.  These stones probably supported wooden beams that supported the roof of the synagogue.

Deir Aziz — Spring and Pool

View of the “modern” pool at Deir Aziz that is fed by the powerful spring at the site.  Note the sabra cactus plants on this side of the pool.

To locate Deir Aziz on a map, and for additional images, Click Here.

One of the Best Preserved Ancient Synagogues in Israel

In a past issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review the process of the reconstruction of the synagogue at Umm el–Kanatir was described.  The following are some images of the site.  Additional images of this interesting synagogue can be viewed on my website.  See HERE for a recent Jerusalem Post article on the synagoguge.

Entrance to synagogue at Umm el–Qanatir

Umm el–Q/Kanatir (The Mother of the Arch) is a site located on the upper reaches of the Wadi Samekh, 5 mi. [8.5 km.] east of the Sea of Galilee on the Golan Heights.  It boasts one of the best-preserved ancient synagogues in the land—90% of the remains (collapsed) were still in place after the earthquake of AD 749.  It is in the process of being reconstructed (anastylosis) by Yehoshua Dray and his colleagues.

Menorah — One of Several Found in the Remains of the Synagogue at Umm el–Qanatir

The village—ancient name not known—was constructed in the fourth or fifth century AD and was destroyed by the devastating earthquake of AD 749.

Spring and Flax Processing Installation

In addition to the synagogue, remnants of a flax processing installation have been discovered by the spring in the village.

To view additional high-resolution images of Umm el-Qanatir Click Here.

For additional information about Umm el–Q/Kanatir see Yeshu Dray’s web site and Singer, Suzanne F. “Rising Again — Hi–tech Tools Reconstruct Umm el–Kanatir.”Biblical Archaeological Review vol. 33, no. 6 (November/December, 2007): 52–55, 59.

For the recent article see:  Ben David, Chaim. “Um [sic] el–Kanatir — Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again.” Biblical Archaeological Review 42, no. 4 (July/August 2016): 40–49.

See also the recent Jerusalem Post article.

Jewish Presence In Asia Minor: Andriace

AndriakeMap031009Andriace (also Andriake) is a port city located on the southern coast of Turkey in an area known in ancient times as Lycia.  Andriace served as the port of Myra that is located 3 mi. [5 km.] to the northeast.  It evidently was a major point for the trans–shipment  grain.

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Granary of Hadrian at Andriace—the Port of Myra
Grain was stored in this facility for shipment to Rome
Paul’s ship stopped here on his way to Rome (Acts 27:5-6)
Click on image to Enlarge/Download

The grain came from the plain near Myra, and possibly from cargo ships, bringing it from Egypt.  From Andriace it was shipped to Rome or to other parts of the Roman Empire.

Although not mentioned specifically in the Bible, the apostle Paul probably changed ships in Andriace in A.D. 60 on his way to Rome after he had appealed to have his case tried before Caesar.  Acts 27:5–6 describes this portion of his trip from Caesarea to Rome in this way:

“when we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia.  There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board.”

Much of this must have transpired in Andriace, the port of Myra.

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View looking south at the apse of the Synagogue discovered at Andriace
Click on image to Enlarge/Download

View looking south at the “synagogue” that was discovered at Andriace.  On the left (east) side of the image, behind the people, Hadrian’s granary is visible.

The “apse” of the synagogue appears to be facing south—approximately towards Jerusalem—which is southeast of Andriace.  The proximity of this structure to the granary is also interesting.

Fifteen images of Andriace are available by Clicking Here.

A report on the excavations and inscriptions at Andriace can be found in Nevzat Çevik, Özgü Çomezoglu, Hüseyin Sami Öztürk, and Inci Türkoglu, “A Unique Discovery in Lycia: The Ancient Synagogue at Andriake, Port of Myra.”  Adalya XIII (2010), 335–66.

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.

A Jerusalem Synagogue Building from Jesus’ Time?

In 1913 Raymond Weill excavated in the “City of David” and found a large limestone block—ca. 30 in. x 16 in.—that contained a clear 10 line Greek inscription.

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“Theodotus Synagogue Inscription” found in Jerusalem. Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The inscription reads:

“Theodotos, son of Vettenos, priest and head of the synagogue, son of the head of the synagogue, who was also the son of the head of the synagogue, built the synagogue for the reading of the Law and for the study of the precepts, as well as the hospice [inn or temporary residence] and the chambers and the bathing–establishment, for lodging those who need them, from abroad; it (the synagogue) was founded by his ancestors and the elders and the Simonides.” (Translation from a sign in Israel Museum where the object is on display)

Most scholars date the inscription to prior to AD 70—that is before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  If this dating is correct, then this inscription provides clear contemporary evidence of at least one synagogue building in Jerusalem even while the Temple was still standing!

The term “synagogue” is used 43 times in the Gospels in association with the ministry of Jesus.  In one instance, Luke 7:1–8, there is a clear reference to a building—not merely a “gathering.”  But archaeologically, not many first century AD synagogue buildings have been found—thus the importance of a synagogue building being mentioned in this first century inscription.

According to this inscription it is also clear that the Torah was read and the “precepts” were studied (= teaching of the commandments) in the synagogue.

Note, that there is no mention of prayers and/or singing!  Note too that neither praying nor singing are mentioned in Jesus’ experience in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16–30), nor in Paul’s experience in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch, ca. AD 37 (Acts 13:14ff).

In addition there was an “inn” with auxiliary rooms and installations near the Jerusalem synagogue.  This was for the use of Jewish pilgrims from “abroad”—note the 15 different people groups that were in Jerusalem on Pentecost (Acts 2:7–12).


For an accessible discussion of this inscription see:   Fant, Clyde E., and Mitchell G. Reddish, “Theodotus Synagogue Inscription,” pp. 358–60.   Lost Treasures of the Bible — Understanding the Bible Through Archaeological Artifacts in World Museums. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.  They also have provided a translation of the inscription on page 358.

For a detailed discussion of this inscription see:  Kloppenborg, John S.     “The Theodotos Synagogue Inscription and the Problem of First –Century Synagogue Buildings.” Pages 236–82 in Jesus and Archaeology. Edited by James H. Charlesworth. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006.