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One of the Oldest Synagogues in the World Was Exposed in the Israel Antiquities Authority Excavations at Migdal

The synagogue and a menorah decoration found inside it date to the time when the Second Temple was still standing.
by Catholic.net Staff Writer | Source: Catholic.net

A synagogue from the Second Temple period (50 BCE-100 CE) was exposed in archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting at a site slated for the construction of a hotel on Migdal beach, in an area owned by the Ark New Gate Company. In the middle of the synagogue is a stone that is engraved with a seven-branched menorah (candelabrum), the likes of which have never been seen. The excavations were directed by archaeologists Dina Avshalom-Gorni and Arfan Najar of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The main hall of synagogue is c. 120 square meters in area and its stone benches, which served as seats for the worshippers, were built up against the walls of the hall. Its floor was made of mosaic and its walls were treated with colored plaster (frescos). A square stone, the top and four sides of which are adorned with reliefs, was discovered in the hall. The stone is engraved with a seven-branched menorah set atop a pedestal with a triangular base, which is flanked on either side by an amphora (jars).

According to the excavation director, Dina Avshalom-Gorni of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “We are dealing with an exciting and unique find. This is the first time that a menorah decoration has been discovered from the days when the Second Temple was still standing. This is the first menorah to be discovered in a Jewish context and that dates to the Second Temple period/beginning of the Early Roman period. We can assume that the engraving that appears on the stone, which the Israel Antiquities Authority uncovered, was done by an artist who saw the seven-branched menorah with his own eyes in the Temple in Jerusalem. The synagogue that was uncovered joins just six other synagogues in the world that are known to date to the Second Temple period”.

According to the Minister of Culture and Sport, MK Limor Livnat, “This important find attests to the extensive Jewish settlement in the northern region at the time of the Temple. I am certain that the site will constitute an attraction for tourists from abroad and from Israel and will shed light on life in the Jewish settlement during the Second Temple period”.

Jose Miguel Abat, legal representative of "Ark New Gate" company, expressed his joy for the finding and said it reinforces the company's intention to establish a center of dialogue and respect between the different religions and cultures. Abat said that "we are sure this finding and the planned  center will attract tourists and visitors from Israel and from around the World".

The synagogue is located in Migdal (‘Magdala’ in Aramaic), which is mentioned in Jewish sources. Migdal played an important role during the Great Revolt and was actually the main base of Yosef Ben Matityahu (Josephus Flavius), commander of the rebellion in the Galilee. Migdal also continued to resist the Romans after both the Galilee and Tiberias had surrendered. ‘Magdala’ is mentioned in Christian sources as the place whence Mary Magdalene came, one of the women who accompanied Jesus and the apostles and who Christian tradition has sanctified. After it was conquered by the Romans, the city was destroyed and many of its residents were killed. At the end of the Second Temple period Migdal was an administrative center of the western basin of the Sea of Galilee. Until the founding of Tiberias in the year 19 CE, Migdal was the only important settlement along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

The site is currently closed to visitors and will be opened to the public in the future.

Click here to download high resolution photographs of the synagogue.
1. An aerial picture of the synagogue. Photograph: Skyview Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
2. Picture of the decorated stone. Photographic credit: Moshe Hartal, Israel Antiquities Authority.

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