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May 14, 1982 - Image 64

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1982-05-14

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M Friday, May 14, 1982


'Ancient Synagogues Revealed inNew WSU Volum,e

Discovery and preserva- has edited offers the expia-
tion of ancient synagogues, nation.
Among the writers who
the devoted tasks of ar-
theologists in these efforts, _ discuss their synagogues
are among the very vital are some of the best-known
factors in scholarly efforts Israeli archeologists —
to retain historic records Yadin, the late Avi-Yonah,
and to assure the perpetuat- Z. Yeiv in , Avigad, M.
ing of the legacies while ac- Dothan, Ovadiah and
quiring and restoring the Tzaferis. Every tourist
ancient sites. group to Israel walks
- Tourists of all faiths in Is- through the sanctuary at
rael are enchanted when Capernaum, rests in the
they visit places like shade of the synagogues
Capernaum — Kfar Nahum high on Masada, and braves
— and the many other the heat of Tiberias to in-
synagogues, the newly re- spect the synagogue'S
discovered and unearthed. mosaic floor. And all groups
These tasks become evi- ask the guides the same
dent in the monumental questions:
How old are these
"Ancient Synagogues Re-
vealed" (Wayne State Uni- synagogues? Which is the
versity Press) edited by He- oldest? How many an-
brew University Prof. Lee I. cient synagogues are
Levine, containing the re- there in Israel? How do
searched studies of a score of we know that these once
authorities on the many were synagogues? Are
subjects covered in this vol- there more synagogues
yet to be discovered? Did
This impressive and in- the ancient Jews actually
formative volume was have sculpture and
co-published by WSU mosaic pictures in their
Press and the Israel sanctuaries?
The 39 essays, with more
Exploration Society. It is
a work for the lay reader, than 200 black-and-white
providing historical and nine color illustrations,
exactness assured by ex- in "Ancient Synagogues
perts who have been in- Revealed" answer these
volved in excavations. questions in passing while
They studied the remains providing a readable, up-
and their essays offer the to-date survey of the early
knowledge necessary as history and archeology of
an encouragement in the the synagogue. An indica-
great tasks evolving from _ tion of the richness of the
the archeological dig- material contained in this
book can be gathered by
Erosions are endangering summarizing the answers
the remains and the to these practical questions.
urgency of pursuing the Building inscriptions, ar-
exploratory with the objet- theological setting, style of
tives of preservation is the building, decorative pat-
encouragement derived terns, references in ancient
from this immense work. texts, the manner in which
Prof. Levine states: "To words are written in in-
anyone even remotely scriptions — all the re-
aware of the extent and na- sources of archeological re-
ture of archeological dis- search combine to suggest
covery in Israel during this the date of each building
century, a presentation of and when it was active.
the remains of ancient The earliest synagogue
synagogues requires little inscription dates back to the
explanation." . The work he Third Century BCE. The

earliest synagogue re-
mains, as yet found, may
date to the First Century
BCE, but they are part of a
problematic building over
which scholars still argue.
A great majority of
synagogues in Israel were
built in late Roman and
early Byzantine times, that
is, in the first half-dozen
centuries of the Common
But archeology offers no
guarantees. Tomorrow, a
farmer plowing in the
Galilee, or a road grader
working near the Lod air-
port, or a gardener on the
outskirts of Tel Aviv may
find his work interrupted by
a hidden row of stone blocks
that may add a new chapter
to the story of ancient
After carefully shoveling
and brushing away the ac-
cumulated rubbish and
earth of centuries from
stone foundations, a jumble
of building blocks, frag-
ments of columns and lin-
tels, and crumbling
mosaics, the archeologist
must decide what he has
found: synagogue, church,
pagan shrine or public hall?
The discovery of a dedi-
catory inscription in Greek,
Aramaic, or (more rarely)
Hebrew naming the donors
and time of building may be
the first sure sign.
If the associated carv-
ings or mosaic flooring
carry certain designs
that are uniquely Jewish
the menora, etrog,
lulav or shofar — he has
confirmation. And, fi-
nally, if the shape and
organization of the archi-
tecture bears strong re-
semblance to other
Synagogues, the ar-
cheologist can now say
with assurance he has re-
covered a synagogue.
As the several essays in
"Ancient Synagogues Re-
vealed" demonstrate, it is

The En-Gedi synagogue excavations near the Dead Sea.
the combination of these (western Turkey) a mag- sanctuaries were also deco-
with works of Jewish
several kinds of evidence, nificent synagogue. The rated
rather than any single one, hall, almost 177 feet in craftsmen mentioned in the
length and 60 feet wide, is Talmud, with wood carv-
that proves the case.
Several buildings still a clear measure of the ings, tapestries, woven
rugs and precious metal or-
carry question marks: Is the wealth and stature of the
"synagogue" nestled
The remains of more
Far to the east, in the
against the walls of Masada
correctly identified? The Third Century, on the than 100 synagogues
location, shape of the hall, banks of the Euphrates have been identified in
and built-in benches River, the Jewish mer- Israel alone, and several
suggest- a sanctuary, but chants and craftsmen of the more in the Diaspora:
Turkey, Greece
confirming evidence is lack- small desert town of Dura- Syria,
and Tunisia. A joint
ing. Josephus tells us of the Europos converted a private American-Yugoslavian
Jewish community on the house into its synagogue.
Greek island of Delos. Early This tiny community of expedition a few years
in this century, explorers Jews could not afford much ago discovered in the lat-
found there the remains of a more than humble adobe ter's country at Stobi, an
First Century BCE building brick walls, but they com- early
In Israel, just after the
that has many features in pletely covered them with
common with Galilean murals of scenes and events 1967 war, the synagogue of
Gamla was found. In 1970,
drawn from the Bible.
Many Jews are still sur- - synagogues at Tiberias,
If it is a synagogue, it is
and En-Gedi
also the earliest one yet prised to learn that the Jews Beth-Shean
were excavated; in 1974
found. But is it? Ar- of the Mediterranean and Maoz and Rehob revealed
Asia not only enjoyed the
cheologists do not know.
Fragments of architec- decorative arts, but, follow- synagogue remains.
tural decoration display- ing the example of their
American Jewry has
ing Jewish symbols, a Christian neighbors, embel- given strong support toward
broken stone slab with a lished their synagogues the excavation, preserva-
carefully carved dedica- with carvings, mosaics, and tion and publication of these
tion, or part of a niche paintings. As "Ancient precious relics of antiquity.
" that once held the Torah Synagogues Revealed"
The several essays in this
scrolls come out of the lavishly illustrates, pic- volume communicate the
soil of Israel every now
seasons, wild and domestic excitement of discovery, but
and then.
they also demonstrate the
Such- stones may have animals, floral patterns, bi- less exhilarating, but
been carried away and re-
crucial, de-
used in the walls of a house symbols cover the mosaic nonetheless
mand for careful study of
or barn by the natives and
The single example of the finds that force the
now are rediscovered in the
fragmentary remains to re-
deserted shambles. Or a wall paintings at Dura- veal their secrets, to tell us
kibutz plow may turn up a
of the history, the beliefs,
building inscription, tangi- other, now lost, early and the hopes of the people
ble evidence that someplace
living 1,500.years ago.
in the vicinity an unknown decorated. No doubt the
synagogue lies hidden
under the rocky soil.
The synagogues of the
Holy Land resemble the
contemporary Byzantine
churches, usually a rectan-
gular hall divided into
aisles by columns, with a
niche or raised area for the
bima, and a courtyard in
front. Single-storied with a
pitched roof, some may have
had a balcony for women. As
is to be expected, the larger
and wealthier congrega-
Shown are the 1,600-year-old mosaic pavements of the synagogue at Maoz
tions had larger and more
Hayim, along the Jordan River south of the Sea of Galilee.
elaborate synagogues.
Finer stone more expertly
cut, richly carved doorways,
moldings, and column capi-
tals, and complicated picto-
rial mosaics carpeting the
floor were in good taste —
3„.1..s,,,,, A
g4, t.:-
and expensive.
A Harvard University
expedition recently ex-
cavated in the thriving, The synagogue is in the southwest portion of the for-
ancient city of Sardis tress between the two semi-circular towers.

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