Ancient shuls are exposed

By Sami Kohen, Istanbul, September 18, 2009

Archaeologists have uncovered two of the world’s oldest synagogues.

In Israel, a synagogue from the Second Temple period was discovered at a site slated for the construction of a hotel on the shore of the Kinneret.

It is only the seventh synagogue in the world that is known to date back that far.

The main hall of synagogue is around 120 sq m 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 coloured plaster. In the middle of the synagogue is a stone that is engraved with a menorah.

According to the excavation director, Dina Avshalom-Gorni of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “This is the first time that a menorah decoration has been discovered from the days when the Second Temple was still standing. We can assume that the engraving that appears on the stone was done by an artist who saw the seven-branched menorah with his own eyes in the Temple in Jerusalem.”

Meanwhile, the remains of a synagogue dating back to the fourth century were discovered in the port of Adrianke on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.

The Turkish team has recovered, in relatively good condition, several marble stones including the bimah, engraved with religious symbols such as a menorah, a shofar and a lulav, as well as a marble stone carrying a large Hebrew letter, shin.

Previous excavations have uncovered the remains of synagogues in southern and western Turkey dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries, but this is the earliest evidence of Jews in the ancient Lycia region.

Last updated: 1:19pm, September 18 2009