Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ancient synagogue found in Galilee

Remains of a synagogue dating back to 4th or 5th century have been found in the Galilee area.
The synagogue ruins are located at the foot of the Mt. Nitai cliffs overlooking the Sea of Galilee, amidst the remains of a large Jewish village from the Roman-Byzantine period. The first season of excavations there have revealed the northern part of the synagogue, with two rows of benches along the walls. The building is constructed of basalt and chalk stone and made use of elements from an earlier structure on the site.
The dates for the establishment of the synagogue are not settled yet:

Archaeologists differ among themselves as to which period the ancient Galilean synagogues belong. The generally accepted view is that they can be attributed to the later Roman period (second to fourth centuries C.E.), a time of cultural and political flowering of the Jews of the Galilee. Recently, some researchers have come to believe that these synagogues were built mainly during the Byzantine period (fifth and sixth centuries C.E.), a time in which Christianity rose to power and, it was thought, the Jews suffered from persecution. Dr. Leibner noted that this difference of scholarly opinion has great significance in perhaps redrawing the historical picture of Jews in those ancient times.

But the cool part is that of the discovery of a mosaic decoration that shows an artisan working on some project (see the picture with this post):
The excavators were surprised to find in the eastern aisle of the synagogue a mosaic decoration which to date has no parallels -- not in other synagogues, nor in art in Israel in general from the Roman-Byzantine period. The mosaic is made of tiny stones (four mm. in size) in a variety of colors. The scene depicted is that of a series of woodworkers who are holding various tools of their trade. Near these workers is seen a monumental structure which they are apparently building. According to Dr. Leibner, since Biblical scenes are commonly found in synagogue art, it is possible that what we see in this case is the building of the Temple, or Noah’s ark, or the tower of Babel. The mosaic floor has been removed from the excavation site and its now in the process of restoration.
Read the full story here.

And while we are talking about history, there is a story about the Hittites using diseased rams to spread disease (Tularemia or rabbit-fever) amongst the enemy to weaken them (nothing to do with science & religion - but an interesting news story) - thus an early use of biological weapons.

The historical documents hint that the Hittites – whose empire stretched from modern-day Turkey to northern Syria – sent diseased rams to their enemies to weaken them with tularemia, a devastating bacterial infection that remains a potential bioterror threat even today, says the review.

Experts caution that more evidence is needed to firmly establish that the Hittites intended to spread disease using the animals. But they add that if this proves true, it might represent the earliest known use of biological warfare.
Read the full story here.