Archaeologists in Galilee unearth synagogue from Jesus’s time

Remains of ancient rural structure uncovered in northern Israel in area where he is believed to have traveled to preach

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

View of Israel's Lower Galilee. April 25, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
View of Israel's Lower Galilee. April 25, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Israeli archaeologists in northern Israel have uncovered the ruins of a rural synagogue that dates back some 2,000 years.

The remains of the synagogue were found during an archaeological dig at Tel Rekhesh, near Mount Tabor in the lower Galilee, in what was an ancient Jewish village.

The find could lend weight to the New Testament narrative that Jesus visited villages in the area to preach.

Mordechai Aviam, an archaeologist at Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee who led the dig, estimated the synagogue was built between 20-40 AD and was used for a hundred years. No rural synagogues have been found from that time, he said.

“This is the first 1st century synagogue in rural Galilee of the first century,” he said.

The building was 8.8 meters (29 feet) by 7.92 meters wide (26 feet) and the walls were lined with limestone benches, the Daily Mail reported Wednesday. Two pillars found may have supported the roof.

“The site is 17 km (10 miles) as crow flies east of Nazareth, and 12 km from Nin (Naim), and although we don’t have its name in the New Testament, it is in the area in which Jesus acted,” said Aviam.

Until the find, synagogues from that time, known as the Second Temple Period after the Jewish temple that stood in Jerusalem, have only been found in urban centers.

The New Testament says Jesus traveled around the Galilee area preaching in villages and communities.

Aviam told the Ynet news site that the synagogue was likely built by an agricultural estate owner.

“This is a simple synagogue but it is not [that] simple to build a synagogue,” he said.

“The benches that we discovered are made of beautiful white Ashlar stone and the large foundation pillars required considerable investment and were expensive,” he added.

A prayer reader would have stood in the center of the room. Later designs of synagogues were built to face towards Jerusalem.

“The New Testament describes how Jesus delivered sermons in a synagogue in Capernaum and other synagogues in the Galilee,” Aviam explained.

“During the same period Jesus was still a Jew who observed Jewish rituals and requirements and like many rabbis, he delivered sermons in synagogues. Christianity which developed after him placed an emphasis on his sermons at synagogues in the Galilee. This makes the place very important for Christians.”

The site is currently unavailable to visitors but Aviam hopes it will be developed as a tourist site in the future.

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