Oldest Synagogue Discovered (?)

Thanks to our one of our senior staff members, Brent Nongbri, for, um, digging up this recent post about what could be the oldest synagogue ever discovered.

Jim West, author of the post, quotes the Israel Antiquities Authority, which has recently reported:

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 information is exciting, to be sure, since Ostia’s synagogue too (albeit erroneously) once laid claim to the oldest Diaspora synagogue in the Mediterranean (on the recent work challenging this earlier assumption, see the OSMAP Project Field Reports from 2005).  But the operative word here is caution, for the time being.

In fact, the OSMAP Project Director, L. Michael White, writes:

I read the IAA blurb on it, too, but they do not say why they date it to the Second Temple Period.   No mention of pottery or coins.  The only hint I get of how they might be dating it so early is the statement that the city (Migdal/Magdala) was supposedly destroyed by the Romans in the revolt (based on Josephus).   This is an interesting story in Josephus, from the section where he launches his “heroic” ruse of the naval battle (BJ 2.630’s).  Hmmmmm?

My problem is this:  what is the archaeological evidence that the city does not date any later than the period of the revolt?   Even this hint is somewhat out of sink with a statement in the IAA report that gives the date-range as 50 BCE-100 CE.  That means a 30 year window after the revolt.  So, something is not quite fitting yet for me.  But you know how I am about these things.

As for the art of the stone and the mosaics on the floors, I wonder about such an early date.

We may be left to wonder for a while.

This entry was posted in Announcements, Links of Interest by Prof. Douglas Boin. Bookmark the permalink.

About Prof. Douglas Boin

Douglas Ryan Boin is an Assistant Professor of Ancient and Late Antique History at Saint Louis University. From 2010-2013 he was a professor in the Department of Classics at Georgetown University. He has published on aspects of the Late Antique Mediterranean, focusing on the construction of "pagan-Christian" narratives, the history of synagogue and church architecture, and the importance of Augustine in sixth and seventh-century Ostia and Rome.

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