A 3rd century synagogue discovered at Myra, Turkey
The hot news is that Turkish archaeologists have, in September, uncovered the remains of an ancient synagogue at the former port of Myra, today the village of Demre, near Antalya in southern Turkey. It indicates that there was an active Jewish population at the port and that by the third century CE (the estimated date of the synagogue) they were established enough to build their own prayer house The remains include a marble tablet with a menorah, shofar (ram’s horn) and trumpet on one side and a palm and citrus tree on the other. The prayer hall was about 7m. by 5m. and had two entrances, to the west and to the north. No evidence has yet been found of the place for the ark.
According to the excavators, led by Dr. Nevzat Cevik of Akdeniz University, Jews were allowed to become Roman citizens in the province of Lycia by a law of 212 CE and that led to permission to build a synagogue, though the date of the structure may well be later than the third century. The inscriptions found have not yet been fully deciphered but the words “Amen” and “Israel” are evident, as well as the names of two donors, Procles and Romanus.
Trial for forgery continues…
Shuki Dorfman, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), recently gave the sensational testimony that two highly respected epigraphers were suspected of having been involved in recent forgeries. This came out in the ongoing trial of Oded Golan and others (the James’s Ossuary and the Yehoash Tablet trial) when Dorfman stated that Professor Andre Lemaire, of the Sorbonne, and Ada Yardeni of the Hebrew University had been suspected by the IAA of having been involved in the so-called forgeries. On the other hand Dorfman also claimed that the chief prosecution witness, Shlomo Moussaieff had not been telling the truth in his testimony at the start of the trial. The proceedings, which started in 2005, drag on in the Jerusalem District Court.
Nabatean site of Avdat Vandalized
An important public archaeological site has recently been shockingly vandalized. It is the UNESCO World heritage site of Avdat, the Nabatean town in the Negev, on the ancient trade route from Elath to the port of Gaza. On the morning of October 5th local tour guides were shocked to find that many walls and pillars had been demolished and parts of the structures, including the churches, had been daubed in black paint and oil. The chief suspects are local Bedouin villagers, some of whose illegal structures had been removed by the authorities in the previous days. Local farms had also been attacked and crops uprooted, probably in revenge. This is the first time that a public archaeological site has been vandalized and the police have vowed to bring the suspects to justice. The archaeologists estimate that it will take at least six months to repair the damage.
An early synagogue discovered at Migdal, near Tiberias
In September, the IAA made the surprise find of a very early synagogue, this time at Migdal, on the shores of Lake Kinneret. The surprise is that it dates from the time when the Second Temple still stood, and so joins a small band of four or five synagogues from that period. Work is in progress and the finds include a stone inscribed with a seven-branched menorah. The dig’s director, Dina Avshalom-Gornic, believes that the sculptor may well have been to Jerusalem and “seen the Temple menorah with his own eyes”.
Roman Coin hoard from Betar
A large hoard of coins has been found in a deep cave in the Jerusalem area, dating to the time of the Bar-Kochba revolt of 132 CE. 120 coins of gold, silver and copper were found in good condition in the cave which is 20m. deep and contained metal weapons, storage jars, oil lamps, an earring and a glass bottle. The site, whose location has not been revealed, is being investigated by Boaz Zissu and Hanan Eshel of Bar Ilan University and Amos Frumkin and Boaz Langford of Hebrew University. Based on the rich findings and the location of the cave near to Betar (where Bar-Kochba made his last stand), the team speculate that the cave was the last hiding place of an important nucleus of rebels.
Mikvah (ritual bath) discovery
One of the largest miqvaoth (ritual baths) ever found in Jerusalem has been discovered within the chambers of the Western Wall tunnels, within what looks like a large mansion of the Second Temple period, and not 20m. from the western wall of the Temple complex. The miqveh is lined with ashlars of the highest quality, similar to stonework by Herod on the Temple Mount itself. This suggests that it belonged to a member of the Sanhedrin, the highest Court, which met in the “Room of Hewn Stones” within the Temple complex. Alternatively, judging by the large size, it has been suggested by the site’s excavator, Alexander On, that it may have catered for VIP’s among the pilgrims coming to the Temple during the three seasonal festivals.
W.F.Albright Institute, Jerusalem