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In first, two synagogues from the Second Temple-era discovered in same biblical Jewish village in northern Israel

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‘The discovery of a second synagogue in this Galilean community casts light on the social and religious lives of the Jews in the area in this period,’ says IAA’s Dina Avshalom-Gorni

By ILANIT CHERNICK

In a first, two synagogues from the Second Temple-era have been discovered in the biblical Jewish village of Migdal in northern Israel’s Galilee.

The second synagogue is the most recent discovery, according to archeologists at the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa and Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

Speaking about the find, the IAA’s Dina Avshalom-Gorni, one of the directors of the excavations, “the discovery of a second synagogue in this Galilean village casts light on the social and religious lives of the Jews in the area in this period, and reflects a need for a dedicated building for Torah reading and study and for social gatherings.”

She explained that Migdal was the main base where famous first-century historian Flavius Josephus, known then as  Yosef Ben Matityahu, fought the war against the Romans during the Great Revolt in 66–73 CE.

“The exposure of a second synagogue casts new light on Jewish communal life in the Galilee,” Avshalom-Gorni added.

After the destruction of the Second Temple, it served Flavius Josephus as the main base in his war against the Romans in the Galilee before he defected to the Roman side in 67 CE. 

Christian texts also mention Migdal as the birthplace of Mary Magdalene, a prominent supporter of Jesus who is known as “the apostle to the apostles.”

“We can imagine Mary Magdalene and her family coming to the synagogue here, along with other residents of Migdal, to participate in religious and communal events,” she explained.

Over 10 years ago, the eastern side of the biblical Jewish community was excavated by the IAA and it was here where the first synagogue from this period was unearthed.

The excavation of the second synagogue in what was once the Jewish village of Migdal in northern Israel.
(Photo Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority/University of Haifa)

As part of that excavation, a unique stone was uncovered in the center of the synagogue bearing an imprint of a seven-branched menorah, believed to have been designed to represent the Menorah positioned in the Temple.

Addressing the newly-excavated synagogue, the archeologists explained that it’s “a broad, square-shaped building constructed from basalt and limestone.” 

“It comprises a central hall and two additional rooms. The walls of the central hall are coated with white and colored plaster,” they said. “A stone bench, also coated in plaster, runs along the walls.”

A plaster-coated stone shelf was also found in a room off the synagogue where it’s believed scrolls were possibly stored.

Prof. Adi Erlich, head of the Zinman Institute of archaeology at the University of Haifa stressed that the finding of two synagogues in the same community found “shows that the Jews of the Second Temple period were looking for a place for religious, and perhaps also social, gatherings.” 

“The stone bearing a relief of the Menorah from the other synagogue at Migdal, suggests that the local Jews saw Jerusalem as their religious center, and their local activities took place under this centrality,” she said.

Erlich concluded that the synagogue they are excavating now “is close to the residential street, whereas the one excavated in 2009 was surrounded by an industrial area.”

“Thus the local synagogues were constructed within the social fabric of the settlement,” she said.

The building uncovered in the 2009 excavations was the first synagogue from the Second Temple period found in the Galilee, and the ninth in the entire country.

**Photo Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority/University of Haifa

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