A first-century AD synagogue has been discovered in eastern lower Galilee at Tel Rekhesh (Tell el-Mukharkhash). The synagogue was apparently in use until the village was abandoned during the Bar Kochba Revolt. Ynet News has the story:
Last Tuesday, an excavation team discovered, just ten centimeters below the peak’s surface, a synagogue from the first century AD. The find contained a huge and impressive room nine meters high and eight meters wide with walls lined with benches made of limestone blocks. Diggers also discovered one of the two foundational pillars supporting the synagogue’s roof.
“This is the first synagogue of its kind in the Galilee villages,” Dr. Aviam explained. “In Migdal, for example, there is a synagogue but that is a big city. Here we are talking about a magnificent agricultural area about four Dunam [1 acre] in size where buildings are decorated with frescoes and stucco articles. Jewish families lived in the estate but due to the fact that the nearest synagogue was four kilometers away (a distance deemed too far from a community according to Jewish law) the owner of the estate built the synagogue for himself and for the dozens of workers in his employment.”
Dr. Aviam told Ynet that the remains of objects were found which could definitely be dated back to the first century AD. Prior to the recent discovery, archaeologists already suspected the presence of a Jewish community on the peak.
Indeed, one of the main reasons that the researchers were able to extrapolate that the estate belonged to a Jewish community was the absence of big bones or remains. Indeed, pig was a staple part of a community’s diet in which Jews did not reside.
Further proof that Tel Recheš was an old Jewish community was the existence of many stone utensils. According to Jewish law, stone utensils cannot become impure, unlike other tool such as metal and glass. The preferred material of choice for cooking among Jews toward the end of the Second Temple era was stone.
As the article notes, Tel Rekhesh is not easily accessible to visitors. The 11-acre site is located about 5 miles (8 km) southeast of Mount Tabor and about 7.5 miles (12 km) southwest of the Sea of Galilee. Yohanan Aharoni identified it as biblical Anaharath (Josh 19:19), a city also mentioned in the records of Thutmose III, Amenhotep II, as well as in the Amarna Letters.
HT: Joseph Lauer
Photo by A.D. Riddle