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Joey Corbett, New Synagogue Excavations in Israel and Beyond. Biblical Archaeology Review 37 (2011), iv, 52–59.
Taken together, the synagogue discoveries at Magdala, Wadi Hamam and Horvat Kur are providing archaeologists with fresh insights into how the Jewish communities of the Galilee, augmented by refugees from Jerusalem, developed and thrived in the centuries following the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.
Rachel Hachlili, Synagogues—Before and after the Roman Destruction of the Temple. Biblical Archaeology Review 41 (2015), iii, 30–38, 65.
Were there synagogues before the Romans destroyed the Temple, or did they develop only afterward? Communal structures from the Second Temple period have been discovered, but should they be considered synagogues even though they don’t share the major architectural feature common to post-destruction synagogues?
Zvi Uri Ma\Aynoz & Ann Killebrew, Ancient Qasrin, Synagogue and Village. Biblical Archaeologist 51 (1988), 5–19.
Zvi Uri Ma\Aynoz, Ancient Synagogues of the Golan. Biblical Archaeologist 51 (1988), 116–128.
The finds from the synagogues of the Golan are of exceptional quantity and artistic richness. We therefore have before us a situation in which diversified artistic currents, colored with spiritual and religious notions, occurred within a very limited region. This will make it possible for a stylistic analysis to be carried out that has, in addition to its value to art history, important implications for the study of the history and culture of the Jews in the Holy Land. These observations will be especially worthwhile in the absence of literary sources. Thus, we might ask such questions as: Does the art and architectural style of the synagogues reflect the origin of the Jewish communities that came to settle in the Golan in the fourth century C.E.? Does their style show a continuous source of influence? What sort of cultural and spiritual background is indicated by the choice of symbols? Do the differences among various buildings suggest ties with neighboring communities? Do the synagogues reveal a chronological change or only a social and economic difference? These and other questions await further work, both new research and continued assessments of presently known material.
One thing, however, is clear already from the wealth of materials we now have at hand. The geographical position of the Golan, between the Galilee and the Hauran, gave the artisans of the region the opportunity to draw on influences and traditions of decoration from both areas, and in doing this they left us a distinct creation. The synagogues of the Golan thus speak to us as nothing else from their time can.
Leah di Segni & Yoram Tsafrir, The Ethnic Composition of Jerusalem’s Population in the Byzantine Period (312–638 CE). Liber Annuus 62 (2012), 405–454.
There is some mention in the written sources and a little archaeological evidence of a Jewish presence in Byzantine Jerusalem. The point of departure is the well-known Hadrianic prohibition against Jews entering the limits of Aelia Capitolina. Nonetheless, the Jewish sources attest that pilgrimage continued after 70 and during the Byzantine period for the three annual pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of the Tabernacles), as well as for the mourning fast in memory of the destruction of the Temple on the Ninth of Av, and on other days. Christian sources concentrate on the annual mourning pilgrimage, but the conditions of this pilgrimage seem to vary. Origen, writing in the early 3rd century, implies that Jews entered Jerusalem freely. In 333 the Bordeaux Pilgrim describes Jews coming to mourn upon “a pierced stone” (lapis pertusus) on the Temple Mount every year, ostensibly without hindrance. On the other hand Eusebius, writing at about the same time, maintains that from the Romans’ prohibition to his days the Jewish people were totally excluded from Jerusalem and not even permitted to look from afar at the site where the Temple had stood. Jerome’s description is even more pointed – he is full of malicious delight that the Jews are prohibited from entering Jerusalem and that they must pay for permission to mourn and lament the Holy City, which is lost to them and was rebuilt by a triumphant Christianity. Thus it seems that the situation had deteriorated in Constantine’s time; however, the widely accepted assumption that Constantine renewed the prohibition against Jewish residence and even entrance in Jerusalem does not rest on firm grounds. Though it seems that no one explicitly restored the right of Jews to enter the city, it is clear that they did in fact come to Jerusalem and even established a small community there, having acquired permission de facto, if not de jure.
The location of the Jewish community can be gleaned from passages in the works of the Bordeaux Pilgrim and Epiphanius. They note a synagogue “within the walls of Zion” – probably the present-day area of Mount Zion – until the middle of the 4th century. Although there is room for doubt, they perhaps refer, as M. Avi-Yonah has proposed, to the present-day building of the Tomb of David, which J. Pinkerfeld has identified as an ancient synagogue.
Steven H. Werlin, Eagle Imagery in Jewish Relief Sculpture of Late Ancient Palestine: Survey and Interpretation. Master’s thesis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill 2006).
The following study examines the image of the eagle in the architectural relief sculpture of Palestinian synagogues as well as on Jewish sarcophagi. The buildings and sarcophagi on which these objects were displayed are dated between the third and sixth century C.E.
Chapter one introduces the topic by presenting some general background to the state of research and by defining relevant terms for the study. Chapter two presents the primary evidence in the form of a rudimentary catalogue. Chapter three examines the so-called “Eagle Incident” described by the ancient historian, Josephus, in War 1.648-55 and Antiq. 17.151-63.
Chapter four seeks to understand the meaning of the eagle-symbol within the literature familiar to Jews of late ancient Palestine. Chapter five presents the author’s interpretation of the eagle-symbol in both the sculptural remains and literary references. It considers the relationship of the image and meaning to Near Eastern and Byzantine art in light of the religious trends in late ancient Jewish society.
Steven H. Werlin, Appetite for Destruction? The Archaeological Evidence for Jewish Iconoclasm, Delivered at 2009 Annual Meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research New Orleans, LA 19 November 2009. (Unpublished 2009). <http://www.academia.edu/attachments/2609378/download_file> (2012-06-21).
Based on the evidence we have examined today, I would to draw a few conclusions. First, regarding the interpretation of the evidence: It is clear (at least to me) that preconceptions of Jewish views toward images have shaped interpretations of the evidence for Jewish iconoclasm in northern Palestine. Positivistic conclusions that are not based on established stratigraphic data are particularly irksome when picked up by researchers in historical and literary studies who trust the archaeologists to provide critical interpretations of the data.
Second, regarding the actual evidence of iconoclasm in Jewish contexts of late antiquity, we have seen that the phenomenon may not have been as extensive as has been assumed. In fact, the verifiable evidence seems to be limited to southern Palestine. Now, I admit that this may result from the nature of the evidence-whether it is the dating of these synagogues, or the media in which the iconoclasm occurred. That said, given the similarity with and extensiveness of church iconoclasm in the region, I suggest that all future treatments of Jewish iconoclasm should consider it as integrally part of a broader, inter-religious phenomenon of late antique Palestine. As with most interpretations of material evidence, knowledge of the general context provides the fullest explanation of the specific instance.
Steven H. Werlin, The late ancient synagogues of southern Palestine. Dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill 2012).
Following the failure of the Bar-Kokhba revolt in 135/6 C.E., the majority of the Jewish population of ancient Palestine migrated northward away from Jerusalem to join communities of Jews in Galilee and the Golan Heights. Although rabbinic sources indicate that from the 2nd c. onward the demographic center of Jewish Palestine was in Galilee, archaeological evidence of Jewish communities is found in the southern part of the country as well.
Ten synagogues from the period after the Bar-Kokhba revolt are known from southern Palestine. They are located at the sites of Na’aran and Jericho in the Lower Jordan Valley, En-Gedi on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, Kh. Susiya, Eshtemoa, H. ‘Anim, and H. Ma’on in the southern Hebron Hills, H. Rimmon in the Judean Shephelah, and Gaza-Maiumas and Ma’on-Nirim on the southern Mediterranean coast. The present study is a detailed analysis of these ten synagogues. The primary goals are to (a) review critically the excavation projects carried out at these sites, particularly the chronological conclusions of the excavators, and (b) determine what aspects of these synagogues, if any, serve to unite them as a distinct regional group.
From the critical examination of the published finds and reports, this dissertation concludes that, despite the views of some of the excavators, none of these synagogues can be dated conclusively to before the mid-4th c. The dates of construction generally are fixed at no later than the 6th or 7th c. Therefore, these ten synagogues should be considered products of the Byzantine period.
As a group, these ten synagogues do not display unifying features that are distinct from the synagogues in Lower Galilee. However, there are some notable differences between the southern synagogues and those of the Golan and Upper Galilee. Some of the southern synagogues bear evidence of inter-religious contact between Jews and Christians in the art, architecture, and religious concerns expressed in the material culture. Although the evidence for such contact does not differ significantly from the synagogues in Lower Galilee and the Beth-Shean region, the conclusion to this study highlights the importance of considering Jewish-Christian relations in the interpretation of late antique Palestinian Judaism by suggesting topics for further inquiry.
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