Road work leads to 2,000-year-old discovery

A synagogue dating back some 2,000 years has been excavated at Migdal in northern Israel, the site of a large Jewish community in the Second Temple era as well as a modern moshava.

This is the second synagogue excavated at Migdal and the first time that archaeologists have found evidence of two synagogues coexisting in a Jewish community at a time when the Second Temple was still in existence and in use.

Like many archaeological discoveries, the second synagogue at Migdal resurfaced as part of infrastructure work. In this case, it was a salvage excavation ahead of a project by Netivei Israel – National Transport Infrastructure Company Ltd. to widen a nearby highway.

“The discovery of a second synagogue at the Galilee community sheds light on social life and religion of Galilean Jews at that time, and shows the need for a special building to study and read Torah and hold social gatherings,” explained Dina Avshalom-Gorni of the University of Haifa, one of the directors of the excavation.

“The discovery of the ‘new’ synagogue at Migdal, with its many findings such as clay lamps, glass bowls formed from molds, coins, and stone vessels used for purification rites, show the Migdal Jews’ ties to Jerusalem and the Temple,” Avshalom-Gorani said.

The main space of the second synagogue were covered in white and colored plaster and a large stone bench, also plastered, had been placed near the wall. The ceiling, which had apparently been made of wood, had been supported by six pillars, which stood on stone bases, two of which are still intact. In a small room on the southern side, archaeologists found a plaster-covered stone shelf, indicating that it might have served as a storage space for Torah scrolls.

Two millennia ago, Migdal, located on the northwestern edge of the Sea of Galilee, was a large Jewish town. It is mentioned in Christian texts as the birthplace of Mary Magdalene, whose last name derives from the name of the community.

The Israel Antiquities Authority excavated the eastern side of Migdal over a decade ago. The dig revealed a synagogue that dated back to the time of the Second Temple. In the middle of that synagogue, archaeologists discovered a unique stone that bore a relief of a seven-branched menorah, which researchers explained as a depiction of the Temple menorah. The stone is currently part of an IAA exhibit at the Yigal Allon Centre.

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