Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Monotheistic Religions(CISMOR)Doshisha University > Public Lectures > The Role and Function of the Synagogue in the Late Period of the Second Temple Period: An Impact of the Discovery of a Synagogue at Tel Rekhesh in the Galilee

Public Lectures

International Conference

The Role and Function of the Synagogue in the Late Period of the Second Temple Period: An Impact of the Discovery of a Synagogue at Tel Rekhesh in the Galilee

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Date: 2017/02/02 16:30-18:00
Place: Room S2, Shiseikan, Imadegawa Campus
Lecture: Dr. Mordeichai Aviam (Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology)
The remains of Tel Rekhesh in the hilly region of lower east Galilee are thought to be those of Anaharath which is mentioned in the book of Joshua. From 2006, Tenri University, Rikkyo University, and Tokyo University have been working on excavating these remains and at present, Professor Hisao Kuwabara of Tenri University is leading the excavation team. As a result of an excavation in summer, 2016, what is thought to be the remains of a synagogue built during the Second Temple Period coinciding with the early earliest days of Roman imperial rule. Because this is the first synagogue of the period of Jesus’ resurrection since that in Migdal to have been discovered, it received international press coverage. In this talk, the Israeli representative of the excavation team, Dr. Mordechai Aviam confirmed the significance of the Tel Rekhesh synagogue and its relevance to the synagogues of its time.

This talk deals primarily with Rekhesh synagogue and materials regarding contemporary synagogues of the Second Temple Period which can be confirmed by accounts of the New Testament. These accounts are extremely valuable for learning what the Jews did at synagogue. From the additional materials left by Josephus and Philo of Alexandria and the various devotional inscriptions of the diaspora Jews such as the Theodotos Inscription of the first century B.C.E., discovered in Jerusalem in the early part of the 20th century, it is possible to know something about life in the synagogues of antiquity.

Moving now to an archaelogical consideration of synagogues, the synagogue at Masada is no doubt the most famous among those currently known. There are other remains of synagogues such as Herodium (which was transformed into a synagogue through the addition of benches to a pre-existing structure), Gamla which has a niche where the Tora scrolls are thought to have been kept, Modiin which was constructed over three periods, Qiryat Sefer which was excavated, revealing a village of ten houses and a synagogue. This find is significant in verifying that there were also synagogues in smaller communities. Migdal was thought to be the only example of a Second Temple Period synagogue until Tel Rekhesh was discovered.

Tel Rekhesh, which was discovered by the Japanese team, is the second example of a synagogue from the time of Jesus’ resurrection. As these remains are too small to be categorized as having constituted a village, because of the orderly spacial outlines, Dr. Aviam suspects it was a small-scale agricultural community. Items such as portions of a fresco painting, stucco construction, cooking vessels, lamps, coins from the reign of Marcus Augustus, and limestone vessels (evidence of Jewish residence) were discovered at the Tel Rekhesh site. Based on these findings, it became clear that the site’s age dates back to the first century of the Common Era and that it was abandoned in the middle of the second century.

Quite likely, the roof of the synagogue in Tel Rekhesh was supported by two pillars, and benches lined the walls. Based on the fact that the spacial architecture resembles that of the extremely small synagogue discovered two years earlier in the village of Diab in the district of Benjamin, Dr. Aviam finds it reasonable to surmise that small-scale, private synagogues connected with agricultural sites reappeared during the time of Jesus. Based on that, he views such small synagogues in small communities as a key for understanding the social structure of Jesus’ time.

The full picture of this synagogue will be revealed by the excavation of Tel Rekhesh in the summer of 2017. Saying that this discovery is a very important outcome of their investigation into reconstructing the society of Jesus’ time, Dr. Aviam concluded his talk.

Translated by
Stig Lindberg (Kyoto University)
*Admission Free, No Reservation Necessary.
*Lecture in English , interpretation will be provided.