Tuesday, July 29, 2003

A BYZANTINE-ERA SYNAGOGUE IN THE GOLAN HEIGHTS has some surprises for excavators:

Archaeology / When Golan worshipers faced south (Ha'aretz via Archaeologica News

By Ran Shapira

Zvi Maoz says that every day excavations at a synagogue among the ruins of the village of Dir Aziz force him to rip another page from his doctoral thesis on synagogues in the Golan Heights. Dir Aziz synagogue, next to Moshav Kanaf, has been excavated over the last five seasons and differs in many respects from other synagogues in the area.

Until excavations began here, archaeologists had speculated that in Golan Heights synagogues the Ark was adjacent to the western wall, one of the two shorter sides of the rectangular-shaped structure. This would allow believers to face the general direction of Jerusalem while praying.

In Dir Aziz, however, the worshipers faced south toward the long wall of the structure, not the one along the width. This is indicated by a space that juts out from the southern lengthwise wall of the synagogue, where the Ark apparently was located.

In this respect, the structure of the Dir Aziz synagogue resembles that of synagogues in the southern Hebron hills. The special niche for the Ark found in the Golan Heights' synagogue is also typical of synagogues in the southern Hebron hills, and especially those found in Susiya and Eshtamoa. Another unique feature of the Dir Aziz synagogue is the bas-reliefs of animals in the stone and wreath designs drawn on the whitewash.


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