Rethinking Byzantine-era Judaism
By Ran Shapira
A row of artisans and laborers - one with a saw in his hand, another with a chisel, and others with various sized hammers - are depicted on the mosaic floor recently uncovered in a Roman- or Byzantine-era synagogue at Khirbet Wadi Hamam, on Mount Nitai in the Lower Galilee. The workers appear next to a very large building, which they seem to be constructing.
Because the image appears on the synagogue floor, the researchers have assumed it depicts the construction of an important Biblical structure. Is it the Temple, Noah's Ark, the Tower of Babel, or some other well-known work?
Dr. Uzi Leibner of the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology and Scholion Interdisciplinary Research Center in Jewish Studies, who is leading the excavation, has no clear answer at this stage. What is clear is that the mosaic, constructed from very small stones - whose sides measure about four millimeters each - is unique. No such scenes have been found in other ancient synagogues or structures in Israel from that period. But which period exactly are we referring to - the Roman or the Byzantine? The dig at the synagogue is being carried out to answer that question.
To judge by the findings, the synagogue, which sits within the Arbel National Park, is a "Galilean synagogue" - a high-quality Romanesque structure with an elaborate facade facing toward Jerusalem and attractive stone carvings. Synagogues of this type were thought to date from the late Roman period, between the second and fourth centuries. However, in the last few years, researchers have discovered that synagogues of this type were built in the Byzantine era, too - between the fifth and sixth centuries.
The debate was sparked by the synagogue at Capernaum, a fine example of a Galilean synagogue that clearly was built in the fifth century. The findings from that synagogue and others led some researchers to consider the hypothesis that the Galilean synagogues were built mainly in the fifth and sixth centuries.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
A DEBATE ON THE DATE of the recently discovered Galilean synagogue: