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Archeological Finds in Israel

The land that is now the middle East has rich history, and almost everywhere there's something to be dug up. Here are some of the recent finds in Israel including ancient synagogues, King Herod theater box, and a pagan alter.

Samaritan Synagogue

A 1,500-year-old Samaritan Synagogue was uncovered last month during excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority southwest of Beit She'an. Among the discovered items in the synagogue include a 16.5-by-20-foot rectangular hall which faces southward toward Mount Gerizim, a Samaritan holy site, as well as a colorful mosaic decorated with a geometric pattern.

The center of the mosaic contains a Greek inscription that reads "this is the temple," clearly indicating that the synagogue had played an important part in the lives of the farmers who inhabited the surrounding region, and served as a center of spiritual, religious and social life.

The remains of a synagogue and farmstead operated in the Late Byzantine period, and were unknown until now. They were exposed in an archaeological excavation conducted on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Ministry of Construction and Housing, before enlarging a residential section south of Bet She`an, c. one half kilometer west of the Jordan Valley highway (Route 90).

According to Dr. Walid Atrash and Mr. Ya’aqov Harel, directors of the excavation for the Israel Antiquities Authority, in the Byzantine period (fourth century CE) Bet She’an became an important Samaritan center under the leadership of Baba Rabbah.

At that time the Samaritans were granted national sovereignty and were free to decide their own destiny. This was the case until the end of the reign of Emperor Justinian, when the Samaritans revolted against the government. The rebellion was put down and the Samaritans ceased to exist as a nation.

According to Dr. Leah Di Segni of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who translated the inscription, the plan of the building, its orientation and the content of the inscription are in keeping with a Samaritan synagogue.
Photo courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority
For more information visit Israel Antiquities Authority

Royal Box at King Herod's Theater

A royal box built at the upper level of King Herod's private theater was discovered during recent excavations at Herodion National Park at the eastern edge of Gush Etzion. The 26-by-23-foot royal box provides a further indication of the luxurious lifestyle favored by the famed Judean monarch. Its back and side walls are decorated with an elaborate scheme of wall paintings and plaster moldings never before seen in Israel. The box also includes a series of unique windows painted with various naturalistic landscapes, including scenes of the countryside, Nile River and a nautical picture featuring a large boat with sails in the Second Pompeian style familiar in Italy from 15 to 10 B.C.E.

The excavations were conducted by Prof. Ehud Netzer under the auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Archaeology who has been assisted in the excavations by Yakov Kalman, Roi Porath and Rachel Chachy.

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem will hold the first exhibition featuring the finds of Herod's grave later this year.

A Magnificent Pagan Altar was Exposed at the Barzilai Hospital Compound in Ashkelon

The development work for the construction of an emergency room at Barzilai Hospital has unearthed a magnificent pagan altar dating back to the Roman period (first-second centuries CE) made of granite and adorned with bulls’ heads and a laurel wreaths. The altar stood in the middle of the ancient burial field.

According to Dr. Yigal Israel, Ashkelon District Archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The discovery further corroborates the assertion that we are dealing with a pagan cemetery. It is an impressive find that has survived 2,000 years. The altar is c. 60 centimeters tall and it is decorated with bulls’ heads, from which dangle laurels wreaths. There is a strap in the middle of each floral wreath and bull’s head. The laurel wreaths are decorated with grape clusters and leaves. This kind of altar is known as an “incense altar”. Such altars usually stood in Roman temples and visitors to the temple used to burn incense in them, particularly myrrh and frankincense, while praying to their idols. We can still see the burnt marks on the altar that remain from the fire. The altar was probably donated by one of the families who brought it to the cemetery from the city of Ashkelon”.

Dr. Israel adds that during the archaeological supervision of the development work burial structures were discovered, which served as family tombs, and cist tombs that were used for interring individuals. In addition a large limestone sarcophagus (stone coffin) with a decorated lid was also found. The sarcophagus stands 80 centimeters high is 60 centimeters wide and is 2 meters long. Part of the stone in the sarcophagus was left rather high in the spot where the head of the deceased was placed and resembles a kind of pillow.
Photo courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority
For more information visit Israel Antiquities Authority



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