Rare colorful mosaic fragments dating back to the third century CE have been uncovered in an ancient synagogue in the Golan Heights, the University of Haifa announced on Monday.
Mosaics were recently discovered in excavations at the site of Majdulia, depicting the legs of several animals. The archeologists were not able to identify the species due to the poor condition of the mosaics.
According to the researchers, the synagogue was built at the end of the Second Temple period, in the first century CE, and ceased to be active at the end of the third century CE. The mosaics indicate changes in the Jewish community throughout the Roman period.
Dr. Mechael Osband, who headed the excavation, said that “the findings are among the earliest of their kind that have been uncovered in the region. They date back to the third century CE, a period in which very little is known about the Jewish community in the Golan and there are few remains from synagogues in the country in general.”
Osband explained that the findings indicate an architectural transition period for ancient synagogues in Israel.
“In the third century CE we see the continuation of the Second Temple period architectural tradition of synagogues, for instance in the form of sitting and the relatively few decorations, along with early additions of new architectural elements, that over time became common in synagogues, such as a colorful mosaic that includes animals,” he said.
Osband said that the mosaic’s rich design and its depiction of animal characters might indicate that the synagogue was transformed from a place dedicated to learning to a community prayer center.
“We know that synagogues at the end of the Second Temple period were mainly used as a place of Torah study. Synagogues at the end of the Roman period and especially in the Byzantine period were used as a place for prayer, a kind of ‘little temple,’ and therefore they are much more luxurious and often include fancy mosaics. Our findings are some of the earliest found so far that indicate that as early as the third century CE, synagogues began this important shift,” he concluded.
Excavations at Majdulia began five years ago, led by Osband, of the University of Haifa’s Zinman Institute of Archaeology, who was later joined by Dr. Benjamin Arubas of the Hebrew University.
The massive 13-meter by 23-meter synagogue, discovered at the site several years ago, was of immense importance, as it disproved the accepted thesis that Jewish presence in the Golan ceased to exist after the Great Revolt with the destruction of Gamla in 67 CE.
The discovery of the synagogue, along with other similar evidence from other excavations and surveys in recent years, strengthened the understanding that the Jewish community continued to exist in the region after the Great Revolt.
The last excavation season on the site added to the researchers’ understanding of the development of Jewish life over the years and life in the region during the Roman period.
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