Second Temple-era synagogue unearthed in northern Israel

Building uncovered at Tel Rechesh excavation in lower Galilee is one of only eight synagogues discovered in Israel that predate the destruction of the Second Temple • Researcher Dr. Motti Aviam: Find confirms that Jesus preached at Galilean synagogues.

By Yori Yalon

The remains of an unusual structure that served as a synagogue during the Second Temple era have been unearthed at an archaeological excavation underway at Tel Rechesh in the heart of the Nahal Tavor Nature Reserve in the lower Galilee.

The synagogue is one of only eight synagogues discovered in Israel that date back to the Second Temple era, said Dr. Motti Aviam, a senior researcher at the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology at the Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee.

“This is the first synagogue discovered in the rural part of the Galilee and it confirms historical information we have about the New Testament, which says that Jesus preached at synagogues in Galilean villages,” Aviam said.

In the first century C.E., a large farm was built on the tel (a hill comprising layers of archaeological remains). The farm buildings include one structure containing a large room that measures 8 meters (26 feet) by 9 meters (29.5 feet). The walls of the room are lined with benches constructed from skillfully hewn limestone. Along the northern wall, archaeologists also discovered two large basalt stones that formed part of a ritual altar that had been used some 1,500 years earlier in a temple in a Canaanite city that stood on the same spot.

The base of one of the pillars that supported the roof has also been uncovered.

In the period when the synagogue was active, it was used primarily so that local residents could gather, read from the Torah, and study the commandments, as Jewish worship focused on pilgrimages to Jerusalem and visits to the Temple to present sacrificial offerings.

The new synagogue has sparked international interest among historians, researchers of Jewish and Christian history, and archaeologists. The excavation at Tel Rechesh has been underway for 10 years under the direction of Dr. Yitzhak Paz of the Israel Antiquities Authority and two Japanese archaeologists, Professor Shuichi Hasegawa of Rikkyo University and Professor Hisao Kuwabara of Tenri University.

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