1st Century Synagogue Unearthed in Lower Galilee

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Excavations at Tel Rekhesh, near Mount Tabor in Lower Galilee have unearthed remains of a 1st Century synagogue this month which may have been one of those referred to by the gospel writers in which Jesus preached during tours of the towns in the Galilee (see eg. Matthew 9:35). The site was excavated under the direction of Mordechai Aviam of Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee. He estimates that the synagogue was built around 20-40 AD and was in use for approximately a century following. He suggests that the find is unique, as no other rural synagogue from the Galilee region has yet been located.

The dimensions of the synagogue are 8.8m x 7.92m, with walls lined with limestone benches.  Two pillars are thought to have provided support to the roof.  The village in which the synagogue would have stood is situated just 17 km east of Nazereth and 12 km from Nin, well within the area described in scripture in which Jesus was visiting local synagogues to preach.

All other 1st Century synagogues so far unearthed have come from larger urban centres, and it is recorded in Matthew 9 that Jesus travelled and spoke in all the villages in the Galilee.

Aviam believes that the synagogue was most likely constructed by the owner of an agricultural estate, stating that the considerable wealth would have been necessary to acquire the fine Ashlar stone for the benches and the large foundation pillars.

Aviam hopes that the site will be developed into a tourist attraction for both Jews and Christians, citing the significance of the find for both groups.  He states, “Jesus was still a Jew who observed Jewish rituals and requirements and like many rabbis, he delivered sermons in synagogues. Christianity which developed after him placed an emphasis on his sermons at synagogues in the Galilee. This makes the place very important for Christians.”