This entry contains three subentries: Herodian Temple and Cult; Purity in the Roman Period; and Synagogues, Palestine.

Herodian Temple and Cult

The rebuilding of the Temple and Temple Mount in Jerusalem was the most ambitious building project of King Herod the Great (r. 37–4 B.C.E.), and it was renowned throughout the ancient world. Something of its original splendor is still conveyed by the enclosure wall of the Temple Mount (since the Early Islamic period known as the Haram al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary), which is still preserved to a considerable height. No building remains of the Temple itself have survived. Josephus and other historians repeatedly mention the magnificence of the complex. According to the rabbis, “whosoever has not seen Herod's Building [the Temple] has never seen a beautiful building” (B. Bat. 4a). The Temple was destroyed when the Romans attacked Jerusalem in 70 C.E.

Sources.

An extensive corpus of written and physical evidence of the Herodian Temple Mount complex has survived and enables us to reconstruct the original appearance with much detail. The resulting scholarly reconstructions, architectural models, and artistic renderings are numerous and seem to agree on the main points. Differences concern the exact chronology of the building process, modifications, dimensions, organization of space, and most significantly structural and decorative details. Our ability to create a relatively complete picture of the original Herodian Temple Mount is a combination of ancient literary sources, a series of archaeological excavations and surveys carried out since the mid-nineteenth century, and the resulting scholarly literature. Among the first to contribute significantly to the exploration and documentation of the Temple Mount were Eugène-Melchior de Vogüé, Charles Warren, Claude Reignier Conder, Charles William Wilson, and Conrad Schick. Following the large-scale excavations conducted after the 1967 war, significant excavation reports and related studies were published by Benjamin Mazar, Eilat Mazar, Meir Ben-Dov, Ronny Reich and Yaacob Billig, and Leen and Kathleen Ritmeyer.

Literary accounts.

The two main literary sources for the Herodian Temple Mount are Flavius Jospehus's narratives in The Jewish War (5.184–226) and Antiquities of the Jews (15.380–425) and several descriptions recorded in the Mishnah (especially in m. Mid. and m. Tamid 1:1–3). For a very general description of the Temple Mount, see Philo, Special Laws 1:71–75.

As the Herodian Temple represents a contemporary reinterpretation of the biblical prototype of the First Temple built by Solomon, the descriptions in 1 Kings 6–7 and 2 Chronicles 3–4 have only limited relevance. Despite numerous references to the Temple in the New Testament, no information regarding its construction or appearance can be drawn from those sources.

There appears to be general agreement among the different sources regarding the magnificence of the building project (Ant. 15.380; Mark 13:1; Matt 24:1; Luke 21:5; b. Sukkah 51b; b. B. Bat. 4a; Pliny the Elder, Nat. 5.70; Tacitus, Ann. 5.8.1). Numerous discrepancies regarding measurements exist among the sources, even within Josephus's writings and within tractate Middot itself. There is also some ambiguity regarding Titus's responsibility in destroying the Temple. According to Josephus, Titus had no intention of destroying the Temple “nor under any circumstances burn down so magnificent a work” (J.W. 6.241). Sulpicius Severus (Chronica 2.30.7), in contrast (presumably quoting Tacitus), states that Titus himself ordered the Temple's destruction.

The most apparent advantage of Josephus's account is the fact that he was a contemporary of the Herodian Temple and that he witnessed its use and destruction. As a native of Jerusalem and the son of a priestly family, he knew the Temple and its compound intimately and devoted complete chapters of his works to describing them. In spite of certain biased statements and occasional shortcomings of his analyses and historical judgments, the factual details regarding the architectural complex appear to largely correspond to the archaeological remains uncovered.

Excavations and surveys.

Through most of the Ottoman period, Jewish and Christian visitors were banned from the Temple Mount. Only a small number of Westerners were able to access the platform by disguising themselves as Muslims. The first European to investigate the Mount since crusader times was artist and architect Frederick Catherwood. His visit and survey of the area in 1833 produced the first plan of the Haram (preserved at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London).

In 1862, French diplomat and archaeologist Marquis Eugène-Melchior de Vogüé studied and documented the Temple Mount enclosure wall and made important observations. In 1865, Sir Charles William Wilson, a British military officer and geographer, supervised the first ordnance survey of Jerusalem. He was the first to be allowed to use surveying equipment on the Temple Mount platform to map the site. His survey resulted in a plan of the Haram with all its underground structures at scale 1:500. It is still the most widely used map of the platform.

Most of the knowledge regarding the Herodian Temple Mount is based on the explorations conducted by General Sir Charles Warren, an officer in the British Royal Engineers. His work, conducted between 1867 and 1869, supplemented the survey and measurements previously made by Wilson in 1864. Warren sank numerous vertical and horizontal shafts next to and near the Temple Mount enclosure walls. The results of his work, both the physical and published components, are still being used as guidelines for archaeologists and researchers investigating the Herodian Temple Mount.

During his topographical studies of Jerusalem, American biblical scholar Edward Robinson discovered a projection at the southern end of the western wall of the Temple Mount, which he correctly identified as the beginning of a great stone arch that still bears his name. The lintel of a gate located slightly farther north along the western wall, was named after another American, Dr. James Barclay, who in the early 1850s gained access to the Temple Mount as the advisor of a Turkish architect in charge of repairs to the Dome of the Rock. Although additional surveys were carried out later by researchers such as Claude Reignier Conder, Charles Clermont-Ganneau, Conrad Schick, Frederick Bliss and Archibald Dickie, and Stewart Macalister, the results of Wilson's and Warren's explorations stand out as milestones in the investigations of the Temple Mount.

Archaeological investigations of the Temple Mount came to an abrupt end in 1911, when the so-called Parker mission jeopardized the position of all foreign archaeologists in Jerusalem. The failed attempt to locate the long-lost treasures of Solomon's Temple was instigated by Montague Brownslow Parker, son of an English duke, whose expedition was partially motivated by the results of Warren's work.

A realistic reconstruction of the area around the Temple Mount became possible only when systematic excavation of the area south and west of it began in 1968, soon after the 1967 war. Directed by Professor Benjamin Mazar on behalf of the Israel Exploration Society and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the excavation continued without a break until 1978. The excavation was conducted along the southern wall of the Temple Mount and a small section of the southern end of the western wall, up to the Mughrabi Gate. The results of his work contributed to the understanding of the Herodian enclosure wall and access to the platform from the south and west. As Mazar's field-architect between 1973 and 1976, Leen Ritmeyer conducted a number of architectural surveys. A tunnel along the western wall, north of Wilson's Arch and south of the northwestern corner of the platform, was initially excavated by a team headed by Mazar, beginning in 1975 and later continued by Dan Bahat (1994). Between 1994 and 1996, Ronny Reich and Yaacob Billig renewed excavations near Robinson's Arch. Only few remains from the Herodian period have been revealed in the Sifting Project and the Mughrabi Gate Ramp excavation.

The Second Jewish Temple.

The Babylonians destroyed the First Temple, Solomon's Temple, in 586 B.C.E. Within 50 years, the exiles returning from Babylon began to rebuild it (Ezra 3:12; Tob. 14:5). This modest structure, known as the Second Temple, deteriorated significantly over the next few centuries, and by the mid-first century B.C.E. the Second Temple was rather dilapidated.

Herod the Great replaced the Temple, which became known as Herod's Temple. In Jewish tradition this new construction is still referred to as the “Second Temple” as the term generally relates to the period that began with the return from the Babylonian exile and ended with the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. Though Herod's Temple was an entirely new building, the term “Third Temple” is usually reserved for the future temple described in the prophecy of Ezekiel 40–48. The continued sacrifice ritual throughout the construction process of the Herodian Temple may partially explain the retention of the term “Second Temple.”

The layout model: pagan temples.

Herod's Temple Mount follows a well-established Roman architectural model based on the Hellenistic prototype. A temple surrounded by one or more peristyle courts organized in a symmetrical plan is one of the main characteristics of the great temple complexes in the Roman Empire. Among the most renowned examples in the Near East are the temple of Bel at Palmyra and the temple precincts of Jupiter Heliopolitanus at Baalbek and of Artemis at Gerasa. Josephus's description of Herod's Temple in Jerusalem reflects a similar concept in design, with a platform bordered by a circuit of porticoes, including an immense triple-aisled basilica on the south side (J.W. 5.190–192; Ant. 15:396, 411–416) and the temple occupying a central position (J.W. 5.207). A triple-aisled basilica lining one side of a peristyle court is an architectural arrangement known from a number of Roman-period sites in the eastern Mediterranean region, such as at Cyrene in North Africa as well as at Smyrna, Ephesus, and Kremna in Asia Minor. The merging of local architectural and religious traditions with classical ideas was common in the Hellenistic east. Just like the temple of Bel, the Herodian Temple in Jerusalem was adapted to suit the local traditions of worship. In contrast to all of these parallels, however, Herod conceived his Temple Mount compound on a far grander and more elaborate scale than did his contemporaries.

Date of construction.

Herod launched the enormous project of rebuilding the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the height of his political, military, and economic power. Josephus offers two dates for the beginning of construction. In War (1.401) he started in the fifteenth year of his reign, namely in 23/22 B.C.E. In Antiquities (15.380) he began in the eighteenth year, namely in 19/18 B.C.E.

Completion of the entire Temple Mount complex, however, took much longer. According to John 2:20, the construction lasted 46 years, which would mean the project was finished in 27/28 C.E., long after Herod's death in 4 B.C.E. In Antiquities (20.219) the construction lasted more than 80 years, which would have been shortly before the First Jewish Revolt broke out in 66 C.E.

Construction methods and materials.

According to Josephus, there were many trained specialists involved in the construction work. Priests were trained as builders and carpenters, wood- and metalworkers, and gold- and silversmiths, designated for work in the inner sanctuary and the holy of holies (Ant. 15.421). This does not refer to the unskilled workers who must have participated in the construction.

Preparation for the construction, which involved the flattening of a hilly area, comprised three major tasks: (1) the northwest corner of the mountain had to be lowered, (2) the small ravine southeast of the Temple Mount had to be closed off, and (3) the contours of the Tyropoeon Valley had to be altered. These activities may have caused the evacuation of populations previously inhabiting these areas.

The material used for the construction of the Temple Mount came from the nearby quarries, composed of Turonian and Cenomanian limestone. The quarries, probably located in the area of today's Russian compound, were about 125 ft (38 m) higher than the Temple Mount so that the force of gravity could be used to make transportation easier. The stones were either attached to wagon wheels and then rolled to the building site or carried on ox-drawn wagons. Pulleys were used to hoist and manipulate the building materials on site.

The ashlars were smoothed on five sides, with the visible surface featuring a perfectly flat protruding boss and slightly depressed margins. Some of the stones used for the foundations were less meticulously cut. The length of the stones is uniform, and their heights vary between 3.2 and 3.6 ft (1.0–1.1 m). Some particularly large stones measure 32.8 by 8.2 ft (10 by 2.5 m). In the corners they were laid as headers and stretchers. Smaller stones were used for the buildings on top of the Temple Mount. A “master course” served as a strengthening girdle around the Mount. Some of the heavier stones weighed between 110.2 and 330.7 tons (100–300 metric tons). One particularly large ashlar visible in the Western Wall Tunnel weighs 628.3 tons (570 metric tons). Each course in the walls is recessed 0.8 to 1.2 in (2–3 cm) from the bottom to the top, compensating for possible optical distortion.

No mortar was used as adhesive between the stones. This method of “dry” construction saved approximately 38.6 square miles (100 km2) of forest that would have otherwise been used for the production of lime.

The foundations reaching down to the natural rock extended between 23 and 65.5 ft (7–20 m) below street level. Some of the area delineated by the enclosure walls was filled with earth; where the height of the walls permitted, the overlying esplanade was supported by a system of vaults, the area near the southeastern corner being referred to by the crusaders as “Solomon's Stables.” This method of construction relieved pressure and provided a solution to the Halakhic restriction of construction over graves. According to the Mishnah, “The ground beneath the Temple Mount and the courts was hollow, because of deep-lying graves” (m. Parah 3:3).

Herod's motives for the Temple reconstruction.

In emulation of the emperor Augustus and the great Hellenistic monarchs of earlier times, Herod presented himself as a benefactor and a patron of Greek culture. According to Josephus (Ant. 16.150–159), his desire was to earn a favorable reputation and future remembrance through ostentatious generosity (euegersia). Thus, one of Herod's motives for the reconstruction of the Temple Mount was clearly driven by the model of his Roman overlord, Augustus Caesar, who was known for an impressive number of monumental building projects displaying power, munificence, and cultural renewal.

In Antiquities Josephus writes that Herod assembled the people and announced to them his intention of rebuilding the Temple. The king's speech is quoted in full (15.382–387); it expresses his desire to restore earlier glories and even surpass them with a more imposing structure. Herod also states that his past achievements were no less for the good of the people than for his own glory. He also refers to the will of God, suggesting that he believed that his rule was divinely ordained and sanctioned and that in his eyes the reconstruction of the Temple was an act of piety.

The building of the Temple and other Jewish religious monuments has been viewed by some as an attempt to compensate for the construction of pagan monuments in the kingdom of Judea. One of them was the Paneion Temple in honor of Augustus, whose construction coincided with that of the Temple in Jerusalem (20 B.C.E.).

The Babylonian Talmud tried to explain the building of the Temple as an act of atonement for the killing of Jewish sages (B. Bat. 4a, Num. Rab. 14:20). This judgment, however, appears to reflect a later perspective that is not supported by earlier sources.

Herod's motivation for undertaking this ambitious construction project was at least partially the result of pragmatic concerns. It may have been an attempt to alleviate the massive presence of pilgrims visiting the Temple Mount.

Finally, the significant Jewish presence in the Diaspora and the desire to foster some kind of national and religious unity between the dispersed communities and the local Jewry in Judea may also have contributed to the decision to strengthen the exclusivity of the center of Jewish ritual in Jerusalem by remodeling the Temple.

Resources for building the Temple.

In his speech, Herod states that “there continues to be…an abundance of wealth and great revenues” (Ant. 15.387), which he plans to use to execute further projects. Earlier scholars believed that the capital came mostly from the heavy taxes he imposed on the inhabitants of the country and that the manpower came primarily from slave labor. Subsequent scholarship has redefined the origins of his great resources. Much of Herod's capital came from controlling the international routes which facilitated the spice or luxury trade. Up until his reign, the main beneficiaries of this bounty were the Arab tribes and the Nabataeans. The Hasmoneans had previously tried to take control of these trade routes but had not been successful. Another major source of income was the development of special agricultural farms in the Jordan Valley. The area north and west of the Dead Sea and east of the Jordan had been transformed into a gigantic hothouse for the cultivation of spices, medicinal plants, and dates. Finally, the introduction of new technologies, such as hydraulic engineering and metal forging, mostly applied to the sphere of agriculture, generated a surplus of working hands. The participation of thousands of workers in the construction of the Temple Mount relieved unemployment.

Description of the Temple Mount.

The dimensions of the Herodian complex, the largest site of its kind in the ancient world, were as follows: the southern wall, the shortest of the enclosure walls, measures 919 ft (280 m); the eastern wall 1,509 ft (460 m); the western and longest wall 1,591 ft (485 m); and the northern wall 1,033 ft (315 m) (measurements vary slightly according to surveys). The enclosure walls thus define a trapezoid covering about 0.05 square miles (144,000 m2). The height of the enclosure wall from the paved avenues at the foot of the mount is 98.5 ft (30 m) in addition to the 65.5 ft (20 m) foundations. The towers at the corners reach 115 ft (35 m) above street level.

The enclosure wall.

The size of the Temple had to be equivalent to the size of Solomon's First Temple. The temenos (temple platform), however, on which the Temple stood, could be enlarged to accommodate the growing population and large numbers of pilgrims. The Herodian platform was double the size of the former First Temple temenos. The construction required massive earth moving and excavation of rock. Enormous quantities of rock were removed on the northwestern end of the platform; at the southeastern end (where the natural rock descended), the platform had to be raised and the Kidron Valley filled in. There, vaults (Solomon's Stables) were used to alleviate the pressure on the exterior enclosure and for support of the platform.

The creation of such a large terrace was typical of late Republican and early imperial Roman architecture. Examples are the temple complexes of Fortuna Primigenia at Praeneste (Palestrina) and Hercules Victor at Tibur (Tivoli) near Rome, both dating to approximately the mid-first century B.C.E. and built on artificially leveled platforms supported by vaults.

Like Herod's Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, the retaining walls of the Temple in Jerusalem were built of ashlars with slightly depressed margins and smooth central bosses, decorated with pilasters around the upper part of the enclosure walls. The only fragment of a pilaster in situ survives at the northern end of the western wall. Additional fragments have been found among the debris at the foot of the southwestern corner.

The original Herodian platform was at about the same level as the al-Haram al-Sharif because for the most part the early Islamic platform is set directly on bedrock. This level corresponds to the base of the lowest exterior pilaster course, a convention that can be seen at the much better–preserved Herodian enclosure of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

Towers were located at the corners of the Temple Mount, one of which still stands at the northeast corner to a considerable height. To the foot of the southwest corner, an inscribed stone fragment, possibly once crowning the topmost course of the tower, was found during the excavations conducted by Mazar. The engraved Hebrew inscription reads “to the place of trumpeting l'hak-….” Unfortunately, the end of the inscription is broken off. The stone may be linked to the custom for one of the priests to stand and to announce the beginning and end of the Sabbath by the sound of a trumpet, as described by Josephus (J.W. 4.580–583).

The northern wall of Herod's Temple Mount was completely destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E., but its course can be reconstructed based on the preserved northeast corner and the approximate location of the Antonia Fortress. On the west, the entire length of the Herodian wall can be traced, although until the 1990s the northern part of the western wall was inaccessible. During the excavations carried out along the south wall, the original Herodian masonry has been laid bare along the entire length of the wall, although the uppermost courses are of more recent dates. Some 105 ft (32 m) north of the southeast corner, the so-called straight joint is still visible. Given the difference of masonry style south and north of the seam, archaeologists have identified the southern segment with the Herodian extension of the former platform. The date of the construction north of the seam is unresolved.

Access.

The main entrances to the Temple Mount were from the west and south. According to the Mishnah there were five gates giving access to the Temple platform: the two Huldah Gates on the south; Componius's Gate on the west; the Tadi Gate on the north; and the Eastern Gate, on which an image of the Palace of Shushan was featured. “Through this the High Priest who burned the [Red] Heifer, and the Heifer, and all that aided him went forth to the Mount of Olives” (Mid. 1:30). Archaeological excavation revealed four gates on the western wall (corresponding to Josephus's description of the gates leading to the Temple Mount) and two on the eastern wall. This discrepancy is most likely based on the fact that the Mishnah concerns itself mainly with the Temple Mount that existed before Herod's extension.

Two blocked gates, the Huldah Gates, are still visible in the southern wall of the Temple Mount: the so-called Double Gate on the west and the Triple Gate on the east. The Herodian gates probably followed the model of the Hasmonean gates mentioned in the Mishnah as “The two Gates of Huldah in the south serve for entry and exit” (m. Mid. 1:3). Both gates gave access to stepped tunnels, leading up to the Temple Mount platform. The tunnels are located in the vaulted space beneath the platform and ran beneath the royal stoa located at the southern end of the Temple Mount. The lintel above the eastern opening of the western Huldah Gate is crowned by a shallow relieving arch. Preserved inside the gate are a series of arches supporting four stone domes and resting on central columns. Remains of carved geometric and floral motifs on two of the domes suggest the original splendor of the Herodian structure. Whether the Triple Gate reflects the original Herodian appearance or whether it replaced an additional double gate is unclear.

A wide staircase leading up to the Double Gate was excavated by B. Mazar. The steps (partially built and partially cut into the rock) were laid alternately as steps and landings, assuring a reverent ascent. On top of the steps, a street had to be crossed in order to enter the gate. Regarding the flow of circulation, the Mishnah (m. Mid. 2:2) suggests that “whosoever it was that entered the Temple Mount came in on the right and went round and came out on the left, save any whom aught befell, for he went round to the left.” Interpretations vary as to whether one would enter and exit through one set of gates (in which case the eastern gates would have been used by priests and the western one by pilgrims) or use the eastern gates for entrance and the western for exit.

Remains of a monumental arch, situated on the western wall about 42.5 ft (13 m) north of the southwestern corner, were identified by the nineteenth-century American scholar Edward Robinson as part of Herod's construction; and this has come to be known as Robinson's Arch. In conjunction with a pier located some 42.5 ft (13 m) west of the western enclosure wall the protruding arch functioned as support for a structure giving access to the Temple Mount platform. Robinson speculated that the arch originally supported a bridge crossing over the Tyropoeon Valley, mentioned by Josephus (Ant. 14.58, J.W. 2.344). However, B. Mazar's excavations revealed that the arch supported a monumental staircase, leading up from the Tyropoeon Valley to the top of the Temple Mount, thus functioning as a main entrance to the royal stoa located at the southern end of the platform. The staircase spanned a paved road running parallel to the western wall at a distance of some 10 ft (3 m). This road was flanked by dozens of shops, four of which were directly built into Robinson's Arch. The shops served the thousands of visitors who flocked to the Temple during the annual pilgrimage festivals. Recent excavations have determined that the road was planned as part of Herod's general building program of the Temple Mount. It was not paved, however, until shortly before the destruction of the city in 70 C.E.

Some 262 ft (80 m) north of the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, at the southern limit of the present-day Western Wall (in the section reserved for women), a massive stone lintel is still visible. The remainder of the gate is hidden by the earthen ramp leading up to the Moor's Gate, the access to the Temple Mount used by non-Muslim visitors. It was discovered by James Barclay in the early 1850s and subsequently named after him (Barclay's Gate). It has been identified by some as Coponius's Gate (possibly the name of a Jewish donor) mentioned in the Mishnah (m. Mid. 1:3). It has been suggested that during the Herodian period an internal L-shaped staircase led up to the level of the Temple Mount.

Bordering the northern end of the so-called Western Wall plaza are the remains of an arch, named after Charles Wilson, the British engineer who first discovered it in the mid-nineteenth century (Wilson's Arch). The original Herodian version, which has been dated to anywhere between the Late Roman and the Early Islamic periods, has been identified as the easternmost of a series of arches supporting a bridge spanning the Tyropoeon Valley and connecting the Temple Mount platform with the Upper City located on the Western Hill opposite Mount Moriah. These may be the remains of the bridge mentioned by Josephus (Ant. 14.58, J.W. 2.344). In Herodian times, an aqueduct also ran over this causeway, bringing water from a reservoir near Bethlehem to the large cisterns underneath the Temple Mount platform.

About 131 ft (40 m) north of Wilson's Arch, below street level, is a blocked-up gate that originally led to the Temple Mount. The arch was named after its discoverer, Charles Warren (Warren's Gate). Only its lintel, probably from the Late Roman period restoration phase, is visible.

According to the Mishnah, “the Tadi gate [Northern Gate] has no purpose at all” (m. Mid. 1:3). Apparently, the gate originally gave access to the earlier square Temple Mount, an access that was rendered obsolete after Herod's northern extension of the platform, at which point the gate was completely buried.

Some 98.5 ft (30 m) north of the southeastern corner (opposite Robinson's Arch on the western wall) the beginning of a protruding arch-spring can be seen. Above it the remains of a double gate are visible (Eastern Gate). Originally, this arch supported a stairway that descended to the road that ran parallel to the eastern wall. The gate on top probably communicated with the storage vaults, still referred to as Solomon's Stables. This area was probably used to store donations and sacrifices such as sheep, wheat, fruit, and firewood brought to the temple as donations by the pilgrims. Some reconstructions show a bridge that led to the Mount of Olives, which would have been used in the context of the red heifer sacrifice (m. Parah 3:6). Some 787 ft (240 m) farther north on the eastern wall is the Golden Gate (also known as the Gate of Mercy). Below the present Byzantine or Early Islamic gate, the remains of a Herodian entrance were discovered by chance in 1969.

The Temple.

Structurally, no physical traces of the Temple itself have survived the destruction in 70 C.E. Of the railing (soreg) separating the sanctuary from the surrounding platform, two inscriptions still exist. Josephus writes (J.W. 5.193–194, 6.124–125; Ant. 15.417) that at certain intervals this railing carried inscriptions in Greek and Latin, forbidding any non-Jew to enter. The text of the instruction read, “No Gentile shall enter the protective enclosure around the sanctuary. And whoever is caught will have only himself to blame for his ensuing death.” The two surviving inscriptions are in Greek. One was found in secondary use, in the corner construction of a building in a courtyard to the north of the Temple Mount. The fragment of another one was found near St. Stephen's Gate.

Descriptions of the Temple appear in Josephus (Ant. 15.380–425, J.W. 5.184–226) and in the Mishnah (m. Mid., m. Tamid 1:1–3). Disregarding the many differences regarding dimensions and appearance, an approximate reconstruction can be made.

Beyond the railing, 14 steps led to the elevated area on which the Temple and its courts stood. At the top of the stairs was a rampart (hel; m. Mid. 2:3.), beyond which there was a wall encompassing the Temple courts. The eastern gate served as the main point of entry. This gate gave access to the Women's Court. According to m. Middot 2:5, four chambers were located in the four corners of this court, two of which served Nazirites and lepers and the other two as storage areas for wood and oil. Despite the term “Women's Court,” this area was accessible to all, including men and children. To the west of the Women's Court there were 15 semicircular steps (m. Mid. 2:5), where the Levites would stand while reciting the Songs of Ascents (Pss 120—134). Two chambers, that of Pinhas, keeper of the vestments, and that of the makers of the cakes used by the high priest daily (m. Mid. 1:4, m. Tamid 1:3), were located on either side of the Nicanor Gate, or the “Beautiful Gate” (Acts 3:2, 10), which was considered the most magnificent of the Temple gates. From the Court of the Israelites, a relatively narrow area, one could observe the priests conducting the sacrificial ritual, which took place in the adjacent Court of the Priests. This is where the outside sacrificial altar, laver, and place of slaughter were located.

Surrounding this inner courtyard was a portico with columns described by Josephus as being “exceedingly beautiful and lofty” (J.W. 5.200). Several chambers were situated along this portico. On the north were the Salt Chamber, the Parvah Chamber, and the Rinse Chamber; on the south were the Wood Chamber, the Golah Chamber, and the Chamber of Hewn Stone.

The Temple was located on a raised platform to the west. From the east the Temple gave the illusion of a huge cube, 100 cubits on each side (ca. 172 ft [52.50 m]), although in plan it was T-shaped (it was wider in the front than in the back). According to Josephus (Ant. 15.391, J.W. 5.36), it had sunk by the middle of the first century and was in need of restoration by Agrippa II. Unlike the spatial arrangement of rooms and courtyards as well as the general measurements of the Temple and surrounding structures, almost no information regarding the appearance of the Temple can be revealed from the texts. Depictions on Bar Kokhba coins and on Dura Europos wall paintings suggest that the main entrance was flanked by engaged columns and pilasters, one of each on either side. The opening was rectangular, and a cornice and a series of spikes (against birds) crowned the top. The material used was marble, and it was partially covered with gold-plated decor featuring grape clusters (Josephus, J.W. 5.210, Ant. 15.395; Tacitus, Hist. 5.5; m. Mid. 3:8).

The interior was divided into three spaces. The first one, located beyond the eastern facade, was the porch (ulam); it was wider than the rest of the building. The central part was the sanctuary (hekhal), in the middle of which stood the golden altar for incense, the showbread table, and the golden menorah. At the very end in the west was the holy of holies (debir) separated from the sanctuary by a double veil (parokhet). During the First Temple period, the ark of the covenant housing the tablets of the Ten Commandments was placed there (Exod 25:10–22). No mention is made of the ark after the destruction of the First Temple in 70 C.E., and the room remained empty throughout the Second Temple period. Josephus records that only the high priest was allowed to enter the holy of holies (J.W. 5.219), solely on Yom Kippur.

The location of the Temple.

The precise position of the Herodian Temple has been a matter of great controversy and theoretical speculation. It is generally accepted that it stood somewhere near the center of the temple platform. Various suggestions have relied on descriptions of the First Temple and the assumed identical location of the Second Temple, on identifying the spot of the original foundation stone (even ha-shetiah) and relating it to rock (es-Sakhra) enclosed at the center of the Early Islamic Dome of the Rock, on locating the holy of holies and the altar, and finally on geographic features.

The royal stoa and the portico.

The Temple Mount platform was surrounded on three sides by porticoes and on the fourth by an immense basilica, the largest known in the East at the time (Ant. 15.411–415). The platform, other than the sacred Temple precincts, functioned as a forum, the area referred to as the Court of the Gentiles, for their access was limited to this space. The porticoes were lined with double rows of columns supporting a beautifully carved ceiling made of cedar wood (J.W. 5.190–192).

Josephus describes the basilica (basileios stoa, often translated as “royal stoa”) as including 162 colossal pillars arranged in four rows and decorated with Corinthian capitals. The thickness of each column was such “that it would take three men with outstretched arms touching one another to envelop it” (Ant. 15.413). Fragments of those columns were found in the excavations at the foot of the Mount.

Religion, Judaism

Temple inscription warning Gentiles not to enter the inner court. Kim Walton, courtesy of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum

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The idea of setting a dominant sanctuary inside a forum bordered by colonnades had been developed in Rome, such as at the Forum of Julius Caesar and the Forum of Augustus. This concept originated in Greece or Asia Minor and most likely provided the prototype for Jerusalem. These buildings tended to be multifunctional, usually serving political, judicial, and economic purposes.

Additional structures.

Herod most likely built the Antonia Fortress as a separate project before he rebuilt and enlarged the Temple Mount, sometime before 31 B.C.E. (when Mark Antony lost to Octavian Augustus at the Battle of Actium), that is, approximately a decade before Herod's Temple project began in 20/19 B.C.E. The fortress is described in great detail by Josephus (J.W. 5.238–247). It was built on a high rock, with towers at all four corners, the southeastern corner being higher than the others. Christian tradition identifies the Antonia with the Praetorium, the place where Jesus was tried and sentenced to be crucified (Mark 15:1–20). Excavations and surveys conducted in the area near the northwestern corner of the Temple Mount and resulting reconstructions incorporate various rock cuttings and the Struthion pool.

Near Wilson's Arch are the remains of a late Hellenistic/Early Roman–period hall discovered by Warren and named by him the “Freemasons’ Hall.” Subsequently, it came to be referred to as “the Hasmonean Hall” and to be identified by some as either the Chamber of Hewn Stones (the Xystos) or the council building (J.W. 5.144), both mentioned by Josephus. L. and K. Ritmeyer identified a building with installations for ritual purifications located between the Double Gate and the Triple Gate as a council building, which, according to the Mishnah, (b. Sanh. 11:2) was located at a gate.

Architectural style and decoration.

Herod's architectural style was a combination of Hellenistic and Roman elements featuring numerous arches, vaults, and domes. Little of the original decoration has been preserved. Fragments of relief ornaments can be seen on the domes of the vestibule behind the Double Gate, and partially preserved moldings framing the Triple Gate are still visible. The dome reliefs feature vegetal and geometric motifs as well as rosettes and hexagonal swastika patterns. This type of decoration is typical of other Augustan-period sites throughout the Mediterranean.

Temple Rituals.

The Temple represented the religious focal point for Jews in Judea and the Diaspora throughout the Second Temple period. By the time of Herod, the Temple had come to symbolize the Jewish locus sanctus par excellence; it was the place where God dwelled, representing the cosmic center of the universe (axis mundi) and the navel (omphalos) of the world.

At the top of the Temple hierarchy, the high priest was in charge of all activities relating to the Temple. During the rule of Herod, this position did not include political leadership. The high priest officiated on all major holidays and conducted most sacrificial services on other days. He was in charge of the red heifer ritual on the Mount of Olives and almost always of the reading of the Torah on Yom Kippur and during the Haqhel ceremony. The high priest was assisted by a large staff of officers and administrators. Levites were in charge of maintaining the Temple's purity and of music during cultic ceremonies. Numerous assistants were responsible for caring for the needs of those coming to the Temple to offer sacrifices. Various officers took care of libations, bird offerings, and the showbread, among other responsibilities.

For the Jews of the Diaspora contributing a half-shekel annually was a means of demonstrating loyalty and support for the Temple. Some of the Jews of Judea brought their first fruits to the city and gave tithes to the priests, the Levites, and the poor. Additional support came from enormous numbers of pilgrims who flocked to the Temple during the three festivals of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot.

Destruction of the Temple.

Herod's Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. when the Romans under the command of the Roman general Titus conquered and burned Jerusalem, effectively ending the First Jewish Revolt against Rome. Some sources suggest that Titus hesitated to carry out the demolition. Destroying temples of rebellious nations was a common way of punishment and, from the viewpoint of the Romans, most appropriate in the case of the Jews whose worship was centralized in the Temple of Jerusalem.

Archaeological evidence for the destruction in 70 C.E. consists of dispersed ashlars and architectural fragments, including columns, pilasters, capitals, friezes, and cornices, a few of them inscribed. Some of these building remains turned up in the rubble created by Titus's soldiers, mostly visible in the area excavated around the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount; others were found in secondary use, primarily in Byzantine and Early Islamic construction. The Temple Mount remained largely unoccupied until the late seventh century C.E., when the Umayyad caliph ʾAbd al-Malik and his successors reclaimed the site and constructed the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque.

[See also HEBRON; JERUSALEM, HELLENISTIC AND ROMAN; and NABATAEAN ARABIA.)]

Bibliography

  • Bahat, Dan. “The Western Wall Tunnels.” In Ancient Jerusalem Revealed, edited by Hillel Geva, pp. 177–190. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1994.
  • Barnes, Timothy D. “The Sack of the Temple in Josephus and Tacitus.” In Flavius Josephus and Flavian Rome, edited by Jonathan Edmondson, Steve Mason, and James Rives, pp. 101–128. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Ben-Dov, Meir. In the Shadow of the Temple: The Discovery of Ancient Jerusalem. Jerusalem: Keter, 1982.
  • Conder, Claude R. The City of Jerusalem. London: John Murray, 1909.
  • Eliav, Yaron. God's Mountain: The Temple Mount in Time, Place, and Memory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.
  • Gibson, Shimon, and David Jacobson. Below the Temple Mount in Jerusalem: A Sourcebook on the Cisterns, Subterranean Chambers, and Conduits of the Haram al-Sharif. Oxford: Tempus Reparatum, 1996.
  • Hesberg, Henner von. “The Significance of the Cities in the Kingdom of Herod.” In Judaea and the Graeco–Roman World in the Time of Herod in the Light of Archaeological Evidence: Acts of a Symposium Organized by the Institute of Archaeology, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Archaeological Institute, Georg-August-University of Göttingen at Jerusalem, November 3rd–4th, 1988, edited by Klaus Fittschen and Gideon Foerster. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1996.
  • Jacobson, David. “Herod's Roman Temple.” Biblical Archaeology Review 28, no. 2 (2002): 18–27, 60–61.
  • Kaplony, Andreas. The Haram of Jerusalem 324–1099: Temple, Friday Mosque, Area of Spiritual Power. Freiburger Islamstudien 17. Stuttgart, Germany: Franz Steinber Verlag, 2002.
  • Kaufman, A. S. “Where Was the Temple? Kaufman Responds to Jacobson.” Biblical Archaeology Review 26, no. 2 (2000): 52–59, 72–73.
  • Levine, Lee I. Jerusalem: Portrait of the City in the Second Temple Period (538 b.c.e.–70 c.e.). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2002.
  • Mazar, Benjamin. The Excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem near the Temple Mount. Preliminary Report of the First Season, 1968. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society. 1969.
  • Mazar, Benjamin. “Herodian Jerusalem in the Light of the Excavations South and Southwest of the Temple Mount.” Israel Exploration Journal 28 (1978): 230–237.
  • Mazar, Eilat, and Benjamin Mazar. Excavations in the South of the Temple Mount: The Ophel of Biblical Jerusalem. Qedem 29. Jerusalem: The Hebrew University, 1989.
  • Mazar, Eilat, and Benjamin Mazar. “Excavations in the South of the Temple Mount.” Jewish Quarterly Review 84 (1993): 109–111.
  • Patrich, Joseph. “The Location of the Second Temple and the Layout of Its Courtyards, Gates, and Chambers: A New Proposal.” In The Jerusalem Perspective: 150 Years of Archaeological Research, edited by Katharina Galor and Gideon Avni, pp. 205–229. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2011.
  • Reich, Ronny, and Yaacob Billig. “Jerusalem, ‘Robinson's Arch.’” Excavations and Surveys in Israel 16 (1997): 108–109.
  • Reich, Ronny, and Yaacob Billig. “Jerusalem, Robinson's Arch: The Archaeological Park of the Second Temple Period.” Excavations and Surveys in Israel 18 (1998): 88–90.
  • Reich, Ronny, and Yaacob Billig. “Jerusalem, Robinson's Arch.” Excavations and Surveys in Israel 20 (2000): 135.
  • Ritmeyer, Leen. The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Jerusalem: Carta, 2006.
  • Ritmeyer, Leen, and Kathleen Ritmeyer. Jerusalem in the Year 30 a.d. Jerusalem: Carta, 2004.
  • Ritmeyer, Leen, and Kathleen Ritmeyer. Secrets of Jerusalem's Temple Mount. Washington, D.C.: Biblical Archaeology Society, 1998.
  • Sanders, Ed Parish. Judaism: Practice and Belief 63 b.c.e.–66 c.e. London: SCM Press; Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1992.
  • Sporty, Lawrence D. “The Location of the Holy House of Herod's Temple: Evidence from the Post-Destruction Period.” Biblical Archaeologist 54, no. 1 (1991): 28–35.

Katharina Galor

Purity in the Roman Period

Intensive concern for the proper observance of the levitical purity laws was characteristic of various Jewish groups living in Judea during the late Second Temple period. The purity laws, concentrated in the Priestly Code (mostly in Lev 11—15 and Num 19), describe numerous sources of ritual impurity (e.g., dead swarming creatures, male and female genital discharges, human corpses), venues whereby impurity is transferred from one object or person to another, and methods for purifying people, clothing, and vessels that have become impure. Rigorous interest in the levitical purity laws is evidenced in the literature of the period, including the biblical apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament, and the works of Josephus Flavius. Continued interest in ritual purity law, at least within the rabbinic academy, is evidenced by the copious early rabbinic literature devoted to the topic; these laws are the focus of an entire order of the Mishnah and Tosefta (Ṭeharot, “purities”), and are the topic of many rabbinic pericopes interspersed throughout the Talmudic literature of the Roman and Early Byzantine periods.

Religion, Judaism

Ceremonial bath (Mikvah) from Jerusalem. Todd Bolen/Bible Places.com

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The literary sources have been supplemented by a plethora of archaeological finds which provide evidence for the centrality of ritual purity observance in the daily lives of Jews in Judea during the Roman period. Chief among these finds are stepped water installations which served as ritual baths (mikvaot) for the purificatory immersion of ritually impure people, clothing, and vessels. Another important archaeological phenomenon which indicates observance of ritual purity laws is the widespread use of chalkstone vessels because stone was regarded as a material impervious to ritual impurity. Additionally, a marked absence of imported pottery at most Jewish sites throughout the Early Roman period has been explained by numerous scholars as a reflection of concern over the ritual impurity of ceramic vessels produced outside the borders of the land of Israel.

Ritual Baths (Mikvaot).

According to the Priestly Code, bathing in water is a requisite for the purification of most forms of ritual impurity affecting humans, while washing in water is required for the purification of impure clothing. Certain types of vessels are to be purified by being “dipped into water” (Lev 11:32), “rinsed in water” (Lev 15:12), or “passed through the water” (Num 31:23). By the late Second Temple period, these biblical injunctions were apparently understood as referring specifically to full immersion in a body of water. While the written sources from this period abound in references to the practice of ritual immersion (e.g., Josephus, Ant. 3.263; Mark 7:3–4; Luke 11:38) and the Damascus Document instructs that water used for ritual ablutions must be neither polluted nor overly shallow (CD X:10–12; 4QDe 6 iv 21), no mention is ever made of a specific type of installation which may have been used for such purificatory immersions.

The earliest source to describe a water installation designated specifically for ritual immersion is the Mishnah (redacted in the first quarter of the third century C.E.), where such an installation is called a bēt Ṭĕbīlâ (house of immersion) or, more commonly, a mikvah (lit., “gathering,” i.e., a gathering of water; cf. Gen 1:10 and Lev 11:36). An underlying rule found in the Mishnah and other rabbinic literature (e.g., m. Miqw. 2:3–9) is the specification that either rain or spring water must be channeled directly into a ritual bath as drawn water is deemed unfit for use in ritual ablutions. Additionally, the bath must contain a minimum volume of water, to allow for the full immersion of an adult, measured in rabbinic metrological terms as 40 sĕʿâ (probably equivalent to about 130 gallons [500 liters]) (e.g., m. Miqw. 1:7). Archaeological excavations and surveys in Israel and Jordan have uncovered hundreds of water installations that have been identified as ritual baths dating to the Late Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods.

History of research.

The first installation to be identified as an ancient ritual bath was discovered in the first season of excavations directed by Yigael Yadin at Masada in 1963–1964. The installation, found in the southern casemate wall, was covered with hydraulic plaster and fitted with four steps leading to its floor. Adjacent to this was found a second plastered pool, connected to the first via a hole in the wall shared by the two installations. Yadin found a striking resemblance between the configuration of these pools and that of modern-day Jewish ritual baths, in which the stepped immersion pool is almost invariably connected via a pipe to an adjacent pool called an ʿôṣār (reservoir). While the immersion pool in modern ritual baths is changed regularly with tap water, which modern arbiters of Jewish law have deemed equivalent to drawn water and, hence, unsuitable for ritual immersion, the ʿôṣār is filled with rainwater. The water in the immersion pool is made suitable for ritual use by opening the pipe connecting the immersion pool with the ʿôṣār as drawn water is made fit by simple contact with rainwater. Yadin assumed that the two installations he had uncovered at Masada functioned the same way as modern Jewish ritual baths and, as a result, identified his find as a ritual bath built by the Sicarii defenders of Masada sometime between 66 and 73 C.E.

Systematic research of ancient ritual baths began in earnest only in the wake of the wide-scale excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem in the late 1960s and during the course of the 1970s. Dozens of stepped water installations were uncovered in the excavations conducted by Benjamin Mazar adjacent to the Temple Mount as well as in the excavations carried out under the supervision of Nahman Avigad in the Jewish Quarter; however, hardly any of these had an adjacent ʿôṣār pool. Ronny Reich, at the time one of Avigad's senior assistants, identified these installations as ritual baths, pointing out that an ʿôṣār is in fact not required for an installation to function as a ritual bath. Reich's groundbreaking work was summarized in 1990 in a corpus which numbered 300 ancient ritual baths throughout Israel. The following 20 years saw a surge in the number of ritual baths discovered in archaeological excavations and surveys throughout the country, with over 850 ritual baths dated from the Late Hellenistic period through the Roman and Byzantine periods.

Physical features.

One of the most salient features of ancient ritual baths is a flight of steps which leads from the rim of the pool to the floor of the installation. There is no standard as to the number of steps found in ancient ritual baths; the number of steps is determined simply by the depth of the pool. In most cases, these steps span the entire width of the bath, although in some examples the steps form a narrow staircase abutting the inner wall of the installation. Often, the staircase is composed of one or more steps with a long tread interspersed between steps with a shorter tread, an arrangement which apparently provided a comfortable landing for immersion during the rainy season when the pool was filled to capacity, and, hence, descent to the bottom of the bath would have been impossible. Many times the lowest step is considerably higher than the others, creating a deep basin at the bottom of the bath. In such cases, a small auxiliary step is often found, which facilitates descent into this basin and ascent out of the basin after immersion.

Another essential feature found in ritual baths is hydraulic plaster characteristic of other water installations, such as cisterns, aqueducts, and pools. This plaster covers the steps, the floor, and the walls of the bath and often covers the ceiling as well. Numerous coats of plaster are often found lining the ritual bath, indicating repairs made to the installation over the course of its use.

Ritual baths are usually hewn into the bedrock. Often, the entire installation, including the ceiling, is carved out of the bedrock, creating an immersion chamber in the form of an artificial cave. In many cases, however, only the steps and the walls of the bath are hewn into the rock, while the pool is enclosed and covered with constructed masonry walls and ceiling. In rare cases the entire installation is constructed of stones and covered with hydraulic plaster.

Although most ritual baths are trapezoidal or rectangular in plan, some display a round, ovoid, or irregular design. Similarly, there is no standard as to the volume of ancient ritual baths; while some held a capacity of no more than 130 gallons (500 liters), the largest known baths held up to 79,000 gallons (300,000 liters).

In some ritual baths, a low partition runs down the middle of the steps, dividing the staircase into two. (In Qumran, some ritual baths were found with two and even three partitions of this kind.) In many cases, the partition is a strip of bedrock that had been deliberately left unhewn when the steps were first carved, while in some cases the partition is constructed of small stones and covered with plaster. Such partitions were apparently intended to insure separation between those descending into the bath in a state of ritual impurity and those ascending from the bath after purification, thus avoiding physical contact and contamination. Separation between those entering and those exiting the ritual bath was sometimes achieved by installing a double opening into the immersion room, with one opening serving the impure entering the bath and the adjacent opening serving those leaving the bath after purification. In a number of cases, both a double entranceway and a partitioned staircase have been found in the same bath. Hints for such an arrangement in ritual baths dating to the late Second Temple period are found in both the Mishnah (m. Šeqal. 8:2) and a fragment of a noncanonical gospel found in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt (P.Oxy. 840, date of composition unknown).

Chronological and geographic distribution.

The earliest ritual baths date to the Hasmonean period, from the end of the second century B.C.E. or the beginning of the first century B.C.E. Baths definitively dating to this early stage have been found in Jerusalem, Jericho, Qumran, and Sepphoris. It remains unclear exactly how the levitical injunction of purification through bathing in water was carried out prior to the advent of the man-made ritual bath. While it is possible that immersion was practiced in springs or other natural bodies of water, it seems likely that the biblical directive to “bathe” was understood to include other forms of washing the body, such as affusion and aspersion.

The Early Roman period witnessed a surge in the number of ritual baths in use throughout the country, with the vast majority of discovered baths deriving from the period spanning the first century B.C.E. until the Bar Kokhba Revolt of 132 to 135 C.E. Ritual baths from this period have been discovered at dozens of sites throughout Israel, from the Upper Galilee and the Golan in the north to the Beersheba Valley in the south, as well as at a number of sites in Jordan.

Not surprisingly, the largest concentration of ritual baths dating to the Early Roman period has been found at Jerusalem, where approximately 170 baths have been uncovered. Baths have been found in excavations carried out in almost every part of the city: in the residential quarters on the western hill and along its eastern slope, in the vicinity of the southern and western walls of the Temple Mount, and on the eastern spur, where the lower city was located. The incredibly large number of baths in Jerusalem doubtlessly served both Jerusalem's native population as well as the tens of thousands of pilgrims who visited the city throughout the year, especially during the three major pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles).

Hundreds of ritual baths dating to the Early Roman period have also been uncovered at dozens of rural settlement sites in the Judean countryside. Often, numerous baths have been found at a single site, even in relatively small villages or farmsteads, a phenomenon which indicates the important role that ritual immersion played in daily life in this region. A majority of these sites continued to be occupied during the period following the Great Revolt and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., and most of the ritual baths found in these settlements appear to have remained in use until the widespread destruction of Judea following the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 135 C.E.

While over 600 ritual baths dating to the Hasmonean and Early Roman periods have been uncovered throughout Judea (including Jerusalem), fewer than 70 baths from these periods have been found in the Galilee. While this uneven distribution of finds may indicate differences in the ways that ritual purity was observed in different regions of the country, it is also possible that the disparity simply reflects the fact that the area of Judea has benefited from more intensive archaeological investigation than has the Galilee.

During this period, ritual baths appear exclusively in Jewish contexts. No ritual baths dating conclusively to the Early Roman period have been found at any predominantly non-Jewish sites, such as the Greek cities of the Decapolis and those along the coastal plain.

Ritual baths postdating the Bar Kokhba Revolt have been found at numerous sites throughout Israel, although in far fewer numbers than those from the Early Roman period. Most of these finds are concentrated in the Galilee and in the southern Hebron Hills, areas with relatively large Jewish populations. Saliently, over 40 ritual baths have been uncovered in Sepphoris, a large number of which were in use during the Middle Roman and Late Roman periods, with some dating to as late as the Byzantine period. In most cases, however, no more than one or two baths dating to these later periods have been found at any one site.

Location and context.

Most ritual baths were located in residential contexts, in the basement or on the ground floor of houses as well as in shared domestic courtyards. The phenomenon of ritual baths installed in private homes was prevalent across the entire socioeconomic gamut, from simple dwellings in rural villages to the lavish mansions of the upper city of Jerusalem and the royal palaces of the Hasmoneans and of Herod the Great (r. 37–4 B.C.E.). In the palaces of the latter, ritual baths are often found in the frigidaria (rooms with cold-water baths) of the palatial bathhouses, as is the case at Jericho, Cypros, Herodium, Masada, Machaerus, and Caesarea.

In addition to ritual baths located within private homes, some examples located on the periphery of settlement sites have been found, usually large installations which probably served the entire community. Ritual baths of an apparently public nature have also been found adjacent to synagogues, where they may have served a purificatory function for those taking part in liturgical activities such as Torah reading. While common at most Second Temple–period synagogues, ritual baths are almost never found in association with Late Roman– and Byzantine-period synagogues.

Numerous ritual baths have been found near entrances to the Temple Mount, in close proximity to the Huldah Gates in the southern wall and Robinson's Arch and Wilson's Arch in the western wall. These were apparently public ritual baths, intended for the use of the multitude of pilgrims who visited the Temple for the festivals and throughout the year and required purificatory immersion prior to entering the sacred realms of the Temple. Incremental levels of sanctity were associated with the outer court of the Temple Mount, the various inner courts of the Temple, and the sanctuary itself, with access into each sanctified zone regulated correspondingly according to ascending degrees of ritual purity (cf. Josephus J.W. 5.227, Ag. Ap. 2.103–104; m. Kelim 1:8–9).

A number of ritual baths have been found adjacent to winepresses and oil presses and were apparently used by agricultural laborers in order to insure the ritual purity of the wine and oil produced at these installations. The Mishnah in fact describes laborers in the winemaking and olive oil production industries immersing themselves prior to commencing work (m. Ṭehar. 10:3) and alludes to the presence of ritual baths adjacent to winepresses and oil presses (m. Miqw. 7:3).

Several ritual baths have been found adjacent to burial caves and were apparently used after the burial ceremony for the purification of funerary participants who had contracted corpse-impurity. While the Priestly Code mandates a seven-day process of purification involving sprinklings with ashes of the red heifer and bathing only on the seventh day for a person who had come into direct contact with a corpse or a grave (Num 19:11–19), one who had only touched such a person was considered impure only until the evening (Num 19:22, cf. m. ʿOhal. 1:1), a less severe form of impurity for which bathing alone was sufficient; ritual baths located near tombs were probably intended for such ablutions. Some scholars have suggested that these baths were used by those following an obscure practice of ritual immersion on the first day of the seven-day purification process after direct contact with a corpse or a grave, a rite found in sectarian texts from Qumran (QTa XLIX 17–20, L 14–16; 4QRitPur A 2 ii 3–4).

Samaritan ritual baths.

Approximately 30 ritual baths have been discovered at sites identified as Roman- or Byzantine-period Samaritan settlements. These Samaritan baths are stepped water installations identical in form to contemporary Jewish ritual baths. Among these, all that can be reliably dated derive from the Late Roman and Byzantine periods.

Although little is known regarding Samaritan practices relating to ritual purification during this period from Samaritan texts, contemporary rabbinic sources relate that Samaritans (lit. “Cutheans”) made use of ritual baths which were deemed valid according to rabbinic standards (t. Miqw. 5:1, y. ʾAbod. Zar. 5:3). A number of additional ritual baths were uncovered in the predominantly pagan city of Samaria/Sebaste, although the dates of these installations, as well as any possible association with a Samaritan or perhaps Jewish minority population at the site, remain unclear.

Chalkstone Vessels.

According to the Priestly Code, vessels may be rendered impure upon contact with certain sources of ritual impurity; however, in some instances a distinction is drawn between vessels made of different materials: wood, cloth, leather, and sackcloth are to be purified through immersion in water (Lev 11:32, cf. Num 31:20, where the method of purification is not specified), while earthen vessels are to be broken (Lev 11:33, 15:12). Other materials singled out for purification through ablutions are gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, and lead (Num 31:22–23). The status of vessels made of stone (such as grinding implements usually made of basalt or other hard rock) is nowhere apparent from these sources.

Throughout the rabbinic literature, on the other hand, there is a clear underlying rule that stone vessels cannot contract ritual impurity and, as such, never have need for purification (e.g., Sipre, Ḥuqat 126). Vessels made of stone were used on various occasions when the ritual purity of a vessel was to be ensured (e.g., m. Beṣah 2:3, m. Parah 3:2, 11). This practice appears to lie behind the gospel of John's explanation that the stone water jars featured in the wedding at Cana narrative were associated with “the purity (laws) of the Jews” (John 2:6 lit.).

During the Early Roman period, various types of vessels made of chalkstone, serving as both domestic tableware and storage containers for food and liquids, were in widespread use at Jewish sites throughout Judea, Galilee, and Perea, supplementing the usual repertoire of ceramic vessels. This was a uniquely Jewish phenomenon as remains of chalkstone vessels are conspicuously absent from non-Jewish sites. These vessels, undoubtedly more unwieldy and costlier to produce than pottery, were apparently prized by Jews for their unique quality of imperviousness to ritual impurity; and, as such, archaeological finds of chalkstone vessels serve as an indication of ritual purity observance.

History of research.

The extensive excavations carried out in the Old City of Jerusalem in the late 1960s and during the course of the 1970s were instrumental in igniting scholarly interest in chalkstone vessels. Yitzhak Magen, who assisted Mazar in his excavations near the Temple Mount, dedicated himself to the study of chalkstone vessel typology and manufacturing methods, publishing important researches on the topic. Following Magen, numerous studies on the topic were published; worthy of mention are Jane Cahill's comprehensive and systematic study of the chalkstone vessel assemblage from Yigal Shiloh's excavations in the City of David and Roland Deines's seminal study of the archaeological and textual evidence relating to the use of chalkstone vessels during the Second Temple period.

Vessel types.

The chalkstone vessels under discussion may be divided into three typological classifications according to production technique: vessels produced on a small lathe, vessels produced on a large lathe, and vessels carved completely by hand. Although some of the hand-carved types may have appeared slightly before the appearance of the lathe-turned types, a datable typology of these vessels is not apparent.

The technique of turning on a small lathe allowed for the production of delicate chalkstone tableware, mostly various types of bowls but also stemmed drinking cups, stoppers, spice bowls, and inkwells. Many of these types are remarkably similar in form to Early Roman–period wooden vessels found in the Judean desert, vessels which were also lathe-turned apparently using a similar technique. Some of the bowl types appear to imitate styles found in the repertoire of imported terra sigillata pottery from this period.

Religion, Judaism

Stone jars from Jerusalem. Kim Walton, courtesy of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem

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The dominant type of vessel produced on a large lathe was the krater, a tall, barrel-shaped jar standing on a leg with either a trumpet base or a column-like base. These are massive vessels, generally measuring 26 to 32 inches (65–80 cm) in height and 16 to 20 inches (40–50 cm) in diameter. It appears that chalkstone kraters were used as storage containers for food and liquids. Vessels of this type are probably the “stone water jars” of the wedding at Cana story, where they are described as holding a capacity of “twenty or thirty gallons” (John 2:6), a range of volumes similar to that of the chalkstone kraters characteristic of the period. Other vessels produced on a large lathe include hole-mouth jars with a biconical body and a narrow cylindrical base (usually measuring ca. 12 inches [30 cm] in both height and maximum diameter), large bowls, platters, and large lids.

Many of the chalkstone vessels were hand-carved using a hammer and chisel. The most common of these is a barrel-shaped container characterized by walls with a faceted, chisel-marked exterior face. These distinctive containers can be classified into to two groups: (1) mugs bearing either one or two pierced, rectangular handles and (2) small pitchers bearing an open, horizontal spout in the rim and a single, pierced, rectangular handle set at ninety degrees counterclockwise from the spout. Although both of these types are commonly referred to in the archaeological literature as “measuring cups,” researchers have long rejected this term as there is no consistent metrological pattern in the volumes of vessels belonging to either of these types. Other hand-carved chalkstone vessels include teacup-shaped vessels bearing a single pierced handle, various types of bowls, platters, lids, and tabletops.

Chronology.

Chalkstone vessels first appeared in the archaeological record during the second half of the first century B.C.E. and continued to enjoy widespread popularity during the remainder of the Second Temple period. On the basis of the archaeological data available at the time, Magen and those following him asserted a sharp decline in the use of chalkstone vessels after 70 C.E. and indicated that these vessels disappeared entirely from the material culture after the end of the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 135 C.E. However, in light of finds from subsequent archaeological excavations, it appears that chalkstone vessels continued to be in widespread use throughout the late first and early second centuries C.E. These vessels continued to be produced during this period, with new typological forms appearing for the first time only after 70 C.E.

After the quelling of the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 135 C.E., chalkstone vessels almost completely disappeared from the archaeological record. Evidence for sporadic use of such vessels subsequent to 135 C.E. is extremely sparse, consisting of only a small handful of fragments found at a limited number of Galilean sites.

Geographic distribution.

Chalkstone vessels have been found at over 250 sites in Israel and Jordan. The largest concentration of sites with chalkstone vessel finds is in Judea, where fragments of these vessels have been found at almost every site with archaeological layers dating to the Early Roman period. Chalkstone quarries and workshops for the production of these vessels have been excavated at ḥizma and at Mount Scopus, both located on the northeastern periphery of Jerusalem. Additional evidence for chalkstone vessel production has been found north of Jerusalem at Tell el-Ful and south of the city at Jebel Mukabbir.

Chalkstone vessels have been found in the Galilee at over 60 sites and in the lower Golan at an additional seven sites. A chalkstone vessel quarry and a workshop have been discovered and partially excavated at A-Reina (near Upper Nazareth), and debitage from chalkstone vessel production has been found at Bethlehem of Galilee. Fragments of chalkstone vessels have also been uncovered at a number of sites within the Jewish region of Perea in the Transjordan. Chalkstone vessel remains are conspicuously almost entirely absent from non-Jewish sites, such as the Greek cities of the Decapolis and those along the coastal plain as well as the entire region of Samaria.

Imported Pottery.

During the Early Roman period imported pottery, particularly Eastern Terra Sigillata (ETS) fineware, was a common component in the ceramic repertoire of sites occupied by a predominantly pagan population, such as Tel Anafa, Samaria/Sebaste, Dor, Ashdod, Ashkelon, as well as the mixed pagan–Jewish city Caesarea Maritima. In stark contrast, imported pottery is almost completely absent from nearly all contemporary Jewish sites throughout Judea and Galilee. The few exceptions of Jewish sites where ETS has been found in significant quantities include Gamla, where ETS disappeared by the beginning of the first century C.E.; the Herodian palaces at Jericho and Cypros; and the Armenian Garden in the Old City of Jerusalem, where it is conjectured that the Jerusalem palace of Herod the Great was located. Marked quantities of ETS have been found in some areas of Avigad's excavations in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, beginning in the latter part of the first century B.C.E. and continuing into the first century C.E., although Avigad noted a distinct absence of such wares from 70 C.E. destruction layers. These exceptional examples serve to draw attention to the conspicuous absence of imported ceramics at practically every other Early Roman–period Jewish site in the country.

It seems likely that the absence of ETS and other imported ceramic wares in Jewish settlement sites during this period reflects a deliberate avoidance of such vessels. Jewish eschewal of imported wares may be a case of boundary maintenance between Jews and the surrounding Greco–Roman culture, a phenomenon which finds expression in the written sources of the period in the ascription of inherent ritual impurity to Gentiles (e.g., J.W. 1.229, 2.150; Acts 10:28). Early rabbinic sources similarly refer to the ritual impurity of Gentiles (e.g., t. Zabim 2:1) and extend ritual impurity to Gentile lands as well (e.g., m. ʿOhal. 2:3). As a result, ceramic vessels imported from outside of the land of Israel were perforce deemed impure by the rabbis (e.g., t. Kelim B. Qam 3:6). The absence of ETS and other imported wares from the ceramic repertoire of Early Roman–period Jewish sites can thus be seen as an intentional avoidance of ritually impure vessels. As noted, many of the ceramic types common in ETS were copied by Jewish artisans in chalkstone, apparently in an attempt to produce an inherently pure alternative to the intrinsically impure imported wares.

The stark dichotomy in the distribution of imported pottery between Jewish and pagan settlements continued until the middle of the second century C.E., at which point the importation of ETS and other foreign-made ceramic families to Roman Palestine ceased almost completely. For more than 100 years, imported fine tableware was almost completely absent throughout the country, in both Jewish and pagan settlements alike. Imported pottery began to reappear in Roman Palestine only toward the end of the Late Roman period in the form of Late Roman Red Ware, and from its first appearance in the fourth century C.E. and throughout the Byzantine period this pottery became common in both non-Jewish and Jewish settlements alike. As opposed to the Early Roman period, the Late Roman and Byzantine periods thus lack archaeological evidence for a widespread Jewish avoidance of Gentile impurity in the form of imported ceramic wares.

Assessment.

The widespread distribution of ritual baths and chalkstone vessels, as well as the absence of imported pottery, in Early Roman–period Jewish settlement sites throughout the country indicates that a heightened concern for ritual purity issues was ubiquitous within contemporary Jewish society and was not limited to the priestly class or to any particular sectarian group. The phenomenon of numerous ritual baths found at any one settlement site, prevalent in villages large and small throughout the rural Judean countryside, bespeaks a widespread concern for the maintenance of ritual purity on a regular, perhaps even daily, basis. Finds indicating an apparent continuation of these archaeological phenomena throughout the 70–135 C.E. period demonstrate that observance of ritual purity laws remained widespread for decades after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. The suppression of the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 135 C.E., with the physical destruction and social upheaval which came in its wake, marked the end of the widespread observance of these practices. Thereafter, chalkstone vessels all but disappeared, and the phenomenon of large concentrations of ritual baths in residential quarters became limited to a negligible number of sites.

Although ritual purity continued to be observed on a regular basis by some Jews even after 135 C.E., as suggested by the numerous ritual baths found at Sepphoris, Beth Sheʿarim, and Susiya (in the southern Hebron Hills), this practice became limited to a very small segment of the population. It was during this period that contemporary rabbinic sources describe the rise of the social institution called the ḥăbûrâ (lit. “group”), a voluntary fellowship aimed chiefly at facilitating the maintenance of ritual purity among its members at a time when the observance of ritual purity among the Jewish population at large was no longer commonplace.

[See also BAR KOKHBA CAVES; HERODIUM; JERUSALEM, HELLENISTIC AND ROMAN; MASADA; QUMRAN; and SEPPHORIS.)]

Bibliography

  • Adler, Yonatan. “The Ancient Synagogue and the Ritual Bath: The Archaeological Evidence and Its Relevance to an Early Rabbinic Enactment.” Cathedra 128 (2008): 51–72 (Hebrew).
  • Adler, Yonatan. “The Archaeology of Purity: Archaeological Evidence for the Observance of Ritual Purity in Ereẓ-Israel from the Hasmonean Period until the End of the Talmudic Era (164 B.C.E.–400 C.E.).” PhD diss., Bar-Ilan University, 2011 (Hebrew). Includes distribution maps and corpus of ritual baths, updating Reich (1990), and maps and corpus of chalkstone vessel find sites, updating Magen (2002).
  • Adler, Yonatan. “‘Come and See the Extent to Which Purity had Spread’ (tShab 1.14): An Archaeological Perspective on the Historical Background to a Late Tannaitic Passage.” In Talmuda de-Eretz Israel: Archaeology and the Rabbis in Late Antique Palestine, edited by Steven Fine and Aaron Koller. Studia Judaica: Forschungen zur Wissenschaft des Judentums. Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, forthcoming.
  • Adler, Yonatan. “Ritual Baths Adjacent to Tombs: An Analysis of the Archaeological Evidence in Light of the Halakhic Sources.” Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Period 40, no. 1 (2009): 55–73.
  • Adler, Yonatan. “Second Temple Period Ritual Baths Adjacent to Agricultural Installations: The Archaeological Evidence in Light of the Halakhic Sources.” Journal of Jewish Studies 59, no. 1 (2008): 62–72.
  • Amit, David, and Yonatan Adler. “The Observance of Ritual Purity after 70 C.E.: A Reevaluation of the Evidence in Light of Recent Archaeological Discoveries.” In Follow the Wise” (B. Sanhedrin 32b): Studies in Jewish History and Culture in Honor of Lee I. Levine, edited by Zeʿev Weiss, Oded Irshai, Jodi Magness, et al., pp. 121–143. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2010.
  • Berlin, Andrea M. “Romanization and Anti-Romanization in Pre-Revolt Galilee.” In The First Jewish Revolt:‎ Archaeology, History, and Ideology,‎ edited by Andrea M. Berlin and J. Andrew Overman, pp. 57–73. London: Routledge, 2002. Includes a rare study of differences in distribution of Eastern Terra Sigillata between Jewish and pagan settlements in the Galilee.
  • Cahill, Jane. “Chalk Vessel Assemblages of the Persian/Hellenistic and Early Roman Periods.” In Excavations at the City of David 1978–1985: Directed by Yigal Shiloh. Vol. 3: Stratigraphical, Environmental, and Other Reports, edited by Alon De Groot and Donald T. Ariel, pp. 190–274. Qedem 33. Jerusalem: Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1992.
  • Deines, Roland. Jüdische Steingefässe und pharisäische Frömmigkeit: Ein archäologisch historischer Beitrag zum Verständnis von Joh 2,6 und der jüdischen Reinheitshalacha zur Zeit Jesu. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, ser. 2, 52. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr, 1993.
  • Magen, Yitzhak. The Stone Vessel Industry in the Second Temple Period: Excavations at Ḥizma and the Jerusalem Temple Mount. Judea and Samaria Publications 1. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2002. A revised and expanded version of his earlier study with the same title, published in Hebrew in 1988.
  • Miller, Stuart S. “Stepped Pools, Stone Vessels, and Other Identity Markers of ‘Complex Common Judaism.’” Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Period 41, no. 2 (2010): 214–243.
  • Poirier, John C. “Purity beyond the Temple in the Second Temple Era.” Journal of Biblical Literature 122, no. 2 (2003): 247–265.
  • Reed, Jonathan L. “Stone Vessels and Gospel Texts: Purity and Socio-Economics in John 2.” In Zeichen aus Text und Stein: Studien auf dem Weg zu einer Archäologie des Neuen Testaments, edited by Stefan Alkier and Jürgen Zangenberg, pp. 381–401. Tübingen, Germany: A. Francke, 2003.
  • Regev, Eyal. “Pure Individualism: The Idea of Non-Priestly Purity in Ancient Judaism.” Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Period 31, no. 2 (2000): 176–202.
  • Reich, Ronny. “Miqwaʿot (Jewish Ritual Immersion Baths) in Eretz-Israel in the Second Temple and the Mishna and Talmud Periods.” PhD diss., Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1990. Although an unpublished doctoral dissertation in Hebrew not readily accessible in even the best libraries, this remains the most influential work on the subject to date.
  • Zangenberg, J. K. “Pure Stone: Archaeological Evidence for Jewish Purity Practices in Late Second Temple Judaism (Miqwaʿot, Stone Vessels).” In Purity and the Forming of Religious Traditions in the Ancient Mediterranean World and Ancient Judaism, edited by Christian Frevel and Christophe Nihan, pp. 537–572. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2012.
  • Zissu, Boaz, and David Amit. “Common Judaism, Common Purity, and the Second Temple Period Judean Miqwaʿot (Ritual Immersion Baths).” In Common Judaism: Explorations in Second-Temple Judaism, edited by Wayne O. McCready and Adele Reinhartz, pp. 47–62. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2008.

Yonatan Adler

Synagogues, Palestine

The subject of the ancient synagogue received its first major scientific investigation in modern times in the form of the architectural survey and modest excavations of the German team of Heinrich Kohl, an architect, and Carl Watzinger, an archaeologist; the results of their work on 11 synagogues were published in 1916. Although earlier nineteenth-century explorers such as Edward Robinson, Ernest Renan, Sir Charles Wilson, and Horatio Kitchener had identified numerous synagogues in their surveys of Palestine, the German team was the first to systematically explore a specific group with the clear intent to date and present a ground plan of each building along with sections as well as drawings and photographs of individual architectural fragments. In addition, they presented several detailed reconstruction drawings, which still appear in the scholarly literature about the ancient synagogue. The chronological range of the various buildings examined by their team was between the second and fourth centuries C.E. All of the structures featured aspects of classical architectural style and design and had affinities with south Syrian classical structures. While reexcavation and reexamination of most of those synagogues demonstrated that many of their conclusions had to be revised, their pioneering work propelled this area of the archaeology of ancient Palestine to the fore.

Not surprisingly, the subject of the archaeology of the ancient synagogue figured centrally in the Zionist effort to resettle the land of the Bible in the early twentieth century. It was the discovery and excavation of the synagogue at Beit Alpha in the Jezreel Valley by Eliezer Lipa Sukenik in 1929 that provided the impetus for the next wave of focused work on the synagogue. The sixth-century C.E. Beit Alpha synagogue, with its beautiful mosaic carpet, offered an opportunity for the Jewish settlers on the kibbutz and in the land to identify with their earlier ancestors. To say that Beit Alpha provided a boost to the energy and enthusiasm of the Zionist movement is to understate the case. Sukenik remained in the forefront of the field, and his 1934 volume (Ancient Synagogues in Palestine and Greece) sums up the state of research in the field at that time. In general, as a result of Sukenik's work and that of his colleague, Michael Avi-Yonah, a typology for the development of synagogues was developed. According to that scheme the early Galilean synagogues had a basilical layout with a triple facade that faced Jerusalem and normally a flagstone pavement (e.g., Baram, Meiron) and were dated to the same time frame that the German team had proposed, namely, the second to fourth centuries C.E. The transitional form was the broadhouse type, with the focus of worship on the long wall and characterized by the introduction of mosaics; this type was dated to the fourth and fifth centuries C.E. (e.g., Khirbet Shemaʾ and Eshtemoa). The latest type, dated to the Byzantine period and fifth and sixth centuries, was the apsidal synagogue, basilical in layout but with a narthex, or forecourt, and the apse on the Jerusalem-facing wall (e.g., Beit Alpha, Naʿaran). This type usually had a bema (raised platform) in front of the apse, the space normally demarcated by a railing or chancel screen.

The next stage in the history of the study of the ancient synagogue in Palestine began in the 1970s when the author commenced a series of excavations at synagogue sites in the Upper Galilee, Khirbet Shemaʾ, Merion, Gush Ḥalav, and Nabratein, three of which had been studied by Kohl and Watzinger. The discovery of the broadhouse synagogue at Khirbet Shemaʾ with a bema on the Jerusalem-facing wall between 1970 and 1972 led Avi-Yonah to give up the old threefold typology of Galilean synagogues, and he did so in his 1973 article in the Israel Museum journal Ariel, which was his last word on the subject; he died before the final report was published. By the 1980s more than 100 synagogues had been identified, including in the Golan Heights. As new work progressed and the old typology began to fade away, a new consensus emerged, namely, that synagogues were built in a particular region or community according to local tradition and custom and that often conditions on the ground affected the type of synagogue that was to be constructed in a given location. Thus, topography was often a determinative factor in the planning process, which was certainly the case at Khirbet Shemaʾ, where earlier structures, the slope angle, and the location of domestic houses greatly influenced the kind of building that was constructed on the site. The vast majority of synagogues that have been excavated or identified have been found in the north of Israel, where much of the Jewish population settled after the two wars with Rome. Among the more important aspects of these new data is the fact that so many of these synagogues may be dated to the Byzantine period, at least in their latest phase.

The Pre-70 C.E. Synagogue.

One of the major issues to arise in the study of the ancient synagogue was when the synagogue emerged as a purpose-built or multipurpose structure. Did it emerge in the course of the Second Temple period, when most worship was presumably directed to the Temple service in Jerusalem and its sacrificial system? There are at least several Diaspora examples of pre-70 synagogues, most significantly at Delos in the Cyclades, which probably dates back to the first century B.C.E.; another possibly at Ostia in Italy from the first century C.E., though recent research suggests a later date in the second century; and 12 epigraphic and papyrological references to structures known as proseuchai, or “prayer halls,” which attest to the existence of synagogues in Egypt from Ptolemaic times onward (third century B.C.E. and after). These inscriptional materials were published in the mid-twentieth century, but their remains have not been located, and even the physical artifacts themselves have disappeared. The literary evidence for synagogues or prayer halls in Egypt is quite rich, however, and tends to support the epigraphic materials as referring to actual structures. The rabbinic literature mentions the great synagogue in Alexandria as being so large that the leader of worship had to stand on a raised dais and had to lift a kerchief to signal the congregation when to respond with the appropriate “amens” and the like. Philo also mentions this synagogue and calls it the largest and most magnificent one in all Alexandria. The only physical structure that one might compare it with is the Byzantine-period synagogue at Sardis in Turkey.

In turning to synagogues from the land of Israel we begin with reference to the well-known Theodotus inscription from Jerusalem. Dated to the first century C.E. the term “synagogue” is used to indicate both a social grouping (congregation) and a building with distinctive features. Because of the name “Vettenos,” the synagogue may be identified as a place for Jews from Rome. And the three main functions of the synagogue noted in the text of the inscription are these: reading of Scripture, studying the commandments of the Torah, and providing hospitality to visitors, no doubt many of whom were pilgrims. The mention of “water fittings” may be related to the practice of ritual bathing or washing the hands or feet, that is, ritual purity. The use of the term “archisynagogos,” quite common in later inscriptions, no doubt refers to the priestly lineage of a well-to-do family of Roman background.

In terms of what we know from Galilee, the big story has been the discovery of the first-century C.E. synagogue at Magdala, identified with the city of Taricheae, just north of Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. The city was destroyed during the First Revolt and subsequently completely buried with debris. The main hall was 1,291.7 ft2 (120 m2) and had stone benches around the walls. The floor consisted of a simple black and white mosaic with meander patterns in the corners. The walls were covered with brightly colored frescoes resembling the second Pompeian style.

The most exciting discovery of the excavation, however, was a large limestone piece that is engraved on one side with a seven-branched menorah flanked by two amphorae, with its top side decorated with rosettes and several early Roman lamps. The function of the large stone piece is not clear, but it could have served as a platform or pedestal to hold a wooden reader's table from which the Torah was read. Indeed, the four corners of the stone have been smoothed as if to stabilize small wood or stone pillars. The excavators suggest that the stone was found in situ and that the reader possibly knelt when reading the scroll. Another interpretation is that the stone pedestal could have served as part of a structure for storing the scroll when not in use, in which case the stone would not be in situ. Noteworthy perhaps is the fact that the menorah was on the southern side of the stone fragment, facing Jerusalem, in line with the building's orientation to Jerusalem. The high quality of the stonework and artisanship and building style in general indicate a very well-to-do community, though a small one judging from the size of the building. The unfinished mosaic that lies in the center of the building suggests at least two phases, phase I, dating from ca. 50 B.C.E. to 0, and phase II, dating from 0 to 68 C.E. Its closeness to the Sea of Galilee meant that there was no need for a ritual bath.

The other northern synagogue clearly of pre-70 date is at Gamla, though the Franciscans have made a case for an early synagogue underlying the great white synagogue at Capernaum and the presence of a domus ecclesia there in the House of Peter, which would be Christian. The presence of a first-century C.E. synagogue under the great Byzantine-period white synagogue at Capernaum, however, does not enjoy wide scholarly support. At the very least, the complexity of the situation there (Jews and new Christians living side by side for centuries) certainly warrants further investigation.

In returning to Gamla in the Golan Heights, until the discovery of Magdala it was considered the earliest synagogue from the land of Israel, ancient Palestine, dating from the year 0 or slightly earlier, to the late Hellenistic period. The largest structure in the town of Gamla, it was apparently the focus of all communal activities, since there are no other comparably sized structures in the community. Built in the local black basalt stone, it is situated just inside the perimeter wall and measures 44 by 30.5 ft (13.4 by 9.3 m). It has three entrances, two on the southwest (one leading to the northern aisle, and one leading into the main hall) and one on the east. There is a niche in the southwestern end, whose function in unclear.

Benches surround the interior on all four sides, and there are 16 interior columns on all sides, though the plan in the Qatzrin Museum in the Golan has 18. The column drums supporting the roof were all well made and of high-quality workmanship. In each of the corners were columns with heart-shaped sections, composed of two half-columns. The capitals were of the late classical Doric order. Some propose that the columns should be restored along the Jerusalem-facing entrance as a propylaeum or in the center to hold a podium for the reading of the Torah, where there is a row of stone pavers in the dirt (?) floor. Though the archaeological situation before the floor was restored is far from clear, having a podium for the reading of Scripture makes good sense in light of the discovery of the synagogue at Magdala, where the carved stone with a menorah could have served as a base for a reader's platform. A stepped cistern just west of the main entrance has been understood to be a ritual bath and a small channel and basin on the eastern aisle may be understood as a place for washing the hands or feet. The synagogue could have held no more than 250 individuals: 150 on its benches and perhaps another 100 standing or seated on the floor in the center.

In addition to these examples, there is excellent evidence from the south. The most familiar of these would be Masada and Herodium, but we may add Qiryat Sepher, 9.3 miles (15 km) east of Lod, dated to the first century C.E. or to the time of Bar Kokhba at the latest; Modiʿin; and Khirbet Umm el-ʾUmdan, which resembles the structures at Masada, Gamla, and Herodium. Dated to the late Hellenistic period, this synagogue could well be the earliest of any of the synagogues in the land of Israel. Originally 23 by 39.4 ft (7 by 12 m), it was enlarged to 31 by 32.8 by 44.3 ft (9.5 by 10 by 13.5 m) in the Herodian period. And to this growing list can be added the public structure at Horvat ʾEthri in the upper Shephelah, some 21.7 miles (35 km) southwest of Jerusalem.

This discussion of the pre-70 synagogue began with the Egyptian Diaspora for indications of the earliest synagogues, even though the physical remains of the structures no longer exist. The epigraphic evidence, however, is quite clear that prayer was an essential part of the service that transpired in them. Hence, it comes as no surprise that they are called “houses of prayer,” or proseuchai, as opposed to “houses of gathering” (batei knesset). In addition, both Philo and Josephus were aware of prayer being an essential component of synagogue practice or worship in Egypt. In Palestine, however, in light of the Theodotus inscription already noted, a focal point of local practice was the reading of Scripture, or Torah. Hence, the consensus regarding the Palestinian pre-70 synagogue is that private prayer was not part of synagogue practice but emerged only later, in the aftermath of the two wars with Rome. However, taking into account some of the liturgies from Qumran (e.g., 4Q503 or 4Q504), one should not be too resistant to the notion that other groups in Palestine at the time also had prayers that were used outside the Temple; and the emergent synagogue would be a logical place in which they would be recited. As a result, the common view is that the synagogue was something akin to the early house-church or simply a large house where people gathered to hear the Torah read or recited and interpreted, along with a general function as a communal gathering place, though the Egyptian data suggest that prayer was an essential component there at least from the third century B.C.E.

Most scholars would thus doubt that the pre-70 Palestinian synagogue was a purpose-built structure for worship and the reading of the Torah. On the other hand, a case can be made for both the Torah reading and some form of prayer being part of the synagogue service even at this early stage, even though the small corpus of pre-70 synagogues in the land of Israel at this time does not reflect in their building layout features such as the bema or Torah shrine that become so common later in Galilee and in other regions. The origin of the architecture of Palestinian synagogues suggests that they were likely an adaptation of the Hellenistic bouleuterion (council chamber or house), which fits well with their public function in Palestine. Diaspora synagogues, on the other hand, seem to be modeled more according to the collegia model (i.e., designed as a kind of guild or society for religious leaders). At the very least the degree to which some of these early buildings, such as Magdala, share features and common practices with the successor structures in the Roman and Byzantine periods is certainly an issue that should be considered in the future and resolved.

The Problem of the Scarcity of Synagogues in the Post-70 C.E. Roman Period.

One of the main issues in the discussion of the dating of the ancient synagogue is the scarcity of “early” synagogues from the centuries after the two wars, second to fourth centuries C.E. That this is a question means that the older dating schema of Kohl and Watzinger and of Sukenik and his generation has been largely rejected or greatly refined. In addition, one of the main talking points concerning the emergence of the early post-70 synagogue should certainly be not only what happened to Jewish life in the wake of the destruction of the Temple but also the degree to which paganism and Roman rule presented a challenge to Jewish religion. If we conclude that Judaism went into disarray for centuries and found its way back only in response to imperial Christianity in the fourth century, then the scarcity of physical evidence might be taken more seriously.

The extensive literature from the Tannaitic period, the first centuries of the Common Era, was collected no later than ca. 200 C.E. and certainly reflects the situation on the ground before. Were not the synagogue liturgy and the Eighteen Benedictions formulated in the second century prior to their redaction? Does it really matter whether there was a purpose-built structure for communal gathering or just a large house or room used for such a purpose, and is it not necessary to recognize the integrity and legitimacy of a huge corpus of Tannaitic literature that constitutes one of the most important responses of the Jewish people to tragedy in history? Torah study and designated gatherings for Torah reading and interpretation are represented throughout the literature, not to mention the New Testament, which mentions it, though some references are to the pre-70 situation but were redacted or put forward later. Some 45 occurrences of the term bt hknst have been listed, which suggests a designated physical space for such gatherings, rather than the more narrow interpretation that there was no “synagogue” in this period (see Meyers, 2010).

Lee Levine, in his Ancient Synagogue (2000), mentions that there are more than 100 synagogue sites identified and excavated in Israel. However, that number takes into account many that are identified only on the basis of surface finds and architectural fragments. David Milson (2006) counts only 50 in the north and 10 in the south, mostly dating to the late Roman and Byzantine periods. In regard to the early Roman period and the scarcity of data, one must also consider the actions of the Romans in the two wars, 70 and 135 C.E. There can be little doubt that the impact of these wars on the material conditions in the land was tremendous. The impact must also have been felt in many other ways. If many of the early synagogues were like domus ecclesiae, that is, like house-churches that were akin to large rooms in private houses that functioned as community gathering places, this may explain the dearth of evidence.

There is also a compelling archaeological explanation for the possibility of a two-century gap in the Palestinian synagogue. Because so many new synagogues were constructed in the Late Roman and Byzantine periods, it is not surprising that earlier materials could have been easily discarded during a renovation and/or building stage. This was certainly the case in Jerusalem and is not just the case in respect to synagogues alone. Herodian construction obliterated much of the earlier phases of occupation in many places. It is only in the twenty-first century, with so many digs going on concurrently in the city, that more First Temple remains have become visible, most notably in the City of David area. In regard to synagogues, this is especially true where bedrock rises high and was utilized in the later building phase(s).

In Khirbet Shemaʾ in Upper Galilee, for example, the oldest preserved synagogue is built over a series of bedrock structures and underground cavities that had to be filled in and leveled off in order to build anything over them. In the process of constructing the first synagogue building on the site, those structures and their surrounding contexts were virtually erased, leaving it most difficult to reconstruct with any degree of certainty the nature of the earlier materials except for sealed pockets here and there. Looking at the two east–west walls of the later synagogue and the fact that there are abutments in key places, it is possible to conjecture that a large house was there before the first synagogue was constructed; but it is also possible that there was only a ritual bath, which survives in the southeastern quadrant. In any case, the extensive building operations in the third century made it most difficult to reconstruct fully what the area looked like before.

A similar situation existed at Nabratein, where cavities in bedrock, underground chambers, and tunnels had to be sealed up when Synagogue 1 was constructed in the second century C.E. No doubt these chambers and tunnels had a function, but it is difficult to recover what it was, since the first synagogue and other structures come from a variety of periods and make it nearly impossible to reconstruct how things looked just before or after 70 C.E. Thus, the accidental nature of the survival of Synagogue 1 (second to third century C.E.) at Nabratein makes such an explanation more plausible.

The Palestinian synagogue took on more and more of the holiness and sacrality of the Jerusalem Temple in the course of time. One of the features of the later third-century C.E. Galilean synagogues is the sacred orientation that directed prayer to the wall facing Jerusalem. With their interiors oriented toward the holy city and three rows of columns, it was the southern wall facing Jerusalem that had no columns and was dubbed the “Jerusalem-wall” of orientation. Often, such synagogues would have a bema and Torah shrine on them to accentuate the importance of the southern wall of orientation, which was the case at nearby Gush Ḥalav and Khirbet Shemaʾ and each of the synagogues at Nabratein. In the case of Nabratein, however, this pattern may be associated with the earliest phase of all its synagogues, which is why the presentation of Synagogue 1 is offered in such detail in the final publication (Meyers and Meyers, 2009). Thus, the post-70 synagogue may have assumed these distinguishing features, namely, sacred orientation and a Torah shrine with or without bema, in some locations soon after the two wars with Rome and not later. This would also support the view that the post-70 synagogue assumed more and more of the sanctity of the Temple at early stages when the liturgy of the synagogue was taking final shape. Such a view challenges the consensus that only in the third century C.E. or later did the synagogue assume that sanctity. Of course, the architecture and the function of the synagogue mutually influenced each other during their development, and all of this depends on how one defines “synagogue” at this point in time.

Are Most Synagogues Byzantine in Date?

It should be quite clear that a strong case for the existence of synagogues in the Roman period can be made and that by dating the phenomenon of synagogue building mainly to the Byzantine period, fourth century C.E. and later, many of the main outlines of the history of the Jews in ancient Palestine are called into question. But there is not sufficient cause in the material culture or even in the literary sources to support this latest tendency in the archaeology of the ancient synagogue to date so many so late. This demurrer in no way is intended to diminish the important work on synagogues and Jewish history in Palestine in late antiquity and in the Byzantine period in particular. Much excellent research shows that this era was one of surprisingly robust building activity despite the negative picture presented by Christian literary sources. Nonetheless, this tendency for late dating can be questioned on methodological grounds. Archaeological work in Israel since 1990 has led to a strong consensus on the dating of ceramics. But even though most scholars who work in ceramics agree in general about the dating of individual types and forms, many of those forms and types do not have a short enough life span to be determinative of a precise chronology in many instances.

The main point at issue in this area of methodological disagreement is that when a locus is overhwelmingly of one kind and comes from an identifiable chonological horizon, only a regular supply of disjunctive materials should lead one to date otherwise. To be sure, there are exceptions to such a rule, esepcially when a late coin or pottery type is found in a sealed locus. But in the case of the date range of a long-lived type, such as the Galilean bowl, the question is how one should decide on whether to date on the high or low end of its chronological range.

The general rule is that one should go with the majority of the sherds in a locus. Also, when a locus such as that has many sherds of an earlier period, this brings the date range of a type of vessel to the low end of its life. Thus, finding a vessel or two that could theoretically be “dated” to the early Byzantine period does not necessarily mean that one has to change the whole chronology. Indeed, the overall context and numismatic data should have the weight of influence. Similarly, when a suggested date for a locus radically alters the stratigraphic assesment of an entire site, it must be seriously doubted. Hence, in the Nabratein ancient synagogue publication, for example, in nearly 50 pottery plates, the overwhelming number of sherds are Roman period in date. Even without total recovery of sherds, a statistical assessment of the ceramic corpus must be taken as representaitve of the site and its main structural remains. When that corpus is also reflected in the small finds and other materials, it should be taken at face value and should have a determining influence on the interpretation of the entire site. Therefore, to suggest that a site is only Byzantine when most of the coins, small finds, and pottery types are Roman period in date is to ignore the obvious.

An Overview.

In contrast to the earlier Second Temple synagogues, an important feature of the post-70 synagogue is that its dominant plan is the Roman basilica. The choice of the basilical form in the Roman period is another indication that many Jews found features of Greco–Roman culture congenial. Yet they did not always relinquish their indigenous architectural traditions and forms. The unusual case of the third- to fifth-century C.E. synagogue at Khirbet Shemaʾ illuminates this point as well. Khirbet Shemaʾ, like Eshtemoa and Susiya in the south, is a broadhouse structure, as were many temples in the Semitic world; its bema, or focus of worship, is on the long, Jerusalem-oriented wall. Yet, with its characteristic columniation and when viewed looking east–west rather than to the south, it appears basilical. It thus exhibits a mixed or hybrid architectural type—its classical basilical features are derived from Roman building types and its broadroom plan represents an indigenous form that echoes Canaanite prototypes. This combination of plans meant that the holy ark, or Torah shrine, if placed on the bema of the long southern wall, could not be seen from all directions because the many columns along the main sight lines blocked it. The Khirbet Shemaʾ synagogue is an indication of the creative response of Palestinian Jews to Greco–Roman culture and Hellenistic influence in the rabbinic period.

Also, the Torah shrine as the focus of worship in Late Roman and Byzantine synagogues is likely modeled after the pagan aedicule. An excellent example is the oldest extant Torah shrine, perhaps the best one in all of Israel, from the Late Roman synagogue at Nabratein, Synagogue 2a (ca. 250–306 C.E.). Its elaborate construction on a raised bema, with columns and rampant lions as well as a place for a chain to hold the eternal light, indicates how even more important Scripture had become in the life of the Jewish people at the time when the Mishnah was edited and the canon of the Hebrew Bible was coming to a close. The Torah shrine, after all, is a kind of permanent house for the Hebrew Bible, and its elevated place on a bema and decoration give visual testimony to its sacrality and centrality in Jewish worship. What went on top of the one in the southeastern corner, which could well have been a reader's table, can only be conjectured as there is no longer any trace of a structure or table in the middle of the building. In any event the entire interior of Synagogue 2, especially the placement of the lion pediment on top of the Torah shrine, illustrates the importance of the liturgical life of prayer and the centrality of Torah reading in the second half of the third century. At Khirbet Shemaʾ shattered remains of a Torah shrine or aedicula were buried in the later bema and stylobate wall of subsequent phases, though it was thought that it had no special significance.

The final, Byzantine phase of synagogues that occupied the site of Nabratein in many ways provides an unusual look at Jewish life in that period, which, for a variety of reasons, has the most diverse chronological range of remains of ancient synagogues; it also lacks an apse, a feature that is common in this period. Perhaps the most curious aspect of the history of Nabratein is its apparent abandonment around 363 C.E. and its resettlement in the mid-sixth century C.E., with the rededication of the last synagogue at the site, Synagogue 3, taking place in 564 C.E. This is known from an inscription that was added to the lintel of the southern entryway: “(According) to the number four hundred and ninety-four years after the destruction (of the Temple), the house was built during the office of Hanina son of Lezer and Luliana son of Yudan.”

The abandonment of nearby ancient Meiron is the closest parallel; it too was left unoccupied around 363 C.E., with definitive evidence coming from five years of excavation at the site. The earthquake of 363 left its mark all over ancient Palestine, most visibly at Sepphoris in the Lower Galilee; but it clearly had a disproportionate influence on this earthquake-prone region in the Upper Galilee that included both sites. It is possible that the great drought of 362–363 C.E. that occurred in the time of Valens also contributed to the reasons for abandonment, as did excessive taxation.

At Nabratein, the latest coin from Synagogue 2b is a coin of Jovian, minted in 363/64, hence leaving no other indication of the date of the abandonment. Also, there is no evidence of any occupation elsewhere on the site for approximately 200 years, when the decision was made to rebuild the ruins of the Roman-period structure. Who made the decision, how it was made, if descendants of the people who once lived there decided to come back, or whether it was simply the decision of residents from nearby Gush Ḥalav whose synagogue was destroyed at this very time may never be known. With the demise of Gush Ḥalav at this time the rebuilding and resettling of the site certainly represented a kind of consolidation of sorts in the local or regional Jewish community. It is possible that the ban on building new synagogues was taken seriously in some quarters despite views to the contrary that have suggested that the law was ignored altogether since the real boom in synagogue building was the Byzantine period and not the Roman period. In such a scenario the rebuilding of the Nabratein synagogue, from much reused material or spolia, would have been a way around the law. The argument over how seriously the Theodosian and Justinian laws were taken by the Jewish community in light of the late dating of many synagogues is one that will doubtless continue for some time. No doubt new work at Horvat Kur and Huqoq, not far from Nabratein, will shed additional light on this problem.

The Synagogue as an Institution.

The observant student of the ancient synagogue will have noticed by now that there is a tension between the literary sources and the material remains. Some synagogues are located on the highest point in a town or village (e.g., Khirbet Shemaʾ and Meiron), but others are not (e.g. Gush Ḥalav, which is in the wadi below the upper town). Some are in cities, such as Tiberias (Hamath Tiberias) and Sepphoris; but most that have been discovered are situated in towns or villages and no doubt reflect the demographic realities of late antique Palestine. Many, if not most, of the villages and towns are not associated with named rabbis, so it may be assumed that the institutional life of the synagogue did not depend on the clergy. In fact, it is clear that the synagogue served different purposes in different locations at different times, a reality already suggested by the Theodotus inscription and rabbinic sources: as a place of assemblage and worship for sure, as a place of study, as a place to listen to the ideas or teachings of visitors, and as a place where civic matters could be discussed. In most towns and villages the synagogue's location in the center of the settlement supports its influential role in the daily life of the people. Its location near cisterns or water installations as well as domestic spaces suggests an important connection to purity practices and communal dining at special occasions. The estimated low number of rabbis in Eretz Israel (130–150) in Talmudic times, however, allows one to posit a relative freedom from rabbinic oversight. Indeed, in an agrarian society the overwhelming influence on daily life was the grueling dawn to sunset workday.

Of major importance too in assessing the daily lives of the inhabitants of all areas in ancient Palestine and the Diaspora was their location in respect to travel and trade routes, closeness to urban centers in Jewish and pagan regions, and relative distance to neighboring villages. Such factors affected not only the coinage people used but also the kind of decorations they employed in building their structures and the languages used in their communities. Little Greek, for example, is known in the Upper Galilee, while in the places around the Sea of Galilee Greek is common. Chronology is also relevant. Mosaics do not appear before the end of the third or fourth century C.E., for example, at Wadi Hamam, and are most common in the Byzantine period. And the Torah shrine and bema do not turn up in numbers until the end of the Roman period, by which time Christians had adopted the codex for the Bible while the Jews kept the rolled scroll form in their worship and in study practice. Perhaps these features of the ancient synagogue were designed to highlight the differences in the two communities’ use of Scripture. And in the Byzantine period, perhaps borrowing from the church, often the apse of a synagogue was separated off by a chancel screen or low-lying marble or stone screen, to emphasize the wall of orientation and the clergy or leaders who sat there.

All of these features and facts underscore the important, if not central, role the synagogue played in the lives of communities. While one should not infer too much about the practices of those people who built or commissioned them solely on the basis of the built environment, when taken together with the material from the surrounding village or town or city and regional setting, one may say a great deal about them. The presence of other data at a site, such as miqvaʾ ot or inscribed or specially decorated artifacts, may assist the scholar in assessing the kind of settlement with which a synagogue is associated.

Summary.

The study of the ancient synagogue experienced a robust period of interest and renewed excavation in the twenty-first century. This activity has produced new results and insights into the synagogue's development as a purpose-built structure in all periods and into its character in the late Second Temple period and Roman period as well, when it is less well documented. Local custom and local conditions on the ground were influential in determining the kind of structure that was constructed. None of those considerations, however, was as important as accepting the dominant Greco–Roman cultural influence of the day, whether in selecting a building plan, choosing a kind of mosaic decoration, or determining a particular kind of architectural ornamentation and sculpture. In this regard the German pioneers Kohl and Watzinger were certainly correct. And although the old typology has long since been abandoned, many aspects of it have proved important in identifying certain buildings and characterizing them. In the end it should not surprise anyone that in building their houses of worship Jews were at the same time both innovative and accepting of the dominant surrounding culture. This sort of adaptability has certainly proved its usefulness through the ages.

[See also BAR KOKHBA CAVES; CAPERNAUM; GALILEE; GAMLA; HERODIUM; JEZREEL VALLEY; MASADA; QUMRAN; and SEPPHORIS.)]

Bibliography

  • Adan-Bayewitz, David. Common Pottery in Roman Galilee: A Study of Local Trade. Ramat-Gan, Israel: Bar-Ilan University Press, 1993. Fundamental publication on Galilean common ware, which plays a big role in dating architecture.
  • Avi-Yonah, Michael. “Ancient Synagogues.” Ariel 32 (1973): 29–43. This is Avi-Yonah's last publication on this topic.
  • Binder, Donald D. Into the Temple Courts: The Place of the Synagogues in the Second Temple Period. Dissertation Series 169. Atlanta, Ga.: Society of Biblical Literature, 1999. An invaluable resource for placing the pre-70 C.E. synagogue in its full literary context.
  • Fine, Steven, ed. Sacred Realm: The Emergence of the Synaogogue in the Ancient World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. This volume accompanied an exhibition at Yeshiva University and presents a well-illustrated guide to the field as it was in the mid-1990s.
  • Fine, Steven, ed. This Holy Place: On the Sanctity of Synagogues during the Greco–Roman Period. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1996. This book is an essential tool for understanding the synagogue as a Jewish communal institution in late antiquity.
  • Hachlili, Rachel. Ancient Jewish Art and Archaeology in the Land of Israel. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1988. An essential tool for studying ancient synagogues in Israel.
  • Kohl, Heinrich, and Carl Watzinger. Antike Synagogen in Galilaea. Leipzig, Germany: Heinrichs, 1916. The pioneering German work that opened the field for future studies; includes many fine illustrations.
  • Levine, Lee I. The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000. The most comprehensive treatment of the subject to date.
  • Magness, Jodi. “The Question of the Synagogue: The Problem of Typology.” In Where We Stand: Issues and Debates in Ancient Judaism, The Special Problem of the Synagogue, edited by Alan J. Avery Peck and Jacob Neusner. Judaism in Late Antiquity, pt. 3, vol. 4, pp. 1–48. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2001. This is the key place to follow Magness's views on the question of dating synagogues.
  • Meyers, Eric M. “The Dating of the Gush Ḥalav Synagogue: A Response to Jodi Magness.” In Where We Stand: Issues and Debates in Ancient Judaism, The Special Problem of the Synagogue, edited by Alan J. Avery Peck and Jacob Neusner. Judaism in Late Antiquity, pt. 3, vol. 4, pp. 49–70. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2001.
  • Meyers, Eric. M. “The Problem of the Scarcity of Synagogues from 70 to ca. 250 C.E.: The Case of Synagogue 1 at Nabratein (2nd to 3rd Century C.E.).” In “Follow the Wise”: Studies in Jewish History and Culture in Honor of Lee I. Levine, edited by Zeev Weiss, Oded Irshai, Jodi Magness, et al., pp. 435–448. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2010. Most recent contribution to the ongoing discussion about dating Palestinian synagogues.
  • Meyers, Eric M. “The Torah Shrine in the Ancient Synagogue: Another Look at the Evidence.” Jewish Studies Quarterly 4 (1997): 303–338.
  • Meyers, Eric M., and Carol L. Meyers. “The Ark in Art: A Ceramic Rendering of the Torah Shrine from Nabratein.” Eretz Israel 16 (1982): 176–185.
  • Meyers, Eric M., and Carol L. Meyers. Excavations at Ancient Nabratein: Synogogue and Environs. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2009. Final publication of the three phases of synagogues at Nabratein in Upper Galilee and a report on the findings from adjacent areas.
  • Meyers, Eric M., and Carol L. Meyers. Excavations at the Ancient Synagogues of Gush Ḥalav. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1990. Final report of excavations at site in Upper Galilee.
  • Meyers, Eric M., and Carol L. Meyers. “Response to Jodi Magness's Review of the Final Publication of Nabratein.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 359 (2010): 67–76. This extensive response to Magness is a summary of the problematics of the late dating of synagogues without taking into account the entire excavation.
  • Meyers, Eric M., A. T. Kraabel, and James F. Strange. Ancient Synagogue Excavtions at Khirbet Shemaʾ, Upper Galilee. Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 4. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1976. Final report on the excavation of the synagogue and environs including the tombs.
  • Milson, David W. Art and Architecture of the Synagogue in Late Antique Palestine: In the Shadow of the Church. Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity 65. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2006. Comprehensive study on Jewish synagogue art in a broad cultural–historical perspective.
  • Olsson, Birger, and Magnus Zetterholm, eds. The Ancient Synagogue: From Its Origins until 200 c.e. Stockholm, Sweden: Almqvist and Wiksell Internationl, 2003. A most useful collection of essays that pertain to all aspects of the synagogue pre-200 C.E., reflecting a broad range of perpectives.
  • Runesson, Anders, Donald D. Binder, and Birger Olsson. The Ancient Synagogue from Its Origins to 200 c.e.: A Source Book. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2008. An essential collection of relevant sources on all known synagogues in Palestine and Israel up to 200 C.E. with comments and bibliography.
  • Schwartz, Seth. Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 b.c.e. to 640 c.e. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001. This is Schwartz's main publication, where he argues that ancient Judaism arose in response to imperial Christianity.
  • Syon, Danny, and Zvi Yavor. Gamla II: The Architecture. The Shmarya Gutmann Excavations 1976–1988. IAA Reports 44. Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority 2010. Detailed final publication of the important early synagogue in the Golan.
  • Weiss, Zeev, and Ehud Netzer. The Sepphoris Synagogue: Deciphering an Ancient Message through Its Archaeological and Socio-Historical Contexts. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University, 2005. An essential publication for understanding Byzantine-period mosaics and architecture.

Eric M. Meyers