Tag Archives: synagogue

Samson mosaics discovered at Huqoq

A Late Roman (fifth century) synagogue is being excavated at Huqoq a few miles northwest of the Sea of Galilee under the direction of Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina and Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The University of North Carolina News reports on the discovery here.

Last summer, a mosaic showing Samson and the foxes (as related in the Bible’s Judges 15:4) was discovered in the synagogue’s east aisle. This summer, another mosaic was found that shows Samson carrying the gate of Gaza on his shoulders (Judges 16:3). Adjacent to Samson are riders with horses, apparently representing Philistines.Although he is not described as such in the Hebrew Bible, Samson is depicted as a giant in both scenes, reflecting later Jewish traditions that developed about the biblical judge and hero.

Samson carrying the gate of Gaza. Discovered at Huqoq.

Mosaic showing Samson carrying the gate of Gaza. Discovered at Huqoq. Photo by Jim Haberman, University of North Carolina.

The book of Judges records the visit of Samson to Gaza, one of the cities of the Philistines. Samson’s conduct is not exemplary. When the Gazites laid a plan to kill him, he carries out his own plan.

 But Samson lay till midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron. (Judges 16:3 ESV)

The mosaics from Huqoq illustrate that the members of the synagogue there knew the exploits of Samson.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

A synagogue on the island of Delos

In the previous post we mentioned that there were numerous synagogues used by Jews of the Diaspora. Paul visited synagogues in many of the cities where he preached.

During his Spring travels, Dr. Carl Rasmussen visited the Greek island of Delos. Delos is one of those places that can only be reached with much effort. Carl has graciously granted permission for me to use a couple of his photos here. The first one shows a view to the west, southwest, showing various rooms of the synagogue. Note the “Moses Seat” in the upper right of the photo. The entrance is visible in the lower left.

Delos synagogue. Photo by HolyLandPhotos.

Delos synagogue. Photo by Carl Rasmussen, HolyLandPhotos.

The second photo shows a close up of the “Moses Seat” and the marble seats on each side. You may click on the photos for larger images provided by Dr. Rasmussen at the HolyLandPhotos’ Blog.

Delos synagogue. Photo by Carl Rasmussen, HolyLandPhotos.

Delos synagogue. Photo by Carl Rasmussen, HolyLandPhotos.

This large synagogue dates to the mid-second century B.C. Two inscriptions found in 1979-80 indicate that the worshipers here (Israelites) were likely Samaritans who revered Argarizein (Mount Gerizim). (See Kraabel, “New Evidence of the Samaritan Diaspora has been Found on Delos.” BA 47:1; 1984).

The Moses Seat. We commonly identify a special seat like the one in this synagogue as the Seat of Moses. Jesus may have made reference to such a seat (Matthew 23:2-3). For more information about the “Moses Seat” see here. Michael White suggests at least the possibility that this seat may be a “Proedrion, either for the major donor (or patron) or for the leader of the group” (HTR 80:2 (1987). I don’t see that this changes the fact that a reader and teacher of the Law might sit here.

If you have any interest in the synagogues scattered over the Mediterranean world, you will want to visit the HolyLandPhotos’ Blog here.

Tradition has it that Delos is the birthplace of Apollo, the son of Zeus, and his twin sister Artemis.

Marble head of Apolls from Perga. Second century A.D. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Marble head of Apolls from Perga. Second century A.D. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins in the Antalya Archaeological Museum.

An article by Gordon Franz a few years ago piqued my interest in Delos. He wrote on “The Synagogue On The Island Of Delos And The Epistle Of James” in Bible and Spade (18:3; 2005). Franz provides the history and geography of the island. He includes a photo of the “Samaritan inscription,” and then proceeds to use the synagogue of Delos to illustrate two passages from the Epistle of James. He discusses James 2:2-4 and selected verses from James 3.

For those who have an interest in visiting Delos, Prof. Rasmussen explains exactly how to reach the synagogue from the Delos Museum. Rasmussen is author of the Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, and provides nearly 4000 thousand photos at the Holy Land Photos archive.

The synagogue — a place of study and discussion

The origin of the synagogue is difficult to determine, but it is generally held that it arose during the time of the Babylonian exile. Synagogues did not become common until the intertestamental period. The term intertestamental is used by many writers to describe the period between the close of the Old Testament (about 425 B.C.) and the coming of John the Baptist in the early first century A.D. Others use the term interbiblical, or the longer phrase, between the testaments.

With the destruction of the Temple (586 B.C.), sacrifices ceased. Prayer and the study of the sacred Scriptures, however knew no geographical limitations. The Book of Ezekiel describes the elders of Israel gathering in the prophet’s house (8:1; 20:1-3) (Charles Pfeiffer, Between the Testaments, 59).

In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house, with the elders of Judah sitting before me, the hand of the Lord GOD fell upon me there. (Ezekiel 8:1 ESV)

In the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month, certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD, and sat before me. And the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD, Is it to inquire of me that you come? As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I will not be inquired of by you. (Ezekiel 20:1-3 ESV)

The word synagogue is of Greek origin. It simply refers to a gathering of the people, or a congregation. “The Hebrew word for such a gathering is keneseth, the name used for the parliament in the modern state of Israel” (Pfeiffer, 59).
After the rebuilding of the Temple (520–516 B.C.), the synagogue continued to fill the spiritual needs of the Jews of the Diaspora. There were synagogues in many of the cities visited by Paul: Damascus (Acts 9:2); Salamis (13:5); Antioch of Pisidia (13:14); Thessalonica (17:1); Corinth (18:4); Ephesus (19:8), and others. Only ten families were needed to compose a synagogue.

In 1898 a partial inscription mentioning a “synagogue of the Hebrews” was found at Corinth. It was published by Benjamin Powell in 1903 and identified as having come from the synagogue where Paul preached. McRay says that further study showed that it should be dated considerably later than the time of Paul. (Archaeology and the New Testament, p. 319).

Synagogue Inscription displayed in Corinth Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Synagogue Inscription displayed in Corinth Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A small plaque mounted underneath the inscription at the Corinth Museum reads, “Inscription from a late Roman synagogue.”

One rabbinic tradition has it that there were 480 synagogues in Jerusalem alone. Even the small villages of Galilee had synagogues at the time of Jesus (Mt. 4:23; 9:35).

Jesus and the Sabbath

The Jews made charges that Jesus broke the Sabbath but they were not able to establish their charge. The basic charge was that Jesus was working in violation of the Mosaic law (Leviticus 23:3). Here is a list of the specific instances of events that took place on the Sabbath. Read the full accounts to see how Jesus responded.

  • Healed a man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-9, 18; Jesus replied to accusations (John 7:21-24).
  • Healed the blind man (John 9:1-14).
  • Answered charges made against His disciples (Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-6).
  • Healed a man with a withered hand (Luke 6:6-11).
  • Healed the woman who was bent over (Luke 13:10-17).
  • He questioned the Pharisees regarding healing on the Sabbath and they could not answer Him. He healed the man with dropsy (Luke 14:1-5).
  • He taught in the synagogue in His “home town” on the Sabbath (Mark 6:1-6).

The photo below shows the interior of the model synagogue at the Nazareth Village.

Interior of the Nazareth Village Synagogue. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Interior of the Nazareth Village Synagogue. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The account of Jesus reading in the synagogue at Nazareth is recorded in Luke 4:16-21, with the reaction in the following verses.

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21 ESV)

A Day in Capernaum

I just ran across the third edition of A Day in Capernum by Franz Delitzsch. Yes, the Delitzsch of the famous Keil and Delitzsch 19th century commentaries on the Old Testament. The book was written in 1870, but the third edition was published in 1892. In the days before motorized vehicles, visitors had to travel by foot or horseback. This had a distinct value in allowing more time to meditate and understand the importance of the travel routes, etc. The writer visits some of the other places around the Sea of Galilee and tells how long it took to move from one place to another.

Works of this kind are of value because they reflect the scholarship and understanding of the time. You may read the work online, or download it in PDF from Google Book Search. Here is the directly link to A Day in Capernaum.

Google Book Search is a wonderful place to find many older works in their entirety. Some pages of many newer works are also availalbe.

Things have changed a lot at Capernaum since Delitzsch was there. We believe the foundation of the synagogue from the time of Jesus is known. The synagogue from the late 4th or early 5th century A.D. has been partially reconstructed mainly by the late archaeologist Stanislao Loffreda. The photo shows how it looks today.

Reconstructed Capernaum synagogue from 4th or 5th century A.D. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The most important thing about Capernaum is that Jesus came and settled in the city and that it was the scene of much of His ministry and miracles (Matthew 4:13; 11:23).