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The Ancient Synagogue at Beth-Shean / בית-הכנסת העתיק בבית-שאן

נחמיה צורי and N. Zori
Eretz-Israel: Archaeological, Historical and Geographical Studies / ארץ-ישראל: מחקרים בידיעת הארץ ועתיקותיה
Vol. ח‎, E.L. SUKENIK MEMORIAL VOLUME (1889-1953) / ספר א.ל. סוקניק תרמ"ט-תשי"ג‎ (1967 / תשכ"ז), pp. 149-167
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23616832
Page Count: 27
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Abstract

The date of the construction of the synagogue of Beth-Shean is difficult to determine—whether at the end of the 4th century C.E., i.e. in the troubled period starting under Theodosius I, or early in the 5th century. Its walls, thicker than those of the nearby monasteries or of the synagogue at Hephzibah, indicate that the building took on a defensive character in time of emergency. For the 200 years of the synagogue's existence, its community carefully preserved every remain from earlier generations (sections of the mosaic floor in the nave, in the northern aisle etc.), and all repairs and alterations were carefully executed so as not to damage the existing parts, or to change any feature needlessly. As no motif connected with the Samaritan tradition has been found in the building, or in its mosaics, not even a remote point of similarity to the Samaritan synagogue at Salbit, there is no reason to ascribe it to that community. The rooms adjoining the synagogue were—without doubt— added at a later period, at least some 150 years after the initial construction. Such rooms fulfilled an important function in the life of both the Samaritan and the Jewish communities. From the Sages (especially in the Tosephta), we can conclude that conditions were then suitable for cooperation between the above two communities and, it appears, in times of danger they even became quite close. In this period, the Land Court was established in rooms 7-8, and it is likely that other such institutions were set up as well. Thus, the synagogue stood till at least 624 C.E. or slightly later. After the Persian invasion, the Byzantines burned and looted the building, as indicated by the thick layer of ash covering the mosaic floor of the nave.

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