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The Rise of the Synagogue in Jewish Life

All-Day Program

Saturday, February 24, 2018 - 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
Code: 1M2948
Mosaic of the head of a royal military figure at the Huqoq Excavation Project, Israel (Photo: Jim Haberman)

According to the New Testament, Jesus and Paul preached in synagogues. But two thousand years ago, the Jerusalem Temple was the focal point of the Jewish religion. In this richly illustrated seminar, Jodi Magness, an archaeologist who specializes in ancient Palestine, explores the origins of the synagogue and how it became a prominent part of religious Jewish life in the centuries after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 A.D. She discusses synagogues in the time of Jesus and illuminates the surprising pagan motifs, such as Helios and the zodiac cycle, which decorate ancient synagogue buildings in the Holy Land.

9:30–10:45 a.m.  Introduction to Early Judaism

Ancient Jews came together to worship the God of Israel in his house, the Jerusalem Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. A discussion of the Israelite religion (pre-586 B.C.) and early Judaism (586 B.C.–70 A.D.) provides context for understanding the rise of the synagogue as a space for prayer.

11 a.m.–12:15 p.m.  Ancient Synagogues Part 1 

The origins of the earliest synagogues, their relationship to the Jerusalem Temple, and their role in the time of Jesus and Paul are explored in a discussion that focuses on the Holy Land.

12:15–1:30 p.m.  Lunch (participants provide their own.) 

1:30–2:45 p.m.  Ancient Synagogues Part 2 

Archaeologists have discovered surprising artifacts in synagogues in the Holy Land, including images of the Greco-Roman sun god Helios. The possible meaning of these images are discussed, as well as the relationship between the synagogues and early churches.

3–4:15 p.m.  Samson in Stone: New Discoveries in the Ancient Synagogue at Huqoq

Since 2011, Magness has been directing excavations in the ancient village of Huqoq in Israel's Galilee. Discoveries thus far include the remains of a monumental Late Roman (fifth century) synagogue building paved with stunning and unique mosaics depicting the hero Samson and other images from biblical stories, as well as mosaics illustrating the first non-biblical story ever discovered in an ancient synagogue. 

Magness is the Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.


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