Wednesday, October 08, 2003

A cool new find in Albania -- Fifth-century synagogue found in Albania.

Impressive remains of a synagogue dating from the fifth or sixth century CE have been revealed in the Albanian coastal city of Saranda, opposite the Greek island of Corfu. Initial excavations at the site were conducted some 20 years ago when Albania was under tight Communist rule.

The synagogue has come to light as the result of an invitation from the Archeology Institute of the Albanian Academy of Sciences, asking the Hebrew University Institute of Archeology to participate in a joint excavation and study project at the site. Working in the past few weeks have been professors Ehud Netzer and Gideon Foerster of the Hebrew University, together with Albanian archeologists Kosta Lako and Etleva Nalbani.

The synagogue underwent various periods of use, including its conversion into a church. Particularly noteworthy among the finds are two mosaic pavements. One features at its center a seven-branched menora flanked by an etrog and a shofar, symbols associated with the Jewish holidays. The other mosaic pavement, in the center section, contains a number of representations, including a variety of animals, trees, symbols alluding to biblical lore, and the facade of a structure resembling a temple (perhaps a Torah ark). Other mosaic pavements at the site preceded the building of the synagogue.

In my Jews in the Ancient and Medieval World course, we spent yesterday looking at slides of ancient synagogues, including many that had just the features found in this synagogue also on their mosaic floors. I wonder if there might be a zodiac with Helios also found there, as there has been at Beth Alpha, Hammat Tiberias, and other sites in Israel.

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