The Gamla Synagogue

The ESV Study Bible has now started a blog and today an interesting post was put up about the Gamla Synagogue. When I first started to work for the ESV Study Bible, I was shown a beautiful reconstruction painting of this synagogue which had a red tiled roof. The artist did not know that roof tiles were only introduced to the Land of Israel in the Roman period and were much used in the Byzantine period. Most of the roofs of churches and synagogues at that time had pitched roofs, covered with tiles.

Not so, however, during the Herodian period, when the Gamla Synagogue was built. Some tiles may have been imported for large public buildings, but most of the roofs were flat, especially in the Golan where wood is scarce. In 1973, just after the Yom Kippur War, I was asked to accompany a group of IDF archaeologists, who were doing a survey in the territory that had been newly captured from Syria. It was here that I was first introduced to buildings made of basalt blocks. Not only the walls, but the door and window frames were all made of basalt stones and the roof was made of long basalt slabs, which rested on corbels which projected from the walls.

I was quite sure that the Gamla Synagogue had a similar flat roof and that is what it shown in the drawing below (used by permission). As an interesting aside and as mentioned in a previous blog, this type of roof construction would explain how the paralytic man could have been let down through the “tiling” (Luke 5.19) in order to be healed by Jesus. It is more than likely that the roof of the house in Capernaum, where the houses were also made of basalt, was made of long basalt slabs laid at a short distance from each other and which were then covered with flat basalt tiles. After removing these tiles and taking away the basalt cross beams, a space would have been created large enough to let a man down through.

A similar flat roof construction would have been used in the Gamla Synagogue. It has been a privilege to have worked with the ESV Study Bible and Maltings Partnership and the painting below is the result of our joint endeavors:gamla-synagogue.jpg

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6 Responses to The Gamla Synagogue

  1. ed hamada` says:

    I just wanted to tell you how much I, as a retired lawyer but in reality merely a layman, appreciate the difficulty of the work you do uncovering mysteries, confronted by and yet having to use inferences; all the while expecting someone to haenge your findings and conclusions. Ignore them! Continue with your work for there are many laymen and women who rely upon you and others who bring clouded history into current reality.

  2. To Ed,
    Thank you for your encouraging comments

  3. Terry Allen (Aust.) says:

    Great work. Very helpful & will be using some of this in an upcoming sermon. One question: do you have a drawing which explains all the bits & pieces of the synagogue (or any synagogue for that matter). In particular, I am trying to see where the partition for women was. Thank you.

  4. Terry,

    Have a look at the Meroth Synagogue (http://store.ritmeyer.com/node/47) which has an internal balcony for women.

  5. Doug Sorensen says:

    Thank you for your reconstruction research. Was there found a ‘beit ha-sepher’ or “study room” connected with this structure?

  6. Douglas,
    The rooms at the back of the synagogue were apparently used as study rooms. See also our images of the Gamla Synagogue at http://store.ritmeyer.com/node/28 and http://store.ritmeyer.com/node/29.
    Thanks for downloading the images!

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