Significant archaeological finds at Horvat Kur
An international team of students and scholars, including those from Leiden University, have uncovered a unique combination of synagogue features from the Byzantine period during excavations on Horvat Kur in the Lower Galilee region.
Jürgen Zangenberg, Leiden Professor of the New Testament and Archaeology, Bern scholar Dr Stefan Münger, Helsinki lecturer Dr Raimo Hakola and Wofford Professor Byron McCane are delighted with the finds: 'The most spectacular object unearthed in the excavations is a basalt stone, shaped like a low table and decorated with figurative elements on one side and geometric patterns on the other three sides.' The Horvat Kur stone resembles a similar piece discovered a few years ago at nearby Migdal, although the Horvat Kur stone is made of a different material (basalt). It was found integrated into a wall dating from the 6th century AD, but is thought to belong to an earlier phase of the synagogue building. Scholars have been divided about the function of the 'stone table' from Migdal: it may have been used as a reading table or as a stand for a lectern. The Horvat Kur stone may help answer these questions, although it may also lead to entirely new lines of research.
Within the synagogue, a stone seat, with two steps leading up to it, was found in its original position on top of the bench along the southern wall. 'This seat was probably used by the leader of the congregation during gatherings. This is the first such seat ever found in situ in Israel,' Zangenberg explains. In addition, in the centre of the southern wall excavators found the remains of the podium ('bemah') on which the torah shrine would have been placed. Several architectural fragments of the shrine have been found, including a threshold in classical style, a finely decorated corbel stone, the remains of a lion relief and a rosette. All of these finds demonstrate the high significance of the podium in the synagogue, according to Zangenberg, and 'they help to confirm the importance of the synagogue as a centre of community and religious life.'
In a cistern close to the synagogue, a wide array of intact Late Roman / Early Byzantine household pottery was also found, including many types which had never previously been found complete.
Officials from the Israel Antiquities Authority emphasize that these discoveries will more fully illuminate the features of synagogue life in Galilee in the Byzantine period. They will certainly stimulate the growing field of synagogue research.
The excavations are part of the Kinneret Regional Project 2012 campaign on Horvat Kur, sponsored by Leiden University, the University of Bern, the University of Helsinki and Wofford College. Students and staff come from these universities and many other countries. The finds will officially be presented at the International Colloquium of the German Society for the Exploration of Palestine in Mainz from November 2-4, 2012. An exhibition in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem is also planned.
(16 July 2012 / Profesor Jürgen Zangenberg / MLH)
Ancient synagogue discovered by Sea of Galilee (news article July 2010)
Global Interaction of Civilizations and Languages is one of the six themes for research at Leiden University.