About three years ago a number of Jewish workmen digging an irrigation canal at Beth-Alpha, the large communal settlement at the foot of Mount Gilboa, in the Valley of Esdraelon, came across a narrow strip of multi-colored mosaic pavement showing Zodiacal signs and Hebrew inscriptions. The Hebrew University Press is publishing this Rosh Hashonah the results of the subsequent excavations conducted by Dr. E. L. Sukenik, archaeologist to the University. The volume is written by Dr. Sukenik, and is named “The Ancient Synagogue at Beth Alpha.”
The synagogue dates back to the sixth century C.E. and is the first to be found with such perfect mosaic pavements. They had been excellently preserved under the debris of fourteen hundred years. Fragments of colored mosaic pavements had previously been found in other places in Palestine. Near Jericho, for example, one such floor was found, but it was not intact and the designs were mutilated. The Esdraelon colonies, however, were the first to be unearthed in a whole condition, unspoiled by the ravages of Nature or the conflicts of man, especially those that occurred in that stormy period marking the end of the Byzantine period and the inception of the Arab conquest of Palestine.
The principal designs are in the central hall of the synagogue. This area is divided into three sections, which show in brilliant and beautiful hues a group of synagogue utensils, the Zodiacal signs, and the sacrifice of Isaac. A series of reproductions of human beings, animals, trees, flowers, and carpets are contained in the framework around these sections and other parts of the pavement.
The great importance of the finds is enhanced by two inscriptions, one in Greek and the other in Aramaic, telling of the skilled craftsmen who laid the mosaics and the period in which they were made. The discovery of this first dated synagogue sheds light not only upon the existence of Beth-Alpha, but also upon other epochal events upon which opinion of historians had not been unanimous.
The rich and diverse material revealed in the course of the studies has enabled Dr. Sukenik, Hebrew University archaeologist and a leading authority on old Jewish synagogues of Palestine, to determine a second period in the development of ancient houses-of-worship in the country, and also to clear up a number of problems connected with popular Jewish art at that time.
The book is being published in folio size, and is accompanied by twenty-eight full-page illustrations. Of these six are colored plates, seventeen are in colortype, and five are diagrams and plans. There are, in addition, about another sixty drawings and illustrations on full pages and in the text.