JERUSALEM (JTA) — A 1,500-year-old Samaritan synagogue was uncovered in the Jordan Valley.
The remains of the synagogue and a farm were discovered earlier this month near Beit Shean during an archaeological excavation by the Israel Antiquities Authority. The excavation, which was funded by the Israeli Ministry of Construction and Housing, was undertaken before enlarging a residential neighborhood.
The building includes a rectangular hall that faces southwest toward Mount Gerizim, the holiest site in the Samaritan religion. The floor of the hall was a colorful mosaic decorated with a geometric pattern. The farmhouse was comprised of a central courtyard surrounded by storerooms; its southern part features a residence, guest hall and industrial installations.
According to the antiquities authority, the temple was built at the end of the fifth century CE and remained until the eve of the Muslim conquest in 634 CE, when the Samaritans abandoned the complex.
It is the third Samaritan temple discovered in the Beit Shean area.
"The synagogue that is currently being revealed played an important part in the lives of the farmers who inhabited the surrounding region, and it served as a center of the spiritual, religious and social life there," said Walid Atrash and Yaakov Harel, directors of the excavation for the antiquities authority.
Samaritanism is an Abrahamic religion closely related to Judaism that follows the Samaritan Torah, which adherents say is what the ancient Israelites practiced before the Babylonian Exile.