In the Roman ruins outside the eastern Spanish town of Elche lies an ancient basilica which has become a popular tourist destination. The main portion of the structure was built in the 4th century CE, and an apse was added in the 5th. For many years, archaeologists have assumed the building to have been a church, but the scholar Robyn Walsh has recently argued that—although undoubtedly used for Christian worship in its later form—it was originally a synagogue. Candida Moss writes:
[According to Walsh], the “best evidence” for the building’s use comes from the mosaic that was unearthed on its floor. She pointed to inscriptions dedicated to the “archons and elders” and dedicating the building as a “place of prayer of the people” as suggestive of Jewish use. These, she said, “correspond well with inscriptions found elsewhere in the Jewish Diaspora—including other synagogue inscriptions.”
The most suggestive discovery, however, is the presence of what is likely to be a seven-[branched] menorah in the mosaic. The identification of the image as a menorah is difficult because visitors to the site have defaced it by picking out small pieces of the mosaic as souvenirs; because it was at some point repaired by an amateur artisan; and because it is what Walsh calls a “figurative motif.” These caveats aside, said Walsh, “the figure . . . looks an awful lot like menorahs created by non-professionals or amateur artisans in other contexts.” . . . Add the evidence of the menorah to the inscriptional evidence and it seems almost certain that this Christian basilica was originally a synagogue.
Part of the reason this evidence has long been ignored, argue Walsh and Moss, is that the main excavation of the site was conducted under the auspices of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, and overseen a German archaeologists sent there on the orders of the Third Reich.