One of the World’s Oldest Synagogues Was Unearthed in Modern-Day Russia

August 17, 2023 | Aristos Georgiou
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Long before Slavs settled the northern coast of the Black Sea, Greek merchants established towns and communities there. Archaeologists have recently uncovered the remains of an ancient synagogue in one of these colonies, known as Phanagoria. Aristos Georgiou reports:

The synagogue is rectangular, measuring just under 70 feet by 20 feet, containing two chambers each about 650 square feet. The walls were adorned with paintings and tiles, the archaeologists said. Inside, they found marble menorahs, liturgy tables, the remains of marble columns, and fragments of marble stelae—upright stone slabs bearing inscriptions or illustrations.

One stela dated to the 5th century CE bears an inscription in Greek that reads “synagogue.” This, along with earlier discoveries at Phanagoria, including marble tablets inscribed with “house of prayer” and “synagogue” dated to 16 CE and 51 CE, respectively, indicates that the synagogue is one of the world’s oldest.

The researchers said the house of worship was likely in use from at least the early 1st century CE—about 2,000 years ago. The earliest evidence of synagogues dates to the 3rd century BCE, although their construction appears to have experienced a notable increase toward the 3rd century CE. . .  An analysis of artifacts at the synagogue indicates that it stood for more than 500 years, meaning it existed until the middle of the 6th century when Phanagoria was pillaged and devastated by local barbarian tribes.

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