Beit Alpha Synagogue – Ancient Mosaics in Beit Alpha Synagogue National Park

The Ancient synagogueof Beit Alpha contains an almost intact mosaic floor from the 5th century. The synagogue is located in Heftziba in the Beit She’an valley.

History

The ancient village of Beit Alfa and the synagogue were built in the 5th-6th centuries CE, during the Byzantine era.

the synagogue

In 1929, Kibbutz Beit Alfa was digging irrigation channels for their fields when they stumbled upon the mosaic floor of the synagogue. Excavations were carried out by Elazar Sukenik, exposing the synagogue. In the 1960s, additional excavations of the area exposed houses from the surrounding Jewish village. The houses have been recovered, but the synagogue is worth a visit.

The Synagogue building

The synagogue had two floors, where the second floor was probably the women’s gallery. The main prayer hall had two rows of pillars on each side, creating side aisles. The synagogue faced Jerusalem, with the Torah Ark built into a recess on the southern wall.

The Mosaics

mosaic floor

The mosaics in the side rooms and entryway of the synagogue are simple geometric and plain floors. However, the mosaic in the prayer hall is one of the most striking mosaics found in Israel, and is almost completely intact.

The mosaic floor of the prayer hall

The mosaic in the hall is divided into sections. The pictures in the mosaic appear in rows, where the top is near the Torah Ark.

The bottom of the mosaic contains two inscriptions. The

Greek inscription mentions the craftsmen, Marianos and his son Hanina. The Aramaic inscription states that the mosaic was done during the reign of Emperor Justin and the community members paid for the mosaic. On both sides of the inscriptions are a lion and bull.

inscriptions

Above the inscriptions, there is a picture of the binding of Isaac(Akeidat Yitzchak). Abraham is portrayed holding Isaac, and a ram and two servants with a donkey are behind Abraham.

The central section contains the zodiac, which was widely used in churches and synagogues during the Byzantine period. The twelve signs are in a circle with their Hebrew names, with the four seasons in the corners. The zodiac was a common decoration in synagogues during this time period. Interestingly, neither the pictures of the winged women in the corners nor the sun god Helios with his chariot are Jewish symbols, and are rarely seen in synagogue mosaics; it is clear that the Jews of Beit Alpha were influenced by the Christian and Byzantine cultures.

the binding of Isaac

The final section shows a Torah Ark with a menorah on each side of it. Other traditional Jewish ritual objects also appear in this section, such as the shofar (ram’s horn).

zodiac mosaic

Tip: The Beit Alpha Synagogue is located in Kibbutz Heftziba in the Beit She’an Valley. To reach the kibbutz, take route 6667 from Beit Shean. Take 669 west to Heftsiba. Follow the signs inside the kibbutz for Beit Alpha Synagogue.

Tip: Visit the Japanese Garden in the Kibbutz. Japanese visitors come for 2-3 months at a time to work in the garden.

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