The synagogue was built in the late fifth or early sixth century, at a time when the town's Christian population was increasing and the strength of the Jewish population was diminishing. A mere 20.7 meters long and 8 meters wide, it is the narrowest ancient synagogue yet uncovered in the Land of Israel. It was located at the edge of the town. The Bimah was located in the western wall, not oriented towards Jerusalem as was done in other synagogues in that era.
The town is recorded as having had many synagogues in ancient times; The Mishna describes Tzippori as having had 18 synagogues at the time of the funeral of Rabbi Judah haNasi in the late second century CE.
The mosaic floor of the ancient synagogue was rediscovered in 1993 by a crew building a new parking lot at the edge of the well-visited national archaeological park of Tzippori. It is one of a handful of illustrated synagogue mosaics uncovered in Israel. Archaeologist Zeev Weiss, then a graduate student at the Hebrew University, and his teacher, archaeologist Ehud Netzer were called to the scene, and Weiss uncovered the floor and its environs.
The mosaic floor is divided into seven parts. Near the entrance there is a scene showing the angels visiting Sarah. The next section shows the binding of Isaac. There is a large Zodiac with the names of the months written in Hebrew. Helios sits in the middle, in his sun chariot. Next, there is a row of three panels depicting the offerings in the Temple at Jerusalem, including the "tamid" sacrifice, the showbread and the basket of first fruits. Above this is a depiction of Aaron offering sacrifices in the Tabernacle. Above that is another row of three panels, a Torah Ark, depicted as a pedimented building, and an incense shovel representing the incense shovels used in the Temple, flanked by two panels each displaying the seven-branched Menorah from the Temple at Jerusalem surrounded by symbols of the Jewish holidays including the Lulav and Shofar. The top, or front of the building section of the floor, another row of three panels, shows two lions flanking a wreath, their paws resting on the head of an ox.
The largest panel or central sections of the mosaic is laid out as a large square containing a circle within a circle. This shows the Zodiac with Helios driving his chariot. As with the Hammat Tiberias Synagogue and the Beit Alfa Synagogue, the Zodiac panel at Tzippori features Spandrels depicting the four seasons.
An ancient Aramaic mosaic inscription in honor of the donors reads: "May he be remembered for good Yudan son of Isaac the Priest and Paragri his daughter, Amen, Amen."
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tzippori synagogue.|
- Ancient Synagogues in the Land of Israel, Mordechai Aviam, Israel Nature and Parks Authority, 1997, p. 21.
- Art and Judaism in the Greco-Roman world: toward a new Jewish archaeology, Steven Fine, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 186.
- Steven Fine (May 2006). "The Sepphoris Synagogue: Deciphering an Ancient Message through Its Archaeological and Socio-Historical Contexts". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (Encyclopædia Britannica).
- The Sepphoris Synagogue: Deciphering an An- cient Message through Its Archaeological and Socio-Historical Contexts, by Zeev Weiss. Jerusa- lem: Israel Exploration Society; Institute of Ar- chaeology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2005.
- Jewish Heritage Report, Vol. I, Nos. 3-4 / Winter 1997-98, Sepphoris Mosaic, Symposium Held in Conjunction with Sepphoris Mosaic Exhibition, Leslie Bussis Tait http://www.isjm.org/jhr/nos3-4/sepmos.htm