Sardis Synagogue

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Sardis Synagogue
Sardis Synagogue, late 3rd century AD, Sardis, Lydia, Turkey (19331773400).jpg
Sardis Synagogue
LocationSardis, Turkey
Geographic coordinates38°29′18″N 28°02′25″E / 38.48833°N 28.04028°E / 38.48833; 28.04028
CompletedLate 3rd century

Sardis Synagogue is a synagogue located in Manisa Province, Turkey, and it is the biggest known synagogue that belongs to ancient world.[1] Sardis was under numerous foreign rulers until its incorporation into the Roman Empire in 133 BCE. The city served then as the administrative center of the Roman province of Lydia. Sardis was reconstructed after the catastrophic AD 17 Lydia earthquake, and it enjoyed a long period of prosperity under the Roman rule.

Sardis is believed to have gained its Jewish community in the 3rd century BCE, as that was when King Antiochus III (223–187 BCE) encouraged Jews from various countries, including Babylonia, to move to Sardis. Josephus Flavius wrote of a decree from Lucius Antonius, a Roman proquestor of 50–49 BCE: "Lucius [the Sardian people], sends greetings. Those Jews, who are fellow citizens of Rome, came to me, and showed that they had an assembly of their own, according to their ancestral laws. [They had this assembly] from the beginning, as also a place of their own, wherein they determined their suits and controversies with one another. Therefore, upon their petition to me, so that these might be lawful for them, I ordered that their privileges be preserved, and they be permitted to do accordingly."1 (Ant., XIV:10, 17). "A place of their own" is generally taken as a reference to the synagogue at Sardis. Josephus Flavius noted that Caius Norbanus Flaccus, a Roman proconsul at the end of the 1st century BCE, upheld the rights of Sardis Jews to practice their religion, including the right to donate to the Temple in Jerusalem. (Ant., XVI:6,6).[2]

Archaeological expeditions[edit]

The first extensive scientific expeditions in the area took place between 1910-1914. Director of the Ottoman Imperial Museum (currently known as Istanbul Archeology Museums) Osman Hamdi Bey invited Prof. Howard Crosby Butler of Princeton University to carry out the expedition. They executed the last season in 1922, and Prof. Butler unveiled Temple of Artemis and Necropolis of Sardis. After these discoveries Prof. Butler passed away unexpectedly and excavations stopped for that period.[3]

Later on, in1958, Archeology Professor George M. A. Hanfmann of Harvard University and Dean of the Architecture School at Cornell University, Prof. Henry Detweiler started a new series of expeditions. In collaboration with the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage and Museums affiliated to Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Turkish Republic, the annual archeological expeditions to Sardis continues to this day. This series of expeditions that has been going over six decades is called "the Archeological Exploration of Sardis". Every year a group of 50 to 80 including scholars, professionals and students competent in archeology, art history, archeology, anthropology and many other disciplines from all around the world travel to Sardis to participate in the explorations.[3]

In 1962,[4] these excavations unearthed perhaps the most impressive synagogue in the western diaspora yet discovered from antiquity, yielding over eighty Greek and seven Hebrew inscriptions as well as numerous mosaic floors. (For evidence in the east, see Dura Europos in Syria.) The discovery of the Sardis synagogue has reversed previous assumptions about Judaism in the later Roman empire. Along with the discovery of the godfearers/theosebeis inscription from Aphrodisias, it provides indisputable evidence for the continued vitality of Jewish communities in Asia Minor, their integration into general Roman imperial civic life, and their size and importance at a time when many scholars previously assumed that Christianity had eclipsed Judaism.

Architectural Structure of the Sardis Synagogue[edit]

The synagogue's plan interestingly resembles to early Christian basilicas. However, thanks to the abundant Hebrew and Greek inscriptions and menorah representations that were found, it was successfully identified as a synagogue. [5]

The entryway was through a colonnaded forecourt in the east. It was roofed on the sides with an open center. In its original state, the forecourt was covered with painted plaster and decorated with marble. These decorations were added afterward, possibly in 5th century. At the center of the forecourt, there was a fountain for congregants to wash their hands before the prayer.

Following the forecourt there was an assembly hall, large enough to hold nearly one thousand people. This hall is also decorated with marble. However, these decorations seem to be placed on the walls earlier than the ones in the forecourt, in nearly 4th century. Additionally, they have inscriptions in Greek including the donors' names on them. During the excavations, two shrines laying lateral to the center were discovered during the expeditions.[6]

Manisa (Magnesia), Jewish community[edit]

A model of the Sardis synagogue[7]

A Jewish 'romaniote' community existed there from the Byzantine period, praying in the Etz Ha-Hayim Synagogue. After 1492, Jews expelled from Spain settled there, joining approximately one hundred romaniote families. These newcomers founded two synagogues: Lorca and Toledo. At the end of the 19th century, Alliance Israelite Universelle inaugurated two schools, one for boys in 1891 and one for girls in 1896. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Jewish community numbered about 2000 souls out of a total population of some 40,000. The Greeks had conquered Manisa in 1919 and when they retreated in 1922, a large conflagration destroyed much of the town including many Jewish institutions. Most of the Jews left their community and emigrated to France, South America, U.S. and Israel. Today, there are no Jews in Manisa. There were three Jewish cemeteries in Manisa.

The most ancient was damaged after the 1878 Turko-Russian war. In 1900 a wall was built around the second cemetery that was until then an open field. The third was acquired in the 1930s. The two ancient cemeteries have since been destroyed. At the time of writing his book, Abraham Galante could still read some of the oldest 16th-century tombstones. The tombstone data of the new cemetery has been collected and computerized by Prof. Minna Rozen (Diaspora Studies Institute of Tel Aviv University) but has not yet been published.[8]

See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ Seager, Andrew R. (1972-10-01). "The Building History of the Sardis Synagogue". American Journal of Archaeology. 76 (4): 425–435. doi:10.2307/502875. ISSN 0002-9114.
  2. ^ "The Ancient Synagogue of Sardis, Turkey". The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot. Retrieved 31 December 2010.
  3. ^ a b "The Archaeological Exploration of Sardis". Retrieved 2022-01-29.
  4. ^ "The Archaeological Exploration of Sardis". Retrieved 2022-01-29.
  5. ^ Seager, Andrew R. (1972). "The Building History of the Sardis Synagogue". American Journal of Archaeology. 76 (4): 425–435. doi:10.2307/502875. ISSN 0002-9114.
  6. ^ "The Archaeological Exploration of Sardis". Retrieved 2022-01-31.
  7. ^ "Hallelujah! Assemble, Pray, Study – Synagogues Past and Present". Beit Hatfutsot.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. ^ "Manisa (Magnasia), Jewish Community". Retrieved 27 April 2008.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 38°29′18″N 28°02′25″E / 38.48833°N 28.04028°E / 38.48833; 28.04028