Wadi Qelt Synagogue
The Wadi Qelt Synagogue, part of the Hasmonean royal winter palaces complex west of Jericho, is one of the oldest known synagogues that have ever been found. It dates from between 70 and 50 BCE, and was built as part of a Maccabean royal winter palace complex in the warm desert oasis of Jericho.
The synagogue was a modest building of stone and sun-baked brick. It included a ritual bath and a small courtyard surrounded by seven or eight rooms with a rectangular main hall measuring 53 by 37 feet. The hall was bordered by a colonnade the platform of which was nearly two feet above the floor of the nave. This provided seating for nearly 70 people. In the northeastern corner, Netzer found a niche that may have served as a Torah Ark. A lower compartment, mostly intact, is thought to have possibly functioned as a genizah or storage compartment where old or unused scrolls were stored. Adjacent to the western side of the main hall was a triclinium, or dining hall, where public meals could be held, and a small, triangular space that may have been used as a kitchen. The triclinium was added some years after the main hall was built. Diners reclined, Roman style, on benches against three walls of the chamber while eating. The floors and walls were covered with white plaster.
Despite the excavator's identification of a building among the Hasmonean palatial complex near Wadi Qelt as a synagogue, the matter is far from conclusive. In fact, few scholars seriously consider this suggestion in discussions of Second Temple period synagogues, though even fewer have openly challenged the identification in print.
- Oldest Synagogue Found in Israel, March 29, 1998. Associated Press
- Israel's Oldest Synagogue, Archaeology, Volume 51 Number 4, July/August 1998 by Spencer P.M. Harrington
- Ehud Netzer,“A Synagogue from the Hasmonean Period Recently Exposed in the Western Plain of Jericho,” IEJ 49 (1999): 203–21.
- Ehud Netzer, "A Synagogue from the Hasmonean Period Recently Exposed in the Western Plane of Jericho," Israel Exploration Journal 49 (1999): 203-31.
- David Stacey, "Was There a Synagogue in Hasmonean Jericho?" http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/Hasmonean_Jericho.shtml
- S. Japp and H. Schwarzer, "Synagoge Banketthaus oder Wohngebaude?" Anitke Welt 3 (2002): 277-88.