Synagogue of Gamla

The remains of this synagogue, one of the oldest found in Israel, are outlined in this photograph. It apparently functioned as a community center because no specifically religious artifacts were found in it. However, the mikveh (ritual bath) uncovered just outside led the archaeologists to conclude that it was a religious gathering place, hence a synagogue. Rows of steps or benches are found around the outside. They were used by the more important people of the community and the elders of the synagogue (Matthew 23:6). The floor in the center is unpaved. The common people of the community would sit on mats on the floor.

Columns around the outside supported a roof, apparently of wood, which was destroyed when the Romans devastated Gamla during the First Jewish Revolt. The corner columns are heart-shaped (one can be seen in the lower left). The outside wall (in the back) was destroyed so that the hillside of the steep mountain can be seen, as can the wadi (dry riverbed) beyond.

The entrance to the synagogue was about eight feet long and 50 feet wide. People cleansed themselves in the mikveh and entered from the west to join in the worship and readings of the synagogue. One can picture the joyful, thriving community of these religious Zealots praising God and seeking his guidance here on the hillside.

This synagogue was active when Jesus ministered at Capernaum less than 10 miles away. We do not know if he was ever here. Since "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues," it is quite possible. At the very least, this is similar to the synagogues in which Jesus did teach. The benches (chief seats), the mikveh, the study room, and the unpaved floor were often the locations for his teaching, his miracles, and his worship.