Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Antiquities in the desert

As you would expect, "A" is for ANTIQUITIES and ARCHAEOLOGY for today's ABC Wednesday.
All photos will enlarge with a click.
Welcome to En Gedi Antiquities National Park, much of which is under the sheltering tent.
Note the Dead Sea in the background, and the mountains of Moab in Jordan.

The first sign of this magnificent mosaic was discovered accidentally, when a field was being plowed in 1965. It turned out to be a synagogue, adjoining rooms, and a street.
The thriving Jewish community living in En Gedi existed from the 3rd to the 6th century CE (the late Roman and Byzantine periods, also know as the period of the Mishnah and Talmud).
Archaeologists conclude that the settlement and its synagogue were destroyed by fire in a wave of persecution under the Roman emperor Justinian I around 530 CE.

The synagogue probably had a second-story balcony.
The present mosaic carpet was created in the mid-5th century to replace older ones.

The bamah, where the portable holy ark stood and where the Torah scroll was read.
Three small menorahs adorn the mosaic.

The rooms might have been dwellings for the synagogue staff.
Two mikvahs (purification baths) were also found.
This is cool because it shows the stratigraphy of the preparatory layers for a mosaic, layers with fancy names like (from bottom to top) statumen, rudus, nucleus, bedding layer, and tessellatum.

The most exciting part of any mosaic--the dedicatory inscription!
But not easy to photograph with the setting sun, so instead I give you a picture of it from the excellent leaflet.
I quote the leaflet written by Avivit Gera and translated to English by Miriam Feinberg Vamosh:
"The first section depicts the 13 ancestors of humanity: 'Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mehalel, Jared, Enoch, Methusaleh, Lamech, Noah, Ham, Japeth.' "
"The second section shows the 12 signs of the zodiac, the three patriarchs, the word 'shalom,' followed by the names of Daniel's three companions who, according to legend, are the three bases on which the world rests, and finally, a blessing for peace on Israel:
'Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces. Nissan, Iyyar, Sivan, Tamuz, Av, Elul, Tishrei, Marheshvan, Kislev, Tevet, Shevat, and Adar, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Peace, Hananiyah, Mishael, and Azariyah, peace on Israel.' "
"In the third section, an inscription appears in Aramaic which mentions the benefactors of the synagogue, Yose, Ezron, and Hazikin, sons of Halfi.
The inscription also charges all inhabitants to conduct themselves according to the rules of the village.
It warns of a curse on those who start quarrels, slander their neighbors before the Gentiles, steal, or 'reveal the town's secret.' "
"Most scholars believe that En Gedi's economic welfare was based on a secret method for producing perfume from the balsam shrubs cultivated in the area. The inscription may hint at this possibility."
"The fourth section contains an Aramaic inscription noting the names of the above-mentioned benefactors and calls for blessings on them for their good deeds."
The fifth section (not shown) thanks the citizens and "Yonatan the cantor" who paid their share toward the repair of the synagogue.
And I, Dina, thank the archaeologists who excavated this site off and on from 1970 to 2002 and the Israel Antiquities Authority Conservation Department who lovingly preserved and restored these wonderful mosaics and the site from 1991 to 1996.


VP said...

I am quite worried because with our daily posts we 'reveal the town's secret'... A curse await us!

moneythoughts said...

One of the best and most remarkable posts I have read on any blog. Thanks you. I, personally, would love to read more pieces like this, but I realize not everyone is as interested in history as I am. Great photos too.

RuneE said...

Archaeology must be very fun - one of the things I should have done instead of what I did (though I have in fact written a paper based on archaeological material).

Spiderdama said...

Great post and description!:-) Love the first shot!
Ps: We have cliff, we can climb on at the sea also, hehe:-)
Wish you a great day in Israel!

Tumblewords: said...

Amazing. The futuristic tent formation covers an awesome antiquity. Thank you for posting!

Manang Kim said...

Oh wow it is like it's just made last year. Thank goodness it was discovered though it is accidental. But it is really stunning! Thanks for the great info!

ABC Wednesday:Autograph

Vicki ~ FL said...

Great photos and a really good history lesson.

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Truly amazing find. Its hard to imagine how something like that would be abandoned. I guess that it was under a lot of rubble and eventually forgotten.

Chuck Pefley said...

Isn't it amazing how going about our daily routines, plowing a field in this case, can connect so directly to our history?

Fascinating post!

Roger Owen Green said...

I especially love that floor. Interesting history.

BTW, I'm currently part of the ABC Wednesday Team. thanks.

Ann said...

That looks really interesting, I'd love to visit it. When was the site opened to the public, I know I've been to the dead sea as part of a short tour and its the sort of thing that would be included in a tour.

Cloudia said...

You have filled me with emotion and wonder, Dina!


Comfort Spiral

Dimple said...

The mosaic floor is lovely. I'm so glad these accidents happen.

Kate said...

Your geographical location certainly lends itself to antiquity and archaeology. Stunning photos of a stunning land with informative historical content. Many thanks.

Pietro said...

Magnificent mosaic and thrilling description with wonderful photos. Really nice the first image with the Dead Sea in the background. Great post, Dina.

Regina said...

Such a beautiful ancient synagogue.
I Love archeology.

Thank you Dina.

Jew Wishes said...

I am totally enthralled by the photographs and educational aspects. It is so fascinating and intriguing. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

amazing what earth can hide. great info and photos. excellent post

Kay said...

The photos are amazing as is the site. Wow! I remember seeing something like this in Jordan and it was such an amazing feeling.

By the way, I've been hearing how the most effective, helpful and coordinated group of rescuers in Haiti is the Israelis. Everybody (especially the U.S.) needs to learn from them. Their efficiency is impressive! They brought over all the right high tech equipment, set up triage type tents and got the doctors working right away while everybody was still trying to figure out what to do.

Kero said...

archeology is always interesting for my husband. he would really love to read your post.

thank you so much for sharing.

my entry is here http://kcelebration.blogspot.com/2010/01/is-for-aqurium-and-tallest-atrium-lobby.html

Hilda said...

Another fascinating post, Dina. The mosaic is lovely and I, Hilda, thank you for your informative descriptions and translations. :)

Even way back then, donors liked seeing their names carved in stone. Hahaha.

crederae said...

beautiful mosaic Dina.thankyou.

you must feel ageless in Jerusalem.

glduro_marieloupe said...

Dina, your blog is an extraordinary journey in time and humanity history. I'm moved to see the relics that help you to unravel. Thanks!

Monika said...

breath taking and a brilliant post

Bergson said...

si tu travailles ici tu as beaucoup de chance

Dina said...

Shalom to you all, dear friends. I'm so glad you too love the synagogue and its history!

VP, No no! This curse is only for those who reveal the secret of how to make the Ein Gedi afarsimon or maybe the balsam perfume!
And I didn't tell, honest. (If only I knew it . . .)

Serendipity said...

What a wonderful post - so interesting. Those mosaics are fantastic :)

Louis la Vache said...

What an interesting post - and what a marvelous discovery!

JM said...

I find these mosaics absolutely stunning! There is a roman city in the north called Conímbriga and the ground details are what I most like there.

Eki said...

I like the huge tent and the mossaic on the floor. The synagogue must be very grand and beautiful then.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I've seen this site on a travel program. The mosaics must be from natural stone thats been polished. I'm glad you included the picture of "the stratigraphy of the preparatory layers for a mosaic". Also the 12 tribes are mentioned. I'm still trying to figure out the chinese connection

these are going into my mosaic file
Thanks Dina...love it when you put in art.

jeannette stgermain said...

What an excellent post, Dina! Thank you so much for sharing these archeological treasures. Was the (possible) second story balcony for the women?