Oldest synagogue excavated at Jericho

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The Independent Online
JERICHO (Reuters) - The world's oldest known synagogue has been excavated near the biblical town of Jericho, an Israeli archaeologist said yesterday.

The synagogue, within the complex of a Hasmonean palace, was built between 75 and 50 BC during the reign of Queen Salome or one of her sons and was destroyed by an earthquake in 31 BC, said Professor Ehud Netzer, of Jerusalem's Hebrew University.

At the site, archaeologists discovered the first evidence supporting ancient accounts that ceremonial meals, as well as prayers, were held in synagogues. "It was a bit like a community centre" said Professor Netzer, who is supervising the dig. "We know the Bible was read three times a week, but there was also a room attached to the synagogue where religious meals were held."

Professor Netzer first uncovered the palace 25 years ago. Excavations continued until 1987 and were resumed early this year. Professor Netzer said the synagogue was in an Israel-controlled area of the West Bank, just outside Palestinian-ruled Jericho.