First Week, continued
Third Post, Installment 2
Students also saw the 4th and 5th century synagogue floor at Hamat Tiberias, which was built of black basalt at the site of hot springs on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee. The wheel of the zodiac in the mosaic floor is a bit startling if you’ve never seen one in a synagogue before. I imagine it would be like encountering a large pentagram in the floor of the Washington Cathedral. It would have been the second zodiac we saw that day, but we missed the turnoff to Beit Alpha, where the 6th century synagogue sports a similar floor that was discovered in the 1920’s after the discovery of the one at Hamat Tiberias. Since those discoveries many more have been found, including one at Sepphoris.
Next came swimming in the Sea of Galilee, which the students did with some enthusiasm. I was not surprised that all went in because earlier they all had piled out of the vans to photograph one another on the banks of the Jordan when we crossed on our way north from Beit She’an. Tommy Archer filled one bottle with Jordan water and another with Sea of Galilee water. He did not seem to mind that he was going to have to fly back to the states with two bottles of the same water in his luggage.
The final site was Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea (here called “Lake Kinneret”). There is a 5th century octagonal church built over a room in a house that began to be venerated near the end of the 1st century. It is popularly called Peter’s house, and of all such sites in Israel that venerate a biblical place or event, it’s one of the better candidates for being the real deal. Capernaum also has a 5th century synagogue built of white marble, so that it stands out starkly in a town otherwise constructed of black basalt. The builders must have aimed for this effect. This synagogue was built over an earlier, 1st century basalt foundation that matched the dimensions of the later building, so we surmise that we have a 1st century synagogue in Capernaum.