Worlds oldest synagogue uncovered

JERUSALEM — Israeli archaeologists have uncovered remains of what is believed to be the world's oldest synagogue.

The remains, which are believed to date from between 75 and 50 BCE, were uncovered near the West Bank town of Jericho.

The team was headed by Ehud Netzer, a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

One of the relics discovered by the team was a U-shaped bench, which was apparently used for ceremonial meals. This is the first physical evidence that such meals took place before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.

Also, in one corner of the temple, a niche was cut into the wall. Netzer believes it may have served to store Torah scrolls.

The remains were excavated near the site of a Hasmonean-era winter palace — perhaps the most famous Hasmonean leader was Judah Maccabee, whose triumph against the Seleucid kingdom in the second century BCE is celebrated in Chanukah.

The synagogue was destroyed by an earthquake in 31 BCE, along with the rest of the Hasmonean complex.

The previously oldest known synagogue was in the Golan Heights, according to Netzer. That synagogue was built approximately 50 years later than this one.