2,000-year-old synagogue, one of world’s oldest, discovered in Russia

The synagogue appears to have stood during the era of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

One of the oldest synagogues in the world, believed to date back more than 2,000 years to the Second Temple era, was recently discovered by archaeologists in Russia.

The Phanagoria Synagogue, near the city of Kuban in southern Russia, is believed to have been established between 500 BC and 70 AD, when the region was part of ancient Greece.

During that time period, the Second Temple stood in Jerusalem, making it unnecessary for Jews to construct synagogues elsewhere. For that reason, synagogues dating back to that era are extremely rare.

Inside the structure, archaeologists found marble pillars, one of which was engraved with the ancient Greek word for synagogue, as well as altars, large steps, menorahs, and a space in which Torah scrolls are believed to have been kept.

The site boasts painted and marble-tiled walls, a solid foundation and floors and a tiled roof, according to a press release from the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

While archaeologists believe the synagogue was destroyed in a raid of the city during the sixth century, the synagogue appears to have functioned for at least 500 years.

“The analysis of the fragments of the preserved decoration allows us to conclude that the synagogue was erected at the turn of the millennium and existed for at least 500 years,” the archaeologists said in the press release.

“The presence of a robust Jewish community within the city already in the 1st century AD is corroborated by depictions of menorahs on amphorae and tombstones from that era,” they added.

“Historical records from the medieval period also affirm the notion that Jews constituted a significant portion of the city’s inhabitants.

“Notably, Theophanes, an 8th-century Byzantine chronicler, and Ibn-Hordadbeha, a 9th-century Arabian geographer, both referred to Phanagoria as a ‘Jewish city.’”

The excavation was carried out with support from the Oleg Deripaska Volnoe Delo Foundation, one of the largest nonprofit organizations in Russia.