Tom McCollough, Centre College, Annual Professor
W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research
The excavations of Khirbet Qana, a village in the lower Galilee region located 6 km east of Sepphoris and 15 km west of Tiberias, began in 1998.
Initiated by the late Douglas Edwards, the principle aim was to integrate the archaeological data from urban sites dating to the Roman and Byzantine periods with those recovered from rural village sites. The site was known from earlier surveys of the region and the pre-excavation survey of 1998 revealed plentiful evidence of human activity from the Neolithic through the Ottoman periods with the most extensive and significant occupations occurring in the Early Roman and again in the Late Byzantine periods. Based on the literary evidence, moreover, this was the site that Christian pilgrims identified as biblical Cana of Galilee.
Based on tomb locations and other critical indicators, we estimate the size of the village in the Roman period to be 5 hectares and in the Byzantine period 7 hectares when a Christian pilgrimage complex was added on the southern slope. Using a relatively dense population coefficient, the Roman population would be 1,200 and the Byzantine 1,800. An array of indicators argue that the village was predominantly Jewish until the arrival of Christian pilgrims in the Late Byzantine period.
Field II was established to explore the outlines of a large building that was apparent from aerial photography. Subsequent excavations revealed that the building was founded on bedrock that had been quarried. The outer walls define an interior space that measures 20 m x 15 m. We have exposed the entire W wall, which is 1.5 m in width. A square opened over the outer face of the western wall was excavated to foundation. As the building was founded on bedrock, there was no foundation trench; however the soil loci at foundation level yielded a ceramic profile that would date construction to the Early Roman period. This dating corresponds to the carbon-14 sampling and dating of mortar and plaster taken from the exposed walls at foundation level (4 – 235 CE, 95% accuracy).
Excavations in the interior of the building exposed two layers of plaster floors and remnants of plaster benches along three walls of the structure. We also recovered large amounts of painted interior wall plaster. The excavation of the soil covering the plaster floor in the interior of the building revealed footers for 8 columns, each 2.5 m from the respective eastern and western walls and 5 m apart. Reused drums and column bases were exposed in the southeast corner, and in the northeast corner a reused capital was also recovered. Analysis of the form and decoration of the capital concluded that it was similar to ones used in the Gamla synagogue and should be dated to the Early Roman period.
Based on the similarities of the architecture and architectural elements to other structures identified as synagogues, we have concluded that this building should likewise be identified as a synagogue and be dated to the late first or early second century C.E. Such a conclusion has important implications for the evolution of Galilean synagogues as well as for our understanding of the religious, social and economic dimensions of rural village life in the Roman period in the lower Galilee. Moreover, we can now identify critical enhancements to this synagogue beginning in the 6th century to include the addition of a bema. These changes correlate chronologically with the development of the Christian pilgrimage center on the southern slope and should be seen as an expression of identity and perhaps defiance in the face of Christian imperialism.
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