Archaeologists: Place Where Jesus Prayed?

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GALILEE, Israel -- Israeli archaeologists working in northern Israel say they have uncovered a 2,000-year-old synagogue where Jesus may have prayed.
    
The remains of the ancient synagogue were discovered on the site of a planned hotel north of Tiberias in Migdal.  Migdal is the town where Mary Magdalene once lived.

Various finds along the Sea of Galilee represent some of the oldest archaeological discoveries ever found in the region.  Some experts say it is certain that these are the places where Jesus lived, taught and healed the sick.
 
"We presume that this beautiful, decorated synagogue, well-decorated synagogue was maybe the synagogue that Jesus and his community and Mary Magdalena sat together and learned and studied and prayed together in this building," said Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Dina Avshalom-Gorni.

The building would have been huge - nearly 1,300 square feet in the main hall. It was decorated with frescos and had a mosaic floor.  Most of the stones were left standing or lying in tact.

Avshalom-Gorni is heading the excavation. She says they have also found an unusual stone inside the synagogue.

"In the middle of the synagogue, in the middle of the benches around the walls we found the base of a stone, which was decorated also with a menorah," she said.  The seven-branched candelabra was part of the temple in Jerusalem.

A few depictions of menorahs have surfaced, but one is unique because it is far from Jerusalem and in a synagogue. Experts theorize this sheds light on the links between Jewish communities in the Galilee and Jerusalem in that day.

IAA archaeologist Yosi Stepansky says the artist might have been capturing what he actually saw on the stone.

"The artist himself may have seen the original menorah in the second temple and used it for himself when he engraved the menorah here on this stone," Stepansky said.

Avshalom-Gorni says it is remarkable that the synagogue is so well-preserved, because it was found just a few inches beneath the surface of the ground.

"After 2,000 years nobody damaged this building," she said. "It's unbelievable. And it's so beautiful also in archeologist because the hotel could be built a little bit to the south, a little bit to the north and we could miss it by a few meters. We could miss this unbelievable evidence."

Despite plans to build on the site, Stepansky said he is certain it will be preserved for Jews and Christians alike.

"I think everybody wants the public also to see the synagogue and maybe even a chance to pray in the synagogue - a synagogue that's here 2,000 years - that's a big treat for anybody," he said.

*Originally aired September 16, 2009. 

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