Ancient Ties Revealed: Second Temple-Era Synagogue Discovered Near the Black Sea

The echoes of history have a unique way of speaking to us, don’t they? This time, they’ve whispered to us from the picturesque Taman Peninsula, adjacent to the Black Sea. A significant discovery has been made – a synagogue, dating back to the Second Temple Period, right in Russia’s ancient Greek city of Phanagoria.

Helmed by the diligent researchers from the Russian Academy of Science, this revelation offers us a glimpse into a thriving Jewish community from the early first century C.E. Key to this identification were marble tablets inscribed with the words “house of prayer” and “synagogue.” Historians estimate that this house of worship stood proudly for five centuries until it witnessed the wrath of barbarian tribes in the sixth century.

This monumental excavation, which began in 2004, is generously supported by the Volnoe Delo Foundation of Russian entrepreneur Oleg Deripaska. Describing the excavation, Ruben Bunyatyan from the Foundation commented on the architectural grandeur of the synagogue – a vast structure measuring 21 by 6 meters, elegantly divided into two spacious chambers. Among the treasures uncovered were intricately designed marble menorahs, a liturgical table, and a stele bearing the word “synagogue” in Greek.

Phanagoria has its origins steeped in antiquity. Established in 356 BCE by Greek settlers fleeing conflicts with the great Persian King Cyrus, this city flourished as the crown of the Bosporan Kingdom. It connected diverse cultures, acting as a trade nexus between the southern Caucasus and the vast Maeotian Marshes.

The Second Temple of Jerusalem, the successor of the First Temple, stood as the focal point of religious ceremonies from 516 BCE to 70 C.E., when it met its tragic end at the hands of the Romans. Bunyatyan points out the rarity of synagogues in that era, noting, “While a few synagogues can be traced back to the third century [BCE], their numbers notably grew during the third century [C.E.]. The Phanagoria synagogue offers a precious peek into this vital phase of Jewish heritage.”

As we marvel at this discovery, it’s an affirming reminder of the deep historical roots of the Jewish people, and their wide-reaching connections across the continents. Israel, ever a beacon of hope and resilience, celebrates such discoveries, as they strengthen our bond with our illustrious past. It encourages us to honor our rich heritage and the values we’ve held close for millennia. As the Land of the Book, Israel invites the world to come, explore, and be a part of this extraordinary tale of faith, survival, and legacy.