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Ruins of Ancient Synagogue at Arbel

Arbel, Israel
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Synagogue Ruins Near the End of the World Arbel  Israel

Synagogue Ruins Near the End of the World

I'm a skeptical guy – doubtful of unseen forces, philosophical about what's mystical, mute on organized religion. It's my way of staying grounded (sometimes to my own detriment) when awander through cultures and places more at ease in the ethereal. It was also a necessary fallback when I visited the ruins of a 4th-century AD synagogue near the Sea of Galilee.

Set amid what little is left of an ancient Jewish village on the western edge of Arbel that may date back to settlement during the Second Temple period (500 BC to 70 AD), the structure is said to be one of the oldest synagogues in the world. Discovered in 1905, complete with carved floral decorations and a standing doorframe hewn from a large limestone block, the synagogue ruins reveal a square building with three rows of columns, apparently fairly typical of the Galilean type of synagogue.

Most impressive, though, is its location on the high shoulder of Mount Arbel with commanding views into the valley below and its outlet at the Sea of Galilee. It's a spectacular setting. What better place to construct a temple? I figured. But then there was this, shared on a descriptive panel nearby: “A Jewish tradition says that the Messiah, nicknamed Menahem son of Armiel, will appear in the valley of Arbel.”

Really? I wondered. Could this be why the synagogue was built here, with ringside seats to the End of Days? And why this particular sunburnt patch of planet? To think that we know his nickname and his father's name! Hm.