In the original settlers of Apamea, since

In 1934, Belgian archaeologists excavated
the remains of a synagogue in Apamea,1
a town founded by Antiochus I in the third century BCE.2
According to the theologist Paul Trebilco, this king of the Hellenistic
Seleucid Empire “included Jews among the original settlers of Apamea, since
Seleucid kings seemed on occasion to have used Jews as an element in the cities
they founded.”3
However, only a few centuries later, the Romans invaded this larger area of
Asia Minor and became a great threat to the Jewish communities. Amongst their
activities was the forceful destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE, which
served as the Jews’ centre for worship. Not only did this influence the
migration of Jewish communities into what is now known as the diaspora, but
importantly did it also affect the building of synagogues outside Jerusalem.4
This essay will therefore look at one particular synagogue and analyse in what manners its architecture articulates
the situation of Apamea’s Jewish community of the Late Antiquity. In other
words, it is going to investigate to what extent the architectural features of
the synagogue’s exterior and interior mirror/comment on the socio-political,
economic and religious context of the late fourth century CE.

(History of the)
Function of synagogues in Judaism

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Bloedhorn, archaeologist and architectural historian, argues that synagogues
were initially “places of assembly” without a cultic role.5

The synagogue
was used among other things as a house of prayer. It is possible that an
existing establishment with no cultic role was used and then gradually over
time – particularly after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE
– became established as a centre of worship, until this use supplanted the


this we understand that the synagogue at Apamea, erected in the late fourth
century CE, was presumably built as a centre for worship. Indeed, Rachel
Hachlili, author of the book Ancient
Jewish Art and Archaeology in the Diaspora, confirms that “Synagogues erected for the specific purpose of
worship (…) are found at Apamea (…).”7


The destruction of
the Jerusalem Temple and its consequences for synagogue building in the Jewish

mentioned above, the destruction of the Second Holy Temple implied significant
changes for the building of synagogues. Hachlili claims: “Only after the
destruction of the Jerusalem Temple did the synagogues acquire their
distinctive appearance, especially the Torah shrine constructed on the
Jerusalem-oriented wall.”8

to architecturally include a depository for the Torah scrolls, the Hebrew holy
scriptures, became a new necessity in the building of synagogues. Marilyn Chiat states that:

This was not
solely an architectural problem, but had its source in liturgical developments.

It would appear that initially a permanent storage facility for the Torah
Scrolls within the synagogue hall was not necessary. But at some point, as the
synagogue liturgy developed with the synagogue’s developing function as a
centre of worship, the permanent storage of the Scrolls within the hall became
of primary importance. Thus, the depository containing the Scrolls, not the
building’s fac?ade as formerly was the case, was to signify the direction of
prayer toward Jerusalem. The focus of the building was now transformed sic!
from the exterior, to the interior. (….) Entrances that originally faced
Jerusalem were closed and niches, possibly intended to house the Torah Shrine,
were added in their place.9


In short, Chiat observes how
the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple caused synagogues to re-organise their
original architectural structures. Essentially, the Torah shrine, which could
exist under the form of an aedicula, niche or apse,10 was built on the wall facing Jerusalem.

Moreover, Hachlili continues to say that during the Byzantine era, it was
established that the entrance of the synagogue would be placed opposite the
Torah Shrine.11 


Synagogue of Apamea

a “very valuable site right in the centre of the city” (Noy et al. 2003: 22)

-“It sat midway, immediately off the Cardo or Grande
Colonnade: the main North-South axis upon which the Hellenistic and the Roman
city were built. In the other direction East-West axis on the Decumanus,
eastwards and perpendicular to the Cardo, the synagogue could be found
on the street descending from the great theatre in the shadow of the hill-top
citadel which Pompey had razed long ago.” (Blitz 2014:24-26)

Fig. Hachlili 1998:32

measurements of the synagogue were probably about 15.5m x 9m, calculated from
the area of some of the mosaic floor panels; no measurements were given by the
excavators. (The church was 22.50 x 13.30 m.)” (Hachlili 1998: 33)

-“Architectural features found at Apamea consist of walls and a square niche”
Blitz 2014: 27 also says it was a niche, while Noy et al. 2003: 12 claim it
was an apse12″
(Hachlili 1998: 32)
-“One of the
principal architectural elements of the ancient synagogues was the niche in which the ark stood. This niche appears
frequently in architectural remains and in Jewish art in Israel and the diaspora. It consists of the
following elements which also determine its shape and character: (1) The
interior of the niche (2) A facade of two or four columns (3) An arch or gable
supported by columns (4) A conch which decorates the vaulted upper part of the niche, arch, or
gable (5) A base
on which the niche is built (6) A flight of stairs leading up to the niche”
(Hachlili 1976 :
pavements discovered in recent Israeli excavations of synagogues show niches
and arks and enable us to establish the shape of the niches.” NM1 (Hachlili
1998: 47)



-“The synagogue structure was apparently oriented from north to south; the
Torah shrine was built on the south wall in the form of a square niche.” (Hachlili
1998: 34)

-“The north
and west walls of the Christian Atrium Church which was built over the
synagogue after the latter had been destructed by Christians are built on the
original synagogue walls. The lines of the east and south walls of the synagogue
are unclear. The entrance may have been on the west wall (possibly the same as
the latter church entrance) or close to it, as attested in particular by
inscriptions 1 and 2 which mention that their donors “made the mosaic of the
entrance.” The two inscriptions read towards the west; inscription (1) is close
to the assumed west entrance.” (Hachlili 1998: 33-34)

1998: 33 by Brenk 1991






Information from Tables Hachlili 1998:27-29:
 Synagogue of Apamea:

Exterior: dimensions of assembly hall: 15.0×9.0, Torah shrine orientation
toward Jerusalem, Nartex Portico (=main hall), no court yard (=atrium), façade
entrance triple “The façade with its triple entrances, usually one of the
short sides of the structure, is a characteristic feature of the ancient
synagogue (….) The triple entrances in many cases lead directly into the hall’s
nave and aisles.” Hachlili 2013: 133)
Interior: Torah Shrine: Square
Niche; floor mosaic; no torah bema; no elders’ seat Shrine fragments; no
Columns Cathedr d’ Moshe; no benches; no ornamentation; no wall painting; no
wall ornamentation marble stucco”


-“The plan see below seems to show a large hall with a portico or entrance
area on
two sides
(Mayence called it ‘une galerie ornée de colonnes’), but the
layout of the inscriptions indicates that the hall was probably not walled off from the
rest of
building. Outside the mosaic floor, there was a small torah-shrine in the south
wall of
the hall,
and an apse while Hachlili 1998 claims there was no apse but a niche (28)
with two flanking square rooms to the east (to the left of the area
shown in Figure 1). There has been no published study of what
preceded the synagogue in the form shown on the plan; it seems likely that the
mosaics represent the restoration of an existing building, rather than
a completely new foundation, but that remains unproven.” (Noy et al. 2003: 12)

Fig. synagogue plan by Noy et al 2003: 12









What the synagogue’s
architecture says about its community

Chiat notes that “Christian churches were
hieratically arranged (“defined areas for the clergy, the congregation, the
unbaptized”), while synagogues were not.”13
However, some of Apamea’s synagogues’ inscriptions show “an elaborate
hierarchy of people in the
community holding titles which are well attested in the Diaspora: archisnagogos, gerusiarch, elder (presbyteros).”14
The inscriptions thus illustrate how the
Jewish community at Apamea was hierarchically organised, which implies that
some members were considered better, and possibly also more powerful than
others. Likewise, the fact that not all members of the community could donate a
piece of mosaic (as there were only 20 inscriptions15,
but presumably more members to the community) suggests an economic divide.

Furthermore, as mentioned above, the
excavations revealed a Torah shrine in the south wall of the synagogue. The
fact that this structure was included in the architecture helps us to date the
completion of this synagogue to a time after the destruction of the Jerusalem
Temple. As a result of this, we know that the synagogue functioned mainly as a
centre of worship – as an establishment with a cultic role where Jews would
meet to participate in liturgical services.

To my knowledge, nothing has been found
on whether the architectural organisation of the synagogue divided male from
female synagogue goers.

1 Mayence 1932 (cf. Emma).

2 Museum of the Jewish people Beit Hatfutsot.

3 Trebilco 86.

4 Hachlili 1998, 94.

5 Bloedhorn 268.

6 Bloedhorn 268.

7 Hachlili 1998: 90.

8 Hachlili 1998: 94.

9 Chiat 1991:38

10 Hachlili 1998: 488

11 Hachlili 1976: 50

12 “The niche
evolved into the apse which is found in synagogues of the Byzantine period and
which was then given a permanent position in the architecture of the building, opposite the
entrances to the synagogue.”
(Hachlili 1976: 50)


13 Chiat 1981: 39

14 Noy et al. 2003: 14

15 Sukenik :550

 NM1Which synagogues do you mean here? Please specify the name of the


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