Finding Bible Texts Stored in the Synagogue

Every archaeologist wants to find written materials but not all of them succeed. Professor Yigael Yadin, leading his crew excavating the ruins of Herod’s fortress of Masada in the early 1960′s, was one of the lucky ones who did. Among the pieces of Dead Sea Scrolls he found was one which electrified the archaeologists and the public at large. It was a piece of the book of the prophet Ezekiel. But not just any piece; the fragments included the beginning of Ezekiel, Chapter 37, the vision of the Valley of the Dry Bones.

At the beginning of their first season of digging, the excavators came upon a more-or-less square room on the western side of the hill. It was quite the largest room in the casemate wall. They soon uncovered plastered benches lining three of its walls, and columns meant to hold up the ceiling. It was soon apparent that they had uncovered the synagogue used by the Zealots defending the fortress against the Roman legion at the very end of the Great Revolt in the year 72 CE.

This identification was supported by shards of pottery with writing on them (bits of pottery, called /ostraca/, were the most common pieces of “scrap paper” used back then!) found lying on the floor of the ruined building. One piece of pottery said “priestly tithe;” a clear indication that the room had been used for a liturgical purpose. That meant—by any definition—that it had been a synagogue. They returned to this room during the second season of excavations and dug under the floor of a small room that had built in a corner of the room. They discovered there a pit which had been dug in the floor and used as a /geniza/, a special storeroom Jews always made for the disposal of holy manuscripts that—for one reason or another—had become unusable. Among the writings they found in the pit were these pieces from Ezekiel.

An exact reproduction of the Ezekiel Scroll will be available from in the near future. Biblical Reproductions is licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Author:  Walter Zanger