The archeological site of Ein Gedi (Eingedi) is located about half a mile north of the Nachal David – Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. Every January a group of volunteers continues to excavate this interesting site. Recently, they revealed another room in the Ein Gedi old synagogue complex and found multiple clay objects.
The ruins of this historical site is an ancient testimony to mankind’s rich culture. The site is surrounded by the wild desert of the Dead Sea shores. You can spot the synagogue from the road because of the large brown modern tent over the ruins, set in the middle of the dates plantation.
The old synagogue was built in the 2nd century CE, when the Jewish community of Ein Gedi enjoyed the fine weather and abundance of water to become one the wealthiest communities of those times. It is believed that the cultivation of the Balsam, a plant that was the origin of the most expensive fragrance in the ancient world was the source of their wealth, as the Dead Sea valley was the only place suitable for the growth of this plant.
The synagogue was discovered in 1960 by local farmers at Kibbutz Ein Gedi while ploughing the fields. Excavations at the site began during the early 1970s, which revealed a beautiful mosaic floor, which was thought to be constructed from the Roman to the Byzantine eras.
The synagogue’s mosaic floor
The mosaic floor’s decorations are derived from the geometric forms expertly and cleverly weaved together to create a central eight-pointed star. These decorations were created in respect to the Jewish tradition of avoiding figurative description. The only living creatures are geese and peacocks, which were considered inferior enough not to be associated with the Roman gods.
The most usual design element in most contemporary synagogues is a central circular zodiac with the twelve-star signs, each representing the Hebrew lunar month and personification of the four seasons, but with the Greek god Helios at the center. But in the Ein Gedi synagogue, it’s totally different representation in a written list of the star signs, in a rectangular “carpet” that is set in the floor of an aisle. The unusual decoration is a reflection of the type of community who stuck to the tradition while the rest appeared to follow the “modern” Roman aesthetics during the era.
For many years, scholars have debated which plant was the real source for this treasure; and in the past few months great progress has been made in this research. Researchers now believe that a plant found in Sudan that they intend to grow again in the Ein Gedi Botanical Garden will solve this mystery.
The beautiful synagogue floor was well preserved, and you can see the original mosaic floor on site. There are 4 beautiful inscriptions on the side of the floor, but these are not the originals, as this part of the floor was taken to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. See the Ein Gedi Photo Gallery.
Access to Ein Gedi Synagogue
The Ein Gedi Synagogue is part of the Ein Gedi National Park and can be visited together with the Ein Gedi hiking trails.