Herodium Synagogue

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The synagogue at Herodium, also spelled Herodion, was initially built as a dinning hall (triclinium) during the time of Herod. Here Herod received his guests, and threw intimate dinner parties. Josephus tells us that the Roman emperor's representative Agrippa was Herod's guest in Herodion in 15 BCE. It is located inside the fortified upper Herodion complex.


The pre-year-70 CE synagogue at Herodium is of the Galilean-type, featuring stone benches built along the walls and aisles formed by columns that supported the roof. It is one of the oldest synagogues in the Levant. Unlike much of Herodā€™s Palace the synagogue can still be seen and identified today. The entrance faces south towards the Jerusalem. Herodium Synagogue is the perfect example of a first century open air synagogue. Four freestanding columns were added according to the known "synagogue typology".


circa 20 BCE

Archaeologists note that the spacing of the four columns was too wide to support anything other than a light canopy covering, if any at all. The zealot rebels captured Herodium in 66 CE and converted the open air existing triclinium into a synagogue but were defeated a few years later by the Romans in 70 CE. In 132 CE the rebels again used the synagogue only to be defeated by Hadrian. The rectangular building measures 15.15 x 10.6 meters, and a mikvah (2 x 1.5 meter) is located just outside the entrance.

circa 20 BCE

The rectangular building measures 15.15 x 10.6 meters, and a mikvah (2 x 1.5 meter) is located just outside the entrance by the northern part of the wall. Identification of this building as a synagogue is based on architectural similarities to other public structures identified as Gamla synagogue, Masada synagogue and Magdala synagogue, as well as by the presence of a nearby miqweh.

circa 20 BCE

The walls were plastered with stucco; a stepped mikveh was found close to the hall. The edifice was originally constructed as a triclinium (dining hall) in Herod's fortress palace. Although Corbo has suggested a date during the Bar Kochbah revolt in the second century for the transformation of the edifice, it is more likely that the building was converted for synagogue use around the First Jewish Revolt (so Foerster, Chiat, Binder, Levine, Runesson).

circa 20 BCE

The benches to the sides of the walls are not Herod's, but they belong to the later church that was built on this site. But before that, it had served as a synagogue for the Zealots. Its date, of the first century CE, makes it one of the oldest synagogues in Israel/Palestine. There were only four pillars and the span between them is 8.54 m (28 feet). This far exceeds the construction distance span for any kind of roof other than a light canopy covering.


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