We know from literary sources that ancient Cilicia, a province in southeast Turkey, had a significant Jewish population. The New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles of Paul make it clear that the Jewish communities and synagogues of ancient Cilicia were proselytizing destinations for the apostle Paul, who was a native of Tarsus, the capital city of ancient Cilicia. Despite the Jewish presence there, no ancient synagogues have ever been excavated in the region. Thanks to Mark Fairchild,* chair and professor of Huntington University’s Bible and Religion Department, we may now know about two unexcavated ancient synagogues in Cilicia, including possibly the world’s earliest known synagogue.
Ancient Cilicia’s Jewish population is mentioned several times in literary sources, including the Acts of the Apostles and the writings of Paul in the New Testament. Yet no ancient synagogues have been conclusively identified in this southeastern region of Turkey. Mark Fairchild of Huntington University in Indiana now believes he has found two unexcavated ancient synagogues, including possibly the earliest known in the area of ancient Cilicia.
Mark Fairchild’s “Turkey’s Unexcavated Synagogues” in the July/August 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review suggests that both unexcavated structures are, in fact, synagogues. One of the two structures that is at the picturesque coastal harbor of Korykos (modern Kizkalesi). Incorporated into a later fortification wall at the site is a stone door lintel inscribed with a menorah (see lower left in photo above) that may have once belonged to a synagogue. An ancient necropolis just outside the city includes at least 12 epitaphs of Jews buried there, as well as two sarcophagi bearing menorahs.
The second of the ancient synagogues proposed by Mark Fairchild is at the Cilician site known only by its modern name, Catioren; the ancient name of the site is unknown. There, on a brush-covered ridge, a worn stone lintel nearly buried in rubble displays a carved menorah as well as a lulav, or palm branch—both iconic Jewish symbols used frequently in ancient synagogues. A nearby Greek inscription offers solid evidence of a Jewish community with a synagogue at the site. Based on the architecture and weathering of the structure, Fairchild dates it to the Hellenistic period. If he is right, it is the earliest known example of a synagogue still standing.
Only professional excavations can offer conclusive proof about the character of the structures at Korykos and Catioren.
To read Mark Fairchild’s full report about the two newly identified ancient synagogues in the region of ancient Cilicia, see: Mark Fairchild, “Turkey’s Unexcavated Synagogues,”Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2012.
* Mark R. Fairchild is professor and chair of the Bible and Religion Department at Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, as well as program director for the Ephesus Meeting, an academic conference at the ancient site of Ephesus in Turkey.
Sign up to receive our email newsletter and never miss an update.
Dig into the illuminating world of the Bible with a BAS All-Access membership. Combine a one-year tablet and print subscription to BAR with membership in the BAS Library to start your journey into the ancient past today!