In the eastern Galilee, overlooking the Sea of Galilee is the Korazim or Chorazin National Park, the site of an excavated ancient Jewish town with roots going back to the Roman Era. The 25-acre park preserves the remains of a Roman/Byzantine settlement built from the region’s black basalt stone. Although the town dates back to the 1st century, almost all the remains are from the 3rd-4th century including the highlight of the park a Byzantine synagogue.
Second Temple Period (567 BC - 70 AD) sources mention the good quality wheat farmed by the inhabitants of Korazim. The New Testament names Korazim, together with Bethsaida, and Capernaum as devoutly Jewish towns that Jesus cursed after they rejected his teachings (Matthew 11:20). Visitors that come to explore the archaeological site can also enjoy views of the Sea of Galilee and the beautiful natural surroundings that include Christ-thorn jujube trees and an ancient Mount Tabor oak tree.
Although most of the archaeological ruins you can see today date back 1,500 years, the Korazim settlement existed as early as the 1st century. Perhaps the site of the town was chosen for the elevated location, fertile farming land, and the nearby spring that supplied valuable water. This was the land of Jesus’ ministry where he preached in Galilee towns and performed miracles. In fact, Christ would have preached in Galilee synagogues just like the one at Korazim.
The town grew during the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods of the 3rd century and in the 4th century, Korazim was destroyed, perhaps by the 363 AD earthquake. It was rebuilt and remained inhabited until the 8th century before being once again abandoned. From the 13th century, Korazim was sporadically resettled and later Syrian Bedouins established a village known as Karazeh which remained until 1948. Near the park entrance is the Mameluke Period tomb of Sheikh Ramadan. Local Bedouins visit the grave to make offerings, vows and to settle disputes.
The Korazim synagogue was built and rebuilt between the 3rd and 5th centuries and remained in use until the 8th century. The synagogue was 23m long and 17m wide and like the rest of the settlement, the synagogue was constructed out of the volcanic basalt rock that forms the mountains of the Golan.
Carved into the synagogue stones are geometric shapes, zodiac signs, Jewish motifs, and images of flora and fauna. Skilled artistry went into carving the hard basalt rock and decorating it in great detail. The three synagogue entrances were topped by beautifully carved triangular gables. The excavation uncovered a basalt-hewn seat that was probably used by senior members of the congregation when teaching. The stone seat or Moses Seat is inscribed with a dedication to the community donors.
The partial remains of the synagogue include the lower walls, an archway, stone lion figures, and 5 of the original 12 columns. Near the synagogue is a Jewish ritual bath where worshipers would have purified themselves by submerging in the bath before entering the synagogue. Also discovered were dwellings, paved courtyards, and an olive press. Today the synagogue is sometimes used for outdoor events, bar mitzvahs, and weddings.
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