Hershel Shanks

Synagogue or springhouse? A nearly square (18 by 21 feet) structure at Migdal (Magdala), on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, is deemed by its Italian excavators to have served originally as a synagogue. Like the complex at Jericho, the Migdal building dates to the first century B.C. Its main features are columns along three sides and five broad benches on its northern side. According to the excavators, the building was converted into a springhouse following a flood and a three-sided water channel was added behind the columns.

Ehud Netzer counters that the Migdal building never served as a synagogue. He notes that although the structure has columns, as do many synagogues, those at Migdal are too close to the walls to form usable aisles. Netzer adds that the purported benches (another feature of synagogues) are too narrow to have served that purpose and are simply steps. He believes the building was a springhouse all along, thanks to its location next to a spring.