Amid the late-antique ruins of Andriake, the port city of ancient Myra along the Lycian coast of Turkey, archaeologists recently uncovered a synagogue—only the third ever found in Asia Minor. Dated by the excavators to the fifth century C.E., the synagogue is located less than a half mile from the city’s harbor and would probably have served the needs of Jewish merchants and traders involved in the port. Other ancient synagogues in Asia Minor that have been excavated are at Sardisa and Priene (see sidebar), both in western Turkey.

The newly discovered synagogue at Myra includes two rooms, the larger of which was supported by two columns and served as the main congregational hall. Affixed to the synagogue’s walls were several marble plaques, including this well-preserved relief carved with a seven-branched menorah mounted on a low base. On the left is a lulav (the closed frond of a date palm) and an etrog (a lemon-like fruit); both are associated with the festival of Sukkot. On the right is a shofar (a ram’s horn).

Beneath the branches of the menorah, on either side, are lines curling into a circle. According to some scholars, these represent rolled Torah scrolls seen from the end.1

At both of the other ancient synagogues in Asia Minor, very similar plaques have been found, featuring a menorah with Torah scrolls beneath the branches, and lulav, etrog and shofar beneath.2

The upper margin of the Myra synagogue plaque bears Greek inscriptions with the names of the men and women who commissioned the piece. Although they are Jewish, their names are not: Macedonius, Procles, Romanus, Iusua and Roma, reflecting the degree to which this Jewish community was Hellenized.

Three votive inscriptions were also carved on the walls of the synagogue. In language similar to other Jewish dedicatory inscriptions that have been found, two of the inscriptions request that “Peace be with Israel” in Greek. All three conclude with the words “Shalom” or “Amen.”