In our November/December 2010 issue, BAR readers learned of the decades-long archaeological saga to identify the ancient Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim in northern Israel, the religious center of the obscure and little-known Samaritan faith that split from Judaism more than 2,000 years ago.a Now, about 25 miles away, in the fertile valley of Beth-Shean, even more evidence of this ancient offshoot of Judaism is coming to light.

Last summer, archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority uncovered the remains of a Samaritan synagogue just outside of modern Beth-Shean. The synagogue dates to the fifth and sixth centuries C.E., when a significant community of Samaritans lived in the Beth-Shean Valley. In fact, this is the third Samaritan synagogue to have been discovered in the area.b

In most aspects, the newly discovered Samaritan synagogue can barely be distinguished from contemporaneous Jewish synagogues. The building, like most synagogues of the time, consists of a long rectangular hall with a colorful mosaic floor and recesses that were likely lined with wooden benches. The synagogue’s Samaritan character is confirmed by the building’s southwest orientation, toward the Samaritan holy site of Mt. Gerizim (instead of Jerusalem, as in Jewish synagogues), and a partially preserved Greek inscription from the geometric-patterned mosaic floor that reads “This is the temple.” According to Hebrew University’s Dr. Leah Di Segni, the building “and the content of the inscription are in keeping with a Samaritan synagogue.”