ERIC M. MEYERS Duke University
An archaeological introduction to ancient synagogues could not begin without taking note of the unique contribution of a single individual to the subject, one whose work goes back more than seventy years. This figure is Eleazar Lipa Sukenik (Fig. 1.1), pioneer archaeologist who singlehandedly developed the field known as synagogue archaeology. Not surprisingly, Sukenik's inspiration for scientific fieldwork came from the American giant in biblical archaeology, William Foxwell Albright, director of the American School in Jerusalem in 1920-29 and 1933-36. 1 Albright's programmatic work at Tel Belt Mirsim in the northern Negev established the framework for stratigraphic excavation as well as laid out the fundamentals of ceramic typology, work soon to become the key to all dating in archaeology. 2 In fact, Sukenik spent the academic year 1923-24 studying with Albright in Jerusalem. 3 There he also worked with another of Albright's students, William Carroll of Yale University, at the archaeological site of Beitar, where the Jewish rebel and messianic pretender Bar Kokhba made his last stand in 135 C.E. Sukenik also explored the southern Ghor region in Transjordan with Albright and his team, which culminated in the discovery of Bab edh-Dhra, a site associated with the cities of the plain in Genesis 14. 4
The year 1923-24 was critical in Sukenik's training as an archaeologist, but unlike his Protestant colleagues at the American School, who were preoccupied with the realia of the biblical world inhopes of authenticating the Bi5ble, he envisiones archaeology as a mechanism for authenticating Jewish ties to the Land of Israel. In the archaeology of ancient Jewish synagogues, on which he first came to focus, he discovered a vehicle for facilitating the rebirth of the Zionist state, and in 1925-26 at Dropsie College, Philadelphia, Sukenik wrote his doctoral dissertation on the current state of knowledge of ancient synagogues. 5 On
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Publication information: Book title: Sacred Realm:The Emergence of the Synagogue in the Ancient World. Contributors: Steven Fine - Editor. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1996. Page number: 3.