hall passed by the holy ark that was on the right side. In the southeast corner of the hall, you can see a corner bench stone that was detached from its place. The carving of the socket for the feet around the corner indicates that benches were also built along the south wall of the synagogue, on the side of the holy ark. Those sitting on the south side turned their backs to Jerusalem; these are probably the elders of the settlement – their faces are towards the people and behind towards the holy place, with the holy ark pointing towards Jerusalem. Adjacent to the northwest corner of the prayer hall from the outside and along the wall, a base was discovered that was probably intended for external stairs that led to the upper level.
The building was rich in architectural items from basalt decorated with geometric models, plants, and animals, mainly lions and eagles, which were mostly transferred to the Museum of Golan Antiquities in Katzrin. Among the Jewish symbols found, was the Menorah, which is a seven-branched candelabrum, in a variety of base shapes. The Menorah usually appears on the frames of side openings or windows.
Based on coins found on the floor of the synagogue and outside the entrance, the archaeologists determined that the building was built in the Byzantine period, in the middle of the fifth century. Also, pottery found as part of the excavation findings were typically from the second and third centuries, led to the conclusion that the site was already inhabited during the 2nd & 3rd centuries, the Mishna period. Apparently, the place was abandoned after the Arab occupation in 638.
We enter the oil mill of the settlement which operated from the fourth to the sixth century, which indicates that production of olive oil was a main source of income. As you can see, the structure is rectangular and partially built into the ground. You can see here the basin for crushing the olives and the wheel that turned inside it, their job is to crush the olives. The crushing wheel rod will usually be attached to the axle that will turn it. After crushing, a squeezing operation was carried out using a separate system and there were two common methods for squeezing facilities, one is a screw with direct pressure as used here and the other is a beam and weights that I describe in the video about the synagogue in Wadi Hamam.
Regarding the production process, we talked about the crushing stage whose product is crushed olives. These were transferred to what is called in Hebrew “akalim”, they are baskets braided with rope or fibers. The baskets were smeared with the crushed olives, and a number of them were placed on top of each other, and in this case the squeezing to extract the oil was done with the help of a screw device which is a squeezing press made of wooden beams, parts of which can be seen here, I am referring to the finding here of this base.
The recesses and grooves in the base indicate that a screw device was mounted on it. By turning the wooden screw, constant pressure was exerted on the beam which pressed the baskets in which the olive branch was placed in. In this operation the baskets were used as a strainer. The oil and the water, dripped out, in this case a basalt basin was exposed with a volume of about 200 liters into which the oil was poured, while the kernels, peel and other waste remained inside the baskets.
This waste was called in the Mishna “gefet” and was used for feeding animals and for heating. The squeezed oil flows into an oil collection pit called “Oka”. After several days in which the oil floated above the water, the liquids were separated into different vessels.
During the period of the Mishna and the Talmud, olive oil production was the most important industry in the lower Golan region, and it was also a very important source of income in the Galilee. The evidence for this are the oil mills that were discovered in those regions from those periods. It is important to note that the cultivation area of most settlements at that time was a few tens of dunams, I would say 20 dunams on average equivalent to 5 acres, and I am not referring to cities like Tzipori and Tiberias or Susita and Gamla in the Golan.
So, what is the income generated by an agricultural settlement during that period? I explain in detail the economic aspect of visiting the various ancient synagogues in the Galilee, yet the bottom line is that if we assume that twelve dunams or 3 acres of the settlement are designated for growing olives, when the yield of one dunam in which there are say 36 olive trees, is 1200kg of olives, then twelve dunams will yield 14.4 tons of olives.
Using a conversion rate of 15% we will receive close to 2.2 tons of oil each year – an amount from which the income was very significant for that settlement in those days, and of course when you produce a large amount of oil you have to make jugs to transport it, so it is no wonder that there is evidence of an extensive pottery industry for making jugs in the Galilee area.
It can be learned from various sources that during the period of the Mishnah and the Talmud, the income from oil production was double that from wine production in Israel. Also, for the same volume unit, the price of a liter of oil was higher than the price of a liter of wine.
That’s it for this time, and we’ll conclude as usual with a question. In the fourth century, what was more expensive in Rome, a liter of wine or a liter of olive oil and by how much? The answer as usual is at the end of the video.