If you want to see a life-size, full-colour, three-dimensional resurrection of the dead with your own eyes, you don’t need to wait for the end of days, you could see it later on today – come to visit the wonderful synagogue at Ein Keshatot. What makes this miracle even more remarkable? It was brought about by a man called Jesus.
Resurrection of the dead is a core belief in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Hebrew Bible includes several stories of miraculous revivals by the prophets Elijah and Elisha, as well as Ezekiel’s vision of the raising of the dead who had been laying in the valley of the dry bones, a key text for Christian Zionists. The Gospels include several miraculous revivals brought about by Jesus, in addition to his own rising after the Crucifixion. Maimonides, the medieval Jewish philosopher known in rabbinical texts as Rambam, the revered author of the theological classic The Guide for the Perplexed, regarded belief in resurrection as one of his 13 cardinal principles of the Jewish faith. The Mishnah, the early third-century compilation of rabbinical law and philosophy, states that those who do not believe in resurrection “have no share in the world to come,” and the Amidah prayer which traditional Jews like myself say three times a day includes a blessing that praises God as the “resurrector of the dead.”
There are not many Jews in 21st-century Israel who call themselves by the name of Yeshu (Jesus), so the archaeologist more formally known as Yehoshua Drey is one of a select few. To this latter-day Yeshu we owe the extraordinary vision and dedication that was required to turn a pile of broken fragments into an exceptionally beautiful historic building.
This extraordinary story goes back to 749 CE, the year of the disastrous Holy Land earthquake (called the “seventh noise” in Jewish sources because it happened in the Sabbatical year) that felled Tiberias, Capernaum, Beit She’an, Sussita and many other towns and cities in the Galilee, the Golan and beyond. Many devastated places were simply abandoned, and their ruins sank into the ground.
One such was the town of Umm el-Qanatir, Arabic for “the mother of all arches” after the impressive basalt arches over the local spring, a town which was originally pagan and later Jewish. Rebranded much more recently with the Hebrew name Ein Keshatot (so many places here have several names, like Sussita / Hippos – see my blogpost https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/far-from-the-madding-crowd-in-israel-1-sussita/) this place was no more than a forgotten pile of rubble for over 1,100 years.
In 1884 Lawrence Oliphant, an eccentric, a British member of parliament, Christian Zionist, mystic, spy, novelist and intrepid traveller, spotted a vulture carved into a slab of stone while travelling in the Golan Heights, east of the Kinneret. He arranged for the site to be surveyed and he published his opinion that he had discovered the ruins of an ancient synagogue.
Not much changed for almost 120 years.
Then Yeshu, archaeologist Haim Ben-David and other experts got to work. Together they brought about a miracle through the application of state-of-the-art science. They dug up all the pieces of the pulverised structure. They labelled each fragment individually by implanting a chip powered by RFID, the wireless technology that replaced swiping and signing for your credit card purchases. They photographed each broken piece from all angles. Then they put all their carefully gathered data through cloud-of-points software that solves three dimensional jigsaw puzzles. That’s how they knew where to put each piece.
When I visited this place about 10 years ago, a massive crane stood over the site to shift pieces into position. But on that day there was only one person there, painstakingly manoeuvring each piece into its place. Some were huge, others tiny. The man with a mission who stood there patiently toiling away in the blazing sun for almost 10 years was Yeshu. Of course it was a huge project and he did not accomplish it single-handed. The reconstruction process was a collaborative effort that spanned years, combining meticulous research, architectural expertise, and community involvement. But everyone agrees that without Yeshu this beautiful synagogue might never have been rebuilt.
Yeshu is an expert on ancient technology. Those two words may seem to be an oxymoron but when you think about it – and Yeshu has for many years – it is obvious that the ancients had many mission-critical technologies. Olive oil and wine production, flour milling, minting coins, gathering and channelling water – all required sophisticated mechanisms, systems and techniques, several of them arguably more life-enhancing than TikTok.
Yeshu’s insights into the technologies of antiquity led him and his team to an answer to a crucial question: Why was there such a large and elaborate synagogue right here? How could the people in this place afford to build it? The answer lay in the spring over which the magnificent arches were built. The shallow pools by the spring were well suited and ingeniously adapted for processing and bleaching flax for the purpose of creating high quality linen fabric and garments. These were exported across the Mediterranean region. Until the fateful earthquake, the Jews of Ein Keshatot lived comfortably, earned well and invested their profits in building a splendid synagogue and communal centre for themselves and for posterity.
You can now see the structure in its revived glory in a beautiful nature reserve with splendid views and some promising new archaeology afoot. The synagogue’s reconstructed walls, columns, carved basalt stones with images of the lost Temple, and its intricately patterned floor, offer a glimpse into the cultural traditions of a period of Jewish revival in the Golan area.
Unmissable. But to my surprise when I took tourists last week we were almost entirely alone. This glorious site could comfortably handle far more footfall and well-deserved appreciation than it currently receives.
A miracle worked by Yeshu – a dead and shattered holy place, raised from the dust and brought back to life.