Greece

Delos

Archaeological Museum of Delos

Archaeological Museum of Delos, Mikonos, Greece

Visiting the site in Delos is quite easy throughout the summer, the island being accessible by boat from nearby Mykonos.

If one place attests to the presence of a Jewish community in Ancient Greece, it is certainly that of Delos, an arid island of the Cyclades. The existence of Jews here is referred to in the Book of Maccabees, while Flavius Josephus mentions them as well. Too tiny to flex any real political muscle, the island was an important religious center and cosmopolitan trade city, however, comparable in Hellenestic period to Pompeii. During that era, Delos had as many as 30000 inhabitants, hailing from all parts. Merchants guilds were established here, including ones from Alexandria, where Jews were numerous. Such prosperity, which lasted until the dawn of Christian era, certainly drew Jews here, such as Samaritans. Nevertheless, their history remains unknown to us.

At the end of the nineteenth century, digs were undertaken here by French archaeologists from the Athens School. Southwest of the former stadium, just beside the Aegean Sea, a synagogue dating from the first century B.C.E. has been uncovered. Considered as the oldest one of the Diaspora, this synagogue was a two-room house designed for religious use. Sitting against a stone wall, a remarkable, finely worked marble armchair goes by the name of Throne of Moses. Among these ruins, an arch leads to a cistern that might have served as a mikvah.

About fifty yards or so northwest of here, right against the outer wall of the stadium, French archaeologists have uncovered another house once used as a place of worship. It was a Samaritan synagogue, sometimes referred to as the House of Agathocles and Lysimachus. Thhis attribution comes from the discovery of a funeral stele dedicated to Serapion, a Samaritan from Knossos, found near this house. A cistern flanks this building as well.

In this area around the site, several Jewish inscriptions in Greek have been deciphered. On one of them the words “Theos Hypsistos” are engraved, the equivalent of Shaddai (“The All-Powerful” in Hebrew). In the early 1990s, another Jewish inscription was deciphered on a block of stone reused as part of a pasture wall, not far from the shore.

The synagogues are located on the northwest section of the island. A small museum houses as well several pieces unearthed during the dig.