Torah Shrine (Ancient)

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Aedicula in Umm el-Qanatir

The Torah shrine was an establishment of late antique synagogues, which served to store the Torah scrolls . Artistic representations give the impression that these earliest known Torah shrines looked very similar to one another: They consisted of a stone wall structure ( aedicula ) in which a wooden ark, the actual container for the Torah scrolls, was.


The facade of the aedicula corresponded to the following scheme: Two or four flanking pillars rose on a base and supported an arched lintel. A Syrian gable, which was decorated with the motif of the shell, could rise above it. A few steps led up to this shrine. Archaeologists have found remains of the aedicules of some synagogues in Galilee and the Golan:

  • Umm el-Qanatir: Fragments from which the excavators reconstructed a 5-meter high aedicule. For this purpose, the individual stone blocks of the ruin were recorded with a 3-D laser scanner, then their original position in the building was determined with the aid of a computer.
  • Nabratein: Decorated lintel with a relief of a triangular gable and two flanking lions.
  • Chorazin : Decorated double pilaster made of basalt.
  • Katzrin : Small Syrian gable (Spolie); Double column of the aedicula.


The ark was usually made of wood. She is mainly known from artistic representations. In the Land of Israel it was represented as a kind of closet with closed double doors. In the Diaspora, on the other hand, the drawer was shown in the open state so that you can see scrolls lying on shelves in it. This diaspora iconography is evidenced by gold glass floors from Roman catacombs, oil lamps from Ostia and a stone block from Sardis.

Since wood is rarely preserved over long periods of time, the contributions of archeology to the knowledge of these objects are limited to nails (Bet Schean) or inlay work ( Maon ).

The artistic representations, especially the mosaics, show the ark on the one hand free-standing on two or four feet and crowned by a wooden gable ( Bet Alfa , Naaran , Jericho), on the other hand in the stone aedicula, where it has a box-like shape and neither gable nor Has feet ( Chammat Tiberias , Sepphoris , Susiya). Some depictions add a curtain ( parochet ) that partially covers the ark (Chammat Tiberias, Samaritan synagogues of Khirbet Samara and el-Khirbe).

An unusual form of representation of a wooden ark is known from the synagogue of Capernaum : on a frieze the ark can be seen in the form of a temple and on wheels. Some researchers assume that the ark in the main room of the synagogue did not have a permanent place of storage (aedicula) in ancient times, but was brought in for worship.

Ark of the Covenant

The Torah shrine was a frequent motif in Jewish art, especially as it had an important function in everyday synagogue. In contrast, the Ark of the Covenant , according to Rachel Hachlili , iconographic no relation to the Torah shrine. The only representation of the Ark in ancient Jewish art is a fresco from the synagogue of Dura Europos .


  • Rachel Hachlili: Ancient Synagogues - Archeology and Art: New Discoveries and Current Research (= Handbook of Oriental Studies, Section 1: Ancient Near East. Volume 105). Brill, Leiden / Boston / Cologne 2013. ISBN 978-90-04-25773-3 .
  • Rachel Hachlili: The Niche and the Ark in Ancient Synagogues . In: BASOR 223 (October 1976), pp. 43-53.

Individual evidence

  1. Rachel Hachlili: Ancient Synagogues . S. 192.198 .
  2. Rachel Hachlili: Ancient Synagogues . S. 197 .
  3. ^ Technology bringing history back to life. August 9, 2010. Retrieved June 19, 2018 .
  4. Rachel Hachlili: Ancient Synagogues . S. 193 .
  5. Rachel Hachlili: Ancient Synagogues . S. 194 .
  6. Rachel Hachlili: Ancient Synagogues . S. 195 .
  7. Rachel Hachlili: Ancient Synagogues . S. 199 .
  8. Rachel Hachlili: Ancient Synagogues . S. 204 .
  9. Rachel Hachlili: Ancient Synagogues . S. 202-203 .
  10. Rachel Hachlili: Ancient Synagogues . S. 205 .