The site of Yodefat is located on a hill that forms part of the Yatvat ridge in the Lower Galilee (Aviam 2005:2). The Jewish town of Yodefat is well known for its active resistance to the Romans and the siege it suffered during the First Jewish Revolt, as documented in detail by Josephus Flavius (War 3:158–339). Extensive excavations on the fortified hill were carried out in 1992–1997 and 1999 (Aviam 1999; 2005). It revealed the town’s defenses, living quarters and a mass grave of the town’s community that was massacred by the Roman forces at the end of the siege (Aviam 2005:39–93). While the site’s history and archaeology during the first century have been thoroughly researched, little is known about the settlement after the Revolt.
The current excavation focused on the remains of a large building at the foothill of the site (Area K; Figs. 1, 2). The remains were first described by Conder and Kitchner (1881:311), who thought that they may belong to a church. The structure was rediscovered by Tepper and Shachar (1985:28–32), who suggested that it was a synagogue. The identification of the building as a synagogue was also proposed by Aviam, based on the results of a sounding (Aviam 2005:25).
A survey of the building and its immediate vicinity conducted prior to the excavation documented several column drums that seemed in situ, its wide, solid walls and its carefully built corners. The excavation revealed two phases: from the Late Roman–Byzantine periods (Phase I) and from the Medieval period (twelfth–thirteenth centuries CE; Phase II).
Phase I: The Late Roman–Byzantine Periods
The building was constructed as a rectangular structure (10.8 × 15.7 m; Fig. 3) having a general north–south alignment. It comprised a transverse basilical hall, divided by two rows of columns into a nave (L115, L122) and two narrow aisles (western—L120; eastern— L127)—identified as a synagogue—and, to its north, accompanying rooms built in a similar architectural style. The exterior walls were wide (0.80–0.85 m) and were built of roughly hewn limestones; the corners were built of larger, well-dressed blocks.
The main entrance into the basilical hall was set in the middle of the southern wall, where a large monolithic threshold can still be seen. Another, narrow entrance was set in the western wall; this entrance was blocked in a later phase. The preserved column drums and pedestals were of mediocre quality. In the nave and the western aisle, a plaster floor was exposed below an accumulation containing collapsed stones and broken roof tiles.
The pottery assemblages from the nave and the aisles were similar, dating from the Early Roman period through the late Byzantine–Early Islamic periods. These included a bowl (Fig. 4:1), storage jars (Fig. 4:2–5) and jugs (Fig. 4:6–8), as well as a late Roman cooking pot (not illustrated) and a fragment of a Byzantine–Early Islamic oil lamp (not illustrated; cf. Stacey 2004: Fig. 6:6). The plaster floor in the nave (L115) and the accumulation above it (L116; Fig. 6) contained several coins (Table 1:1–5) also dating from the Roman through the Umayyad periods, and along with the pottery indicate that the building was constructed in the Late Roman period and was in use throughout the Byzantine period.
Phase II: The Medieval Period
The building was reoccupied in the Medieval period (late twelfth–thirteenth centuries CE), apparently as a dwelling. Poorly constructed walls were built between the columns (W19, W24) and across the nave (W18), dividing the nave and the western aisle into four rooms (I–IV; Fig. 5). The plaster floor and threshold from the earlier phase continued to serve the new dwellers. A small pit that cut through the plaster floor, now in Room IV (L122), contained several smashed dark brown glazed cooking pots from the twelfth–thirteenth centuries CE (Fig. 6). Two additional glazed cooking pots of the same date were found in Accumulation 116, also in Room IV (not illustrated). A Mamluk coin from the reign of Baybars was found in a stone collapse in Room II (L106; Table 1:8).
Two additional rooms (L108, L111, L113; 5.7 × 7.5 m; Fig. 7) in the northeastern corner of the building were in a considerably better state of preservation than Rooms I–IV. Three column drums were incorporated into their walls, and there was no evidence of a floor. The two rooms yielded mixed pottery dating from the Roman, Byzantine and Medieval period, including a glazed carinated bowl (L113; not illustrated), which is similar to bowls found at Banias and dated to the twelfth–thirteenth centuries CE (Avissar and Stern 2005: Fig. 7:2). Also found were two Crusader coins of the twelfth century CE, one of Amalric of Jerusalem (Table 1:6) and the other of Raymond V of Toulouse (Table 1:7; Fig. 8), along with a common medieval iron arrowhead from the twelfth–thirteenth centuries CE (not illustrated; cf. Raphael 2008: Fig. 2).
Table 1. Coins
Date (CE)
Alexander Yannai
80–76 BCE
Late Roman
Probably Constantius II
Constantius II
Late Roman
c. 400
c. early eighth century
Amalric of Jerusalem
Raymond V of Toulouse
The basilical building, built along a north–south alignment, dated to the Late Roman–Byzantine periods (Phase I), based on the coins and pottery finds. This orientation does not correspond to that of a church, and the ceramics and coins predate the Muslim period, ruling out the possibility that it was a mosque. Instead, its orientation is suggestive of a group of synagogues in the Galilean hill country that had both a main southern entrance and a side entrance (Avigad 1981:44; Ilan 1987:232). The lack of benches along the walls is rare, yet not unheard of. The Bar‛am synagogue, for example, does not have benches (Aviam 2022:122), suggesting the use of wooden benches. Furthermore, according to Foerster (1987:177) there are several synagogues with a basilical plan and no apse. The lack of traditional Jewish symbols, both in the building and in its surroundings, indicates that if it were indeed a synagogue, it was modest and served a small village with limited financial resources.  
Following an occupational gap of approximately 450 years, the structure was converted into a dwelling of several rooms (Phase II), with poorly constructed partition walls that incorporated the earlier column drums. A similar situation is known from Meroth, where a medieval dwelling (thirteenth–fourteenth century CE) was built on the remains of an earlier synagogue (Ilan and Damati 1985:47). Judging by the amount of medieval pottery, it seems that the re-used building was occupied for a relatively short period of time before it was finally abandoned in the thirteenth century CE. There were no signs of a violent destruction, but rather of a gradual deterioration of the building.