The Jobar synagogue was not the oldest in Syria

The British newspaper The Independent has been caught parroting Syrian propaganda about the (now destroyed) Jobar synagogue near Damascus, claiming it is the oldest synagogue in Syria. Adam Blitz blogged an open letter in The Times of Israel to set the record straight.

Dear Sir (/Madam)

Charlie Atkin’s article, ‘Drone video shows level of devastation in Damascus: the footage was captured over the Syrian capital’s district of Jobar’, The Independent,
(Wednesday 23 December 2015) has only contributed to the propaganda
which both the Al-Assad Regime and its factional opposition have long
sought to perpetuate. And here The Independent is sadly anything but. Your story derives from Russia Today (of the same date) but ultimately the Iranian Al-Alam, and accepts the veracity of the otherwise ludicrous statement which is repeated near verbatim as evidenced below,

“Before the conflict in Syria erupted in 2011,
the neighborhood was home to some 300,000 residents. The
suburb contained a number of ancient landmarks, most notably the Green
Synagogue, the oldest Jewish synagogue in the world. It also contained
the Grand Jobar Mosque in addition to the tomb of the Prophet Elijah”.

Independent 2

Which “Jewish synagogue” is Mr.  Atkin
referring to? There is no such reference to a “Green Synagogue” at
Jobar. The Jobar synagogue was one of many medieval monuments to revere
the Prophet Elijah, the Hebrew Eliahu Hanavi or Arabic Al Khodor* and
to attribute a cave within the synagogue complex to the prophet.
Folklore, built upon the biblical tales (1 Kings 19 v 8) may have its
charm but few would accept that the site originates from the reign of
the Israelite Ahab circa 850 BCE or that it is any older than the
“Elijah caves” of Latakia, Homs, Aleppo and Haifa.

However critical it has been for the Regime
and Opposition to embroil the synagogue in its war of words, which has
been the case since 2013, The Independent should know better
than to accept the wisdom of the Regime’s proxy news outlets. Jobar
synagogue was not only not the “oldest Jewish synagogue in the world”.
It was not even the oldest synagogue in Syria. Dura Europos, famed for
its tempera-laden walls, can boast a date before 256 CE.  The dedicatory
mosaics from the synagogue at Apamea (392 CE) also reveal an ancient
lineage.  Both the Dura Europos wall paintings and the Apamean mosaics
remain in the National Museum of Damascus. They live to tell their
history as does the Great Synagogue (or Bandara) in Aleppo with an
inscription from 834 CE.

Read letter in full 

*Khodor means ‘green’ in Arabic, which may account for ‘Green synagogue’

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