Torah Chest

Torah Chest

A view of the top panel in the nave of the sixth century A.D synagogue at Bet Alpha.  The contents of this panel seem to duplicate the content of the apse—the raised platform in the upper right of the image.

In the upper panel, in both upper corners, are three loops of a curtain, both of which are "drawn" by two long poles.  This veil (parocheth) is opened to reveal the contents of the apse.

In the center of the panel, is a representation of the gable-roofed "ark" in which Torah scrolls were kept.  The "eternal light" (ner tamid) is suspended from the peak of the gable.

To the sides of the ark are two lighted menorahs, three ritual symbols (lulav, shophar, and incense shovel), lions, and birds.

The three steps at the upper right of the image lead to a raised apse on which there was a repository for the storage of the Torah scrolls.  Thirty-six Byzantine cons were found in it.

For an excellent article on this and similar synagogue mosaics see conveniently: Walter Zanger, "Jewish Worship, Pagan Symbols: Zodiac Mosaics in Ancient Synagogues.  Bible History Daily, July 13, 2021. Accessed July 21, 2021 —  The article was originally published on August 24, 2012, in Bible History Daily.

Information from Nahman Avigad,  "Beth Alpha." Pages 190-92 in The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land — vol. 1. Edited by Ephraim Stern, Ayellet Lewinson–Gilboa, and Joseph Aviram. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society and Carta, 1993.