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In the Footsteps of the Maccabees



Ancient Modi'in - Where is it?

Where was ancient Modi'in - the hometown of the Maccabees and a hotbed of Jewish resistance against the tyrannical Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes? That question remains a mystery; it's still not clear where the Hellenistic-era town was located. But, it could be that the construction of a modern 21st century road brought us a bit closer to the origins of the city at the heart of the Hanukkah story.

The Jewish Origins of Modi'in

The archaeological ruins of Umm el-'Umdan were excavated by the Israel Antiquities Authority in a salvage dig in the early 2000's and the 5-acre site revealed an ancient Jewish village just beneath the surface. Archaeologists Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah and Alexander Onn made the exciting discoveries of a Second Temple-period synagogue and mikveh that were apparently in use until the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt from 132-135 C.E. They also found stone seals with Jewish script, stone vessels common from other contemporary Jewish sites, burial complexes consistent with Jewish practices and coins from the First and Second Jewish Revolts against Rome.

Impressive, but still not correspondent to the time of the Maccabees. Below the Second Temple synagogue, they found an even earlier synagogue, this time from the Hasmonean period - late second century B.C.E. - but still after the time of the Maccabean revolt.

Finally, underneath this Hasmonean synagogue was yet another earlier structure securely dated to the time of Seleucid rule of Judea - but this time, archaeologists simply couldn't determine if the Maccabee-era structure was indeed a synagogue or if the town was even a Jewish one.

The Importance of Place-Names

Instead they pointed to the name of the ancient site, Umm el-'Umdan, as proof of its association with the Modi'in of the Maccabees. 'Umdan (עמדן) and Modi'in (מודיעין) share the same four consonants in the same order except for one letter transposed. It is often the case that ancient place-names are preserved with slight changes in their modern versions. Perhaps it is the modern Umm el-'Umdan that echoes its original Hebrew name, Modi'in, from thousands of years ago. Or perhaps archaeologists still have their work cut out for them in solving the mystery of ancient Modi'in.


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