This article reexamines the evidence underlying the widely cited identification of a late ancient synagogue in Qanīʾ (modern Biʾr ʿAlī, Yemen), challenging its identification and the historical narrative built around it. We first assess the epigraphic, archaeological, and literary evidence used to identify a synagogue, and therefore a community of Jews, in fourth- through sixth-century Ḥimyar. We suggest that none of the evidence can bear the weight of the identification. We then discuss the reception of this tenuous claim by a wide variety of scholars—including those who have questioned its underlying rationale—and the way that it has been used to buttress wishful claims about an early and powerful Jewish presence in South Arabia. Ultimately, the mirage of Qanīʾ’s Jews serves as a cautionary tale, illustrating how surprising conclusions that bolster exciting historical narratives can result in speedy and unanimous acceptance by scholars of interpretations deserving of skepticism.
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Research Article| November 01 2022
Reconsidering the Earliest Synagogue in Yemen
Studies in Late Antiquity (2022) 6 (4): 627–650.
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Mark Letteney, Simcha Gross; Reconsidering the Earliest Synagogue in Yemen. Studies in Late Antiquity 1 November 2022; 6 (4): 627–650. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/sla.2022.6.4.627
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