Modi’in is a city in central Israel, about half-way between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv. The modern-era city was founded in the 1990s in the vicinity of an ancient city by the same name which was especially known as the hometown of the Hasmoneans.
History of ancient Modi’in
Not much is known about Modi’in from historical sources. It is not mentioned in the Bible, or in the Mishnah. However, according to the Book of Maccabees Modi’in was the hometown of the Maccabees, a family that initiated a revolt against the Seleucid empire. Succeeding in expelling the Seleucids, the Maccabees formed the Hasmonean dynasty which ruled Judea for over a century. Their most remarkable achievement, clearing Jerusalem’s temple of idolatry, is marked to this day in a week-long holiday (Hannukah).
The Elusive Hasmonean Mausoleaum
The Book of Maccabees records Simon the Maccabee erecting a family Mausoleum in Modi’in with specific appearance:
|1 Maccabees 13:27-29: “Over the tomb of his father and his brothers Simon built a high monument that could be seen from a great distance. It was covered front and back with polished stone. 28 He constructed seven pyramids side by side for his father, his mother, and his four brothers. 29 For the pyramids he created a setting of tall columns on which there were carvings. Some of these carvings were of suits of armor and some were of ships. It was a monument to their victories, which travelers from overseas could visit.“|
The location of this royal family tomb has been the subject of much debate. Four miles north of the modern city of Modi’in is an archaeological site called in Khirbet el-Midyah. Already in the 19th century French scholar Victor Guerin suggested this is the site of the Hasmonean Mausoleum. However, his excavations at the site uncovered mostly remains from the Byzantine period. Renewed excavation by Israel Antiquities Authority in 2011-2015 led to similar results.
Modi’in’s Hasmonean Synagogue
In the southern part of the city, in 2001 an ancient synagogue was exposed by another team of the IAA. The excavators suggested that this synagogue may have been in use already in the time of the Hasmoneans. If indeed so, it is the oldest synagogue ever found in the Holy Land, and possibly the very place where the Maccabean revolt broke out.
Both sites are accessible and free of charge. The modern city of Modi’in is also worth a visit. It is reputed for its thoughtful design and clever planning of urban space. It is possibly the best planned city in Israel. A visit to Modi’in can be combined in a guided day tour in the Judean Foothills (the Shephelah), or during a day tour between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv.