There I stood, at the ruins that had once been the synagogue in Capernaum during Jesus' day. Not much was left. A few half walls. The floor. By ruins standards, it was pretty impressive. But after a week in the Holy Land, visiting different biblical sites, I figured this synagogue, while interesting, was probably not going to be a highlight of the trip.
So my curiosity was piqued when I noticed five steps outside the synagogue running along the side of one wall, leading to nowhere. Others in my group glanced at the steps and quickly moved on, wanting to walk inside, to glimpse the real stuff. But the mystery of those stairs intrigued me.
Why would there be steps outside the wall? I wondered. Where did they lead? Was there a second floor to the synagogue? If so, why?
It made no sense. Finally I turned and caught sight of one of our leaders.
"What's up with the steps?" I asked.
"Those steps would have gone to the second floor of the synagogue," he explained. "They were for the women."
I stared at him. Huh?
"The women would have gone upstairs to worship," he continued. "They weren't allowed to worship with the men."
"So you're telling me women couldn't actually sit in the services with the men?"
"But wouldn't that have been difficult to hear what was going on?"1