Monday, July 02, 2012

Samson Mosaic Discovered in Galilee Synagogue

A colorful mosaic depicting Samson and a pair of ignited fox tails has been discovered in the excavation of a Byzantine-era synagogue in Galilee. The depiction of Samson is accompanied by two female faces and a Hebrew inscription that speaks of rewards for those who do good.

The Israel Antiquities Authority has issued a press release:

Huqoq is an ancient Jewish village located approximately two to three miles west of Capernaum and Migdal (Magdala). This second season of excavations has revealed portions of a stunning mosaic floor decorating the interior of the synagogue building. The mosaic, which is made of tiny colored stone cubes of the highest quality, includes a scene depicting Samson placing torches between the tails of foxes (as related in the book of Judges 15). In another part of the mosaic, two human (apparently female) faces flank a circular medallion with a Hebrew inscription that refers to rewards for those who perform good deeds.

"This discovery is significant because only a small number of ancient (Late Roman) synagogue buildings are decorated with mosaics showing biblical scenes, and only two others have scenes with Samson (one is at another site just a couple of miles from Huqoq)," said Magness, the Kenan Distinguished Professor in the department of religious studies in [University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill] College of Arts and Sciences. "Our mosaics are also important because of their high artistic quality and the tiny size of the mosaic cubes. This, together with the monumental size of the stones used to construct the synagogue's walls, suggest a high level of prosperity in this village, as the building clearly was very costly."

The site is being excavated by Magness along with David Amit and Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The IAA has released three photos (direct link) of the mosaic floor, but none of them show Samson or the fox tails. Amit describes the scene: the "mosaic contains a description of the biblical Samson and two pairs of foxes with a flaming torch connecting their tails." The story is recorded in Judges 15:3-5.

See caption.

Jodi Magness, David Amit, and Shua Kisilevitz, co-directors of the Huqoq Excavation, with the mosaic. Photo by Jim Haberman.

See caption.

Huqoq mosaic with female face and inscription. Photo by Jim Haberman.

See caption

Female face in Huqoq mosaic. Photo by Jim Haberman.

The story is reported by the Jerusalem Post, Arutz-7, and others. A volunteer working at the excavation this summer posted his experiences on a blog, but he does not mention the synagogue or Samson.

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