Thursday, July 03, 2014

New Mosaic Discovered in Huqoq Synagogue

Following recent discoveries of mosaics depicting Samson’s life, excavators at Huqoq revealed a new mosaic this summer that depicts other non-biblical scenes. From the UNC press release:

Excavations led by a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill faculty member revealed stunning new mosaics decorating the floor of the Late Roman (fifth century) synagogue at Huqoq, an ancient Jewish village in Israel’s Lower Galilee.

Since 2012, three well-preserved mosaics have been discovered in the same location in excavations directed by Jodi Magness....

In 2012, a mosaic showing Samson and the foxes (as related in the Bible’s Judges 15:4) was discovered in the synagogue’s east aisle. Last summer (2013), a second mosaic was found which shows Samson carrying the gate of Gaza on his shoulders (Judges 16:3).

A third mosaic discovered in the synagogue’s east aisle is divided into three horizontal registers (strips), and differs in style, quality and content from the Samson scenes. It is the first time a non-biblical story has been found decorating any ancient synagogue. Portions of this mosaic were uncovered in 2013, and the rest was revealed this summer.

The lowest register shows a bull pierced by spears, with blood gushing from his wounds, and a dying or dead soldier holding a shield. The middle register depicts an arcade, with the arches framing young men arranged around a seated elderly man holding a scroll, and lighted oil lamps above each arch. The uppermost register depicts a meeting between two large male figures. A bearded, diademed soldier wearing elaborate battle dress and a purple cloak is leading a large bull by the horns, accompanied by a phalanx of soldiers and elephants with shields tied to their sides. He is meeting with a grey-haired, bearded elderly man wearing a ceremonial white tunic and mantle, accompanied by young men with sheathed swords, also wearing ceremonial white tunics and mantles.

The identification of the figures in this mosaic is unclear because there are no stories in the Hebrew Bible involving elephants, Magness said.

”Battle elephants were associated with Greek armies beginning with Alexander the Great, so this might be a depiction of a Jewish legend about the meeting between Alexander and the Jewish high priest,” Magness suggested. “Different versions of this story appear in the writings of Flavius Josephus and in rabbinic literature.”

The press release includes a small photo. A photo of the elephant can be seen in Magness’s article in Biblical Archaeology Review last year. Huqoq is located several miles west of Capernaum.

HT: Joseph Lauer

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