Want more on Huqoq and the Samson mosaic? Visit the Scholar’s Study “More on the Mosaics.”
Update: The team at Huqoq uncovered additional mosaics in the 2013 field season. Read more in New Huqoq Mosaics: Huqoq synagogue in Israel reveals additional depictions of Samson in the Bible
Archaeologist Jodi Magness has a theory about the dating of certain ancient synagogues. Magness, the Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, believes that the traditional dates for so-called “Galilean-type” ancient synagogues needs to be pushed back a couple hundred years to the fourth–sixth centuries C.E. Until 2011, however she had to rely on others’ records of the excavation of ancient synagogues. She then decided that she needed to do her own synagogue excavation to get some clear answers. The Huqoq excavation was born.
Huqoq was a prosperous village in antiquity and was occupied for much of history until it was abandoned in 1948 during Israel’s War for Independence. Located near the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, just 3 miles west of Magdala and Capernaum, Huqoq is mentioned twice in the Hebrew Bible, as well as in Rabbinic literature.
Take a look at the Huqoq excavations and the Samson mosaic for yourself in the BAS Library. Read the full article “Samson in the Synagogue” by Jodi Magness today.
Jodi Magness and her Huqoq excavation team set out to locate the ancient synagogue amid massive heaps of stone rubble, guided only by displaced architectural fragments that likely came from a monumental building at Huqoq—the synagogue itself.
While they opened excavation trenches in search of the synagogue, Magness and her team also explored other areas of the site to get a better sense of the context and a more complete picture of Huqoq’s history.By the end of the first season at Huqoq, Jodi Magness’s team had uncovered the eastern wall of the Huqoq synagogue. And 2012 brought another surprise when a high-quality mosaic floor was revealed inside the wall. The Huqoq mosaic consists of three sections separated by areas where the bedding is intact but without mosaics. The first section shows a Hebrew or Aramaic inscription flanked by two remarkably well-preserved female faces that University of Louisville scholar Karen Britt suggests may have been donors to the religious community.* The second mosaic section runs along the synagogue wall and does not include figural decorations.
The third section of the mosaic shows a portion of the body of Samson (published for the first time in Biblical Archaeology Review) alongside foxes tied to torches and an inscription. The Samson mosaic shows Samson as a military figure with an orbiculum, similarly to a nearby depiction in a synagogue at Wadi Hamam. Depictions of Biblical scenes are rare in ancient synagogues, and Jodi Magness explores why two nearby communities chose to decorate their synagogues with Samson’s exploits. In her evaluation of this unique ancient depiction of the Samson mosaic showing the scene from Judges 15:4, Magness examines evidence from rabbinic, early Christian and local communities to show that contemporaneous opinion of Samson ranged from disreputable to messianic.
To view the Samson mosaic and to learn more about how the Huqoq excavation is shedding new light on ancient synagogues, read Jodi Magness, “Samson in the Synagogue,” in BAS Library as it appears in the January/February 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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* Jodi Magness’s “Samson in the Synagogue” discusses the mysterious depiction of two well-preserved female faces flanking a Hebrew (or Aramaic) inscription. In the Bible History Daily Scholar’s Study page “More on the Mosaics,” archaeologist and art historian Karen Britt’s “The Huqoq Synagogue Mosaics” provides a detailed artistic analysis of the Huqoq mosaic, and the Israel Antiquities Authority’s David Amit’s “Mosaic Inscription from a Synagogue at Horvat Huqoq” provides a translation and analysis of the text.