Huqoq excavator David Amit of the Israel Antiquities Authority provides a translation of the mosaic text between two female faces in the Huqoq synagogue.i For more about the synagogue and mosaics, read “Samson in the Synagogue” by Jodi Magness in the BAS Library, as it appears in the January/February 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
The inscription is in Hebrew and consists of six lines placed within a medallion. The letters are white on a black background, which is the opposite of the conventional practice in synagogue inscriptions and unparalleled to date. The beginning and end of the inscription are damaged but it is possible to reconstruct these erased sections on the basis of the remains of the edges of some of the letters.
2. כל בני העיר?] שהן]
3. מתח [זקי]ן בכל
4. מצות כן יהא
5. [עמלכן ואמ [ן ס]ל [ה
6. [ש]ל [ום]
1. And blessed
2. [are all of the people of the town?] who
3. adhere to all
4. commandments. So may be
5. your labor and Ame[n Se]la[h]
1. “And blessed”: We suggest this restoration for the first line, rather than the more common word “remembered” (זכורין), because the ending of the inscription proposed below—“Amen Selah…” is a formula for concluding a blessing. In the absence of any blessing between the opening and the conclusion, an opening blessing formula is called for in line 1.
A parallel to this opening formula, in Aramaic, is found in an inscription from the ancient synagogue at Husifa, as published in Joseph Naveh’s On Stone and Mosaic: The Aramaic and Hebrew Inscriptions from Ancient Synagogues.ii The inscription reads: “And blessed are all of the people of the town” ( בניקרתה” “ובריכין כל ).iii Naveh, who did not have any parallel example of this opening word, offered some speculative ideas about the anomaly, especially concerning its initial conjunctive waw, which would seem to require some preceding words to the extant opening. Naveh’s final word on the matter was: “Might this inscription [from Husifa] have opened with the word ‘And blessed’? If so, it may be presumed that the mosaic floor would have contained other dedicatory inscriptions.” If we accept Naveh’s conjecture about the Husifa inscription, then we may hope that as more of the floor of the synagogue in Huqoq is revealed during ongoing excavations, we may discover a personal dedicatory inscription, alongside the medallion with the (collective?) inscription that has already been found.
Note that the use of the letter nun rather than mem to indicate the masculine plural is very common in rabbinic Hebrew, such as in Susiya and in Rehov.iv This form of the masculine plural also occurs a number of times in the continuation of our inscription.
2. (conjectural restoration:) “all of the people of the town”: the Hebrew equivalent of the Aramaic formulav “כל בני קרתה.”
3. “adhere to all”: The restoration is based upon the extant remains of the bottoms of the letters tav, het, and final nun in the inscription. The collocation “who adhere” is a Hebrew cognate to the Aramaic expression “דהנון מתחזקין” found in Bet Shean.vi The form of the participle is active, not passive.vii This means that they contribute or support.
4-5. “So may be your labor”: This short blessing switches from third person masculine to second person masculine. Its meaning may be found in midrashim on the verse “All human toil ( “כל עמל האדם” ) is for the mouth, yet the appetite is not satisfied” (Ecclesiastes. 6:7).
5. “and Amen Selah”: This proposed reconstruction is based upon the right-hand half of the letter that has been preserved after the waw and ‘aleph, which looks like a mem, and on the top of the lamed in the continuation of this line, with room for 2-3 letters between them. The conjunctive waw preceding “Amen” is not found in other known inscriptions, and may reflect influence by the conjunctive waw in the opening formula of the inscription.
6. “Peace”: This reconstruction is based upon the surviving top of the lamed, and upon the fact that in this final line of the inscription, there is room for only one word, because of the circle of the medallion in which the inscription is set. The use of words like “Peace” or “Peace upon Israel” and the like are common in benedictory and dedicatory inscriptions.
i. I am very grateful to my good friend Professor Shlomo Naeh of the Talmud Deptartment of the Hebrew University for his considerable assistance in deciphering the inscription.
ii. Joseph Naveh, On Stone and Mosaic: The Aramaic and Hebrew Inscriptions from Ancient Synagogues (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1979) (Hebrew).
iii. Naveh, On Stone and Mosaic, inscription 39.
iv. Naveh, On Stone and Mosaic. Susiya p.76, and in Rehov p. 49.
v. Naveh, On Stone and Mosaic, pp. 39, 43, 83.
vi. Naveh, On Stone and Mosaic, p. 46.
vii. See Naveh, On Stone and Mosaic, p. 10 and inscriptions 60, 69, 76.