Located in Galilee, Huqoq was a flourishing site during the Late Roman and Byzantine periods (fourth–sixth centuries C.E.) according to Rabbinic sources, so it is not surprising to find a synagogue there. During excavations in 2012, a Huqoq mosaic featuring Samson in the Bible was uncovered. The scene came from Judges 15—where Samson ties the tails of 150 pairs of foxes together. A new mosaic found this season shows Samson—gigantic in stature—carrying the city gate of Gaza on his shoulders (Judges 16:3). Next to Samson are some men riding horses, meant to represent Philistines. Jodi Magness and mosaic expert Karen Britt explain that the presence of two Biblical scenes from the Samson narrative in Judges indicates that the Huqoq synagogue was decorated with a Samson cycle, which would be the first ever found in a synagogue in Israel.
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According to Jodi Magness, the second 2013 Huqoq mosaic detailed in BAR likely portrays a scene from the Apocrypha: the Maccabean revolt, martyr and miracle traditions celebrated in the Jewish festival Hanukkah. From the synagogue’s east aisle, this mosaic is divided into three registers and pictures men with daggers, soldiers and war animals—some of which are wounded and dying—an elder holding a scroll, young men with sheathed swords, lit oil lamps and even elephants. If this scene from the Huqoq mosaic does indeed represent an episode from Maccabees, it would be the first apocryphal (non-Biblical) story to ever be found in a synagogue, in Israel or elsewhere.
The Huqoq mosaics raise many questions, and further investigations by Jodi Magness, Shua Kisilevitz and their team will provide new insights into the colorful site. The Huqoq mosaics were removed from the site for conservation after the 2013 season, and the excavated areas were backfilled.
More on the Mosaics
In “Samson in the Synagogue” in the January/February 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Jodi Magness presented the 2012 mosaic discoveries from Huqoq, including a mysterious depiction of two female faces flanking a Hebrew (or Aramaic) inscription. In an online exclusive, read a translation and analysis of the inscription by David Amit of the Israel Antiquities Authority along with a discussion of who these women may have been by University of Louisville’s Karen Britt.