This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in September 2013. It has been updated.—Ed.
New mosaics from the fifth-century C.E. Huqoq synagogue in Israel were found during the 2013 excavation season. Directed by Professor Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Huqoq Excavation Project uncovered another mosaic depicting a scene of Samson in the Bible, as well as a mosaic that might depict a scene from the Apocrypha. Descriptions and photographs of the Huqoq mosaics were released in an exclusive in the September/October 2013 issue of BAR, now available online for free.
Located in Galilee, Huqoq was a flourishing village 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 mosaics specialist 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.
Read Jodi Magness’s “Samson in the Synagogue” in the January/February 2013 issue of BAR for free in the BAS Library.
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.
Read “New Mosaics from the Huqoq Synagogue” by Jodi Magness as it appears in the September/October 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review for free.
Interested in Biblical art? BAS Library Members: Visit the Ancient Art of the Biblical World Special Collection.
Read more about the Huqoq excavations in Bible History Daily:
A Samson Mosaic from Huqoq: A Bible History Daily introduction to the Huqoq excavations.
Mosaic Inscription from a Synagogue at Horvat Huqoq: Huqoq excavator David Amit provides a translation of the mosaic text between two female faces in the Huqoq synagogue.
The Huqoq Synagogue Mosaics: Huqoq mosaics specialist Karen Britt provides a detailed artistic analysis of a Huqoq mosaic featuring an inscription and two female faces.
Huqoq 2014: Update from the Field: Huqoq excavation director Jodi Magness and mosaics specialist Karen Britt discuss a new mosaic discovered during the 2014 excavation season. Could the mosaic be a depiction of the legendary meeting between Alexander the Great and the Jewish high priest?
Jodi Magness Reflects on a Lucky Discovery: In her Archaeological Views column “A Lucky Discovery Complicates Life” in the March/April 2015 issue of BAR, Jodi Magness reflects on the consequences of discovering stunning mosaics at Huqoq.