New Huqoq Mosaics

Huqoq synagogue in Israel reveals additional depictions of Samson in the Bible

The Huqoq synagogue in Israel—excavated by Jodi Magness and Shua Kisilevitz—yielded this mosaic of Samson in the Bible, carrying the gate of Gaza on his shoulders. This is the second Huqoq mosaic found that depicts Samson, indicating that the Huqoq synagogue might have had a Samson cycle, the first to ever be found in a synagogue in Israel. Photo: Jim Haberman.

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 are released in an exclusive in the September/October issue of BAR, now available online for free here.

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.

Interested in Biblical art? BAS Library Members: Visit the Ancient Art of the Biblical World Special Collection.


The elephant pictured in the Huqoq mosaic is part of a larger scene showing soldiers, other war animals and lit oil lamps, as well as an elder holding a scroll surrounded by young men with sheathed swords. Photo: Jim Haberman.

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.

Click here to read “New Mosaics from the Huqoq Synagogue” by Jodi Magness as it appears in the September/October 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review online for free.


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.

Read a Bible History Daily introduction to “Samson in the Synagogue”

Read David Amit’s “Mosaic Inscription from a Synagogue at Horvat Huqoq.”

Read Karen Britt’s “The Huqoq Synagogue Mosaics.”

Read Jodi Magness’s “Samson in the Synagogue” in the BAS Library.

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