Bible and archaeology news
Over the last several seasons of excavation in a fifth-century C.E. synagogue in the Lower Galilee, archaeologists have uncovered stunning mosaics depicting two scenes from the Samson cycle, human and animal figures, a Hebrew dedicatory inscription and a meeting between what may be Alexander the Great and a Jewish high priest. Led by Jodi Magness, the Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the excavation at the ancient Jewish village in Huqoq, Israel, has continued to yield exciting finds that fascinate scholars and laypersons alike.
During the 2015 field season at Huqoq, which wrapped up at the end of June, the excavators uncovered even more mosaics. The discovery was announced in a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill press release:
New digging reveals that the [Hebrew] inscription is in the center of a large square panel with human figures, animals and mythological creatures arranged symmetrically around it … These include winged putti (cupids) holding roundels (circular discs) with theater masks, muscular male figures wearing trousers who support a garland, a rooster, and male and female faces in a wreath encircling the inscription. Putti and masks are associated with Dionysos (Bacchus), who was the Greco-Roman god of wine and theater performances.
The archaeologists also found plastered columns with painted ivy leaves inside the synagogue.
“The images in these mosaics—as well as their high level of artistic quality—and the columns painted with vegetal motifs have never been found in any other ancient synagogue,” Magness said in the UNC-Chapel Hill press release. “These are unique discoveries.”
Our free eBook Ten Top Biblical Archaeology Discoveries brings together the exciting worlds of archaeology and the Bible! Learn the fascinating insights gained from artifacts and ruins, like the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem, where the Gospel of John says Jesus miraculously restored the sight of the blind man, and the Tel Dan inscription—the first historical evidence of King David outside the Bible.
In her Archaeological Views column in the March/April 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Jodi Magness discussed how the stunning mosaics have affected the excavation at Huqoq:
These discoveries have complicated my life in unexpected ways, some of them good, and some not-so-good. On the good side: The mosaics are truly spectacular and exciting and have attracted much media attention and interest. On the not-so-good side: The excavations have become a much longer-term project than I originally planned, and the cost of uncovering and conserving the mosaics has far exceeded our original budget, so that I must scramble to find new sources of funding each season.
Located near the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee about 3 miles west of Magdala (home of Mary Magdalene) and Capernaum (where Jesus taught in the synagogue), Huqoq was a wealthy Jewish village that thrived in the Late Roman and Byzantine periods (fourth–sixth centuries C.E.), according to Rabbinic sources. Carved stone fragments found around the modern village suggested that there may have once been an ancient synagogue at Huqoq, which led Magness to organize an archaeological project at the site.
The Huqoq Excavation Project will begin its sixth season of excavation in the summer of 2016.
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.
New Huqoq Mosaics: The 2013 excavations revealed additional depictions of Samson in the Bible and a possible portrayal of a scene from the Apocrypha.
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.
New Huqoq Mosaics: Noah’s Ark and Exodus Scenes
During the 2016 season at Huqoq, mosaics depicting two well-known Biblical stories were uncovered.
Huqoq 2017: Mosaics of Jonah and the Whale, the Tower of Babel and More: The 2017 excavation season at Huqoq unearthed more stunning mosaics depicting Greco-Roman and Biblical scenes, including the story of Jonah and the whale and the construction of the Tower of Babel.
Huqoq 2018: Mosaic Depicts Israelite Spies: The 2018 season revealed more Biblical mosaics, including one referencing Numbers 13:23.
Sign up to receive our email newsletter and never miss an update.