Huqoq Mosaic Depicts Israelite Spies from Numbers 13

Bible and archaeology news

“And they came to the Wadi Eshcol, and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them. They also brought some pomegranates and figs.”—Numbers 13:23

Season after season, excavations at the fifth-century C.E. synagogue at Huqoq in Israel’s Lower Eastern Galilee have revealed stunning mosaics portraying Biblical and Greco-Roman scenes, including what may be a depiction of Alexander the Great meeting the Jewish high priest.

This summer, the archaeological team uncovered yet more fascinating mosaics. In the northern aisle of the Late Roman synagogue, the team revealed a mosaic panel portraying a Biblical scene from Numbers 13:23: two men—whom Moses had sent to spy out the land of Canaan—carrying a pole with a cluster of grapes. A Hebrew inscription on the panel reads: “a pole between two.” A second panel exposed by the excavators depicts a young person leading an animal with a rope and features the inscription “a small child shall lead them”—alluding to Isaiah 11:6. At the north end of the synagogue’s east aisle, the archaeologists discovered a portion of a Hebrew inscription with the phrase “Amen selah,” or “Amen forever.”


The 2018 season of excavation at a Late Roman synagogue at Huqoq revealed more fascinating mosaics, including this one referencing Numbers 13:23: two Israelite spies sent by Moses to scout out the land of Canaan carrying a pole with a cluster of grapes. Photo: Jim Haberman.

“The mosaics decorating the floor of the Huqoq synagogue revolutionize our understanding of Judaism in this period,” said dig director Jodi Magness in a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill press release. “Ancient Jewish art is often thought to be aniconic, or lacking images. But these mosaics, colorful and filled with figured scenes, attest to a rich visual culture as well as to the dynamism and diversity of Judaism in the Late Roman and Byzantine periods.”

Led by Magness of UNC-Chapel Hill with assistance by Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University, the Huqoq Excavation Project has now completed its eighth season of excavation. The team has lifted out the newly uncovered mosaic panels for conservation and backfilled the areas of excavation.

As the point where three of the world’s major religions converge, Israel’s history is one of the richest and most complex in the world. Sift through the archaeology and history of this ancient land in the free eBook Israel: An Archaeological Journey, and get a view of these significant Biblical sites through an archaeologist’s lens.


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.

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.

Huqoq 2017: The 2017 excavation season at Huqoq unearthed stunning mosaics depicting the story of Jonah and the whale and the construction of the Tower of Babel.


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