Huqoq excavations expose vibrant Greco-Roman and Biblical scenes
Archaeologist Jodi Magness and her team have discovered more stunning mosaics during the seventh season of excavations at a Late Roman synagogue at Huqoq, Israel. This new mosaic pavement, which depicts Greco-Roman and Biblical scenes, joins several other mosaics unearthed at Huqoq since 2012, including scenes from the Samson cycle, Exodus, the Noah’s ark story and what may be a meeting between Alexander the Great and a Jewish high priest. The Huqoq excavations are led by Magness, the Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Assistant Director Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The newly discovered mosaic pavement, located in the southern part of the synagogue’s nave, is divided into three figural panels. The top panel depicts within a medallion the Greco-Roman sun-god Helios in a quadriga, a four-horse chariot. Personifications of the months and their respective Zodiac signs as well as each of the four seasons encircle the sun-god.
The second panel illustrates the Biblical story of Jonah and the whale. In this rendering, Jonah is shown being swallowed by a fish, which is being eaten by a larger fish, which is being eaten by a third, even larger fish. This is the first instance of a floor mosaic depicting Jonah and the whale in an ancient synagogue in Israel. Variations on Biblical stories found at Huqoq “must represent oral traditions (midrashim) that circulated among the local Jewish population,” explained Magness in a UNC-Chapel Hill press release.
The final panel of the mosaic shows men building a stone tower—the Tower of Babel.
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“One of the distinguishing features of the Huqoq mosaics is the incorporation of numerous classical (Greco-Roman) elements, such as putti, winged personifications of the seasons, and—in the Jonah scene—harpies (large birds with female heads and torsos representing storm winds),” said Magness. “The mosaics also provide a great deal of information about ancient daily life, such as the construction techniques shown in the Tower of Babel scene.”
The mosaics exposed in the 2017 season, which will add to the ever-growing wealth of knowledge about the ancient synagogue and its patrons, have been lifted from the site and transported for conservation.
Nicola McCutcheon is an intern at the Biblical Archaeology Society.
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 2015: New Mosaics Unearthed at Huqoq Synagogue: The Huqoq Excavation Project has uncovered more stunning mosaics during the 2015 excavations in a fifth-century C.E. synagogue in the Galilee.
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 2018: Mosaic Depicts Israelite Spies: The 2018 season revealed more Biblical mosaics, including one referencing Numbers 13:23.
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