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Ancient Mosaic Depicting Samson Uncovered in a Galilee Synagogue

Team work at the excavations in the Huqoq synagogue.

Team work at the excavations in the Huqoq synagogue.
Photo Credit: James Haberman

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Photo: James Haberman

Photo: James Haberman

Excavations in a late Roman era synagogue at Huqoq in Israel’s eastern lower Galilee have uncovered a new mosaic depicting the biblical hero and judge, Samson. Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has been conducting archaeological excavations at Huqoq since 2011, notes that while scenes from the Bible are not uncommon in ancient synagogues, mosaics featuring Samson are. Last summer (2012), excavations in the Huqoq synagogue brought to light a scene depicting Samson and the foxes (Judges 15:4). This summer, another section of the mosaic floor was discovered which shows Samson carrying the gate of Gaza (Judges 16:1-3).

Mosaic in Galilee synagogue

Photo: James Haberman

Wadi Hamam is the only other ancient synagogue in Israel which has a mosaic with a scene of Samson, while outside of Israel only one ancient building in Turkey which may be a synagogue has a Samson mosaic. However, the Samson mosaics are not the only unusual aspect about the excavations at Huqoq. Magness states, “In most ancient synagogues in Israel with a decorated floor featuring figured designs such as people and animals, the figured decoration is in the center of the synagogue and the aisles have geometric patterns.” However, at Huqoq, there are mosaics with figured scenes in the aisles.”

Magness is puzzled by why mosaics depicting Samson are found at Huqoq, as it was not in the tribal area of Dan. Furthermore, many rabbis of the Talmudic period were not fond of Samson because of his attraction to non-Jewish women. While Magness stated that some positive depictions of Samson survive in rabbinic literature, these traditions are preserved mainly in the Babylonian Talmud, not in the Jerusalem Talmud. Thus, the glorification of Samson in a synagogue mosaic in Galilee goes against the generally negative view of Samson held by many rabbis at that time.

According to Magness, the surviving rabbinic traditions that depict Samson positively “suggest that some Jews considered Samson as a prototype or forerunner of the messiah. He had the potential to be the messiah but wasn’t. The popularity of Samson is connected with those traditions, with traditions that viewed Samson as a deliver and redeemer of Israel. In the area of Mount Arbel and Tiberias, these traditions were popular. This may be why the Samson scenes appear here.”

Interestingly, the mosaics of Samson depict him as a giant figure, even though Samson was not described as such in the Tanakh. However, Magness notes that some rabbinic literature describes Samson as a giant. She emphasized, “By the time of the Mishna and Talmud, there were all sorts of traditions about different figures in the Bible.” Depicting Samson as a giant accords with traditions that considered Samson as a redeemer of the Jewish people!

Adjacent to Samson carrying the gates of Gaza on his shoulders are riders with horses, who apparently represent Philistines. According to Magness, “In the Bible, they have chariots; they are not riding horses. In later Aramaic translations (Targumim), there are descriptions of Philistines riding horses. It is a reflection again of something that doesn’t occur in the biblical account, but in later traditions.”

DEMISE OF THE HUQOQ JEWISH COMMUNITY

Magness is unsure how the Huqoq synagogue met its demise. In front of the synagogue’s bema, there was a pile of stones mixed with ash that was found elsewhere in the synagogue, apparently from the later robbing-out of the bema. Above the synagogue, a medieval structure was built. There are no signs that the synagogue suffered a violent or sudden destruction. Although the synagogue was built in the 5th century, Huqoq is mentioned in the Tanakh in connection with the settlement of the tribes of Asher and Naphtali, and it was a Jewish village in the late Second Temple period and in the time of the Mishna and Talmud. Ishtori Haparchi (1280-1355) mentions a synagogue in Huqoq in his time, perhaps referring to the medieval building above the late Roman synagogue. By the Ottoman period, Huqoq was a Muslim village.

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About the Author: Rachel Avraham is a news editor and political analyst for Jerusalem Online News, the English language internet edition of Israel's Channel 2 News. She completed her masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Ben-Gurion University. The subject of her MA thesis was: "Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab media."


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55 Responses to “Ancient Mosaic Depicting Samson Uncovered in a Galilee Synagogue”

  1. Chaiya Eitan says:

    More and more evidence of our presence in our Land is being uncovered.

  2. Abraham Santiago says:

    It just proves the veracity of our Holy Scriptures and our historical claim to the land.

  3. It proves nothing, Israel has no claim to land. Muslims have more claim to prophets than Jews, as we believe and follow all of the righteously guided prophets and Jews do not. Jews have never owned or ever will own a land that belongs to the creator, what they must believe is without peace Arabs and Jews will not coexist. Period.

  4. Danuta Glendenning says:

    It is marvelous how more and more archeological finds prove the ancestral land to be truly Jewish land. And Marwan Mustafa is truly wrong because the God of Abraham specifically destined this land (with specific borders allocated) to His people, the Jews.

  5. Len Peele says:

    God gave Israel the land and he will make sure they keep it…Period

  6. In the extreme near future,…Israel will obtain the following land from all her enemies that touch her border….it is the prophecy of genesis 15;18, as a result of Isaiah 17;1/Psalms 83….and then when Israel is dwelling in peace and safety carelessly,..then Ezekiel 38& 39;1-16 will come to pass in which at that time, islam will be a thing of the pass. http://www.zimbio.com/Christianity/articles/1260/How+Much+Land+God+Give+Israel+Abraham+Land

  7. I would think God is more interested in people's souls than their land.

  8. It is unfortunate that your book is tainted and inaccurate, the Jews will have Palestine but it is temporary, how long only Allah knows. The prophet Jesus will descend upon humanity and fight along side the Muslims the antichrist and his followers, who are his followers? The majority of the Jews whom believe the antichrist is their prophet. For whom do you think they want to build the temple of Solomon and establish his throne? The truth is there in text, believe what you want and I will believe what I want, the Jewish scholars all know too well the Quraan and the prophetic traditions, for Gods sake Moses split the sea for them and they built and worshiped a cow. Told them to enter Jerusalem in prostration and God will give them Palestine, they told Him go you and your Lord and enter we will not, that is why God made them lost in the desert for 70 years. Always was and always will be ignorant people, save those that understand and obey Gods laws.

  9. Glenn Lowe says:

    This excavation is cool as the Word of God and the teachings within are depicted as truth…………………………..

  10. Geo Art says:

    I see your all still arguing who's right and who's wrong… God created man.. man created religion..to do exactly what your always doing.. believing your different… and arguing.. belongs? our? typical… keep fighting and keep the devils work going..well done…

  11. More than anythiong it proves that the bond established by using a simple sand-lime-cement mix will last a millennium if you just DON"T WALK ON IT until it is fully cured.

  12. Esther R. Scott says:

    Even Nature and the Earth proves that God's Word is true. He's proving Himself and doesn't even have to.

  13. Harry Stinson says:

    Very cool piece of history!

  14. God's promised land here on earth.

  15. Eric Troyer says:

    Samson

  16. Justin Leon says:

    **** you and your crazy religion and remember jew religion is more older than yours mahoma **** go to hell and then to lake of fire

  17. That's some real knowledge you just dropped on me. I mean I'm at a loss for words. I can't think. Allahs or Elohs religion are all the same, it's people like you that needs guidance and someone to teach you. Your parents must be proud. May Allah guide you if he thinks your worthy of it to Islam and maybe than you won't be so angry.

  18. James Conway says:

    Well said Mandy Gershon, I would think the saving of souls is more important than land, All things of this world will decay and rot away or will be destroyed , religon is somthing spiritual and not of this world, land is just as materialistic as gold or precious jewels

  19. Wendy Nezar Schmidt says:

    Well we don't consider the prophets nearly as important as God and He gave the land to Israel ..

  20. Alicia Womack Leitch says:

    Marwan, it is really unfortunate how your book is tainted with inaccurate information. By, the way, Jesus was not a propet, He IS the Son of the Living God!

  21. Casey Sharp says:

    Why do people have to make a scientific discovery into a political statement? If we went with the historical claims of some of these comments then the USA would give all it's political power to Native Americans.

  22. Casey Sharp says:

    From the Roman period?

  23. Lorne Welwood says:

    Is it "political" to say "I believe the Holy Scriptures in which God is recorded repeatedly and unilaterally declaring to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel) not only that he will make Abraham and his descendants a blessing to the whole world, but also that he would give them lands now occupied by other nations and He would drive those nations out before them? Abraham did not ask for any of that. It is all God's sovereign doing. People of faith in that God (Bible believing Jews and Bible believing Christians) still believe this. We see the unfolding of the fulfillment of divine covenant – not politics. The government of the modern country of Israel may do many wrong things, as did all their ancestors, but God is not taken by surprise nor is his covenant nullified thereby.

  24. Casey Sharp says:

    Yes, tha is a political statement, and also a pretty shallow interpretation of scripture.

  25. Casey Sharp says:

    Yes, tha is a political statement, and also a pretty shallow interpretation of scripture.

  26. Casey Sharp says:

    Notice how Jodi Magness, the actual scientist who made this discovery, does not jump to these political interpretations of scripture because they are rediculous.

  27. Alicia Womack Leitch says:

    Why would I want to read the quran? I have read bits of the quran, and what I read, I don't like it. My Bible, tells me to pray and love those who persecute me, not kill them. I get my Word from the Bible. The Holy Spirit guides me, in reading it. I don't want to argue,(and I won't) but, I will stand up for the Word of the Living God.

  28. Alicia Womack Leitch says:

    Why would I want to read the quran? I have read bits of the quran, and what I read, I don't like it. My Bible, tells me to pray and love those who persecute me, not kill them. I get my Word from the Bible. The Holy Spirit guides me, in reading it. I don't want to argue,(and I won't) but, I will stand up for the Word of the Living God.

  29. I'm not trying to argue with you, and reading excerpts from CNN and Fox don't count. Nowhere does it say to kill, it says to defend and if you must and have no choice than kill, read the life of the prophet Muhammad, He was a walking Quran.

  30. Anonymous says:

    What is difference between a Moslem suicide bomber and Samson? Did they not both give up their lives to destroy what they perceived to be a deadly enemy? Did they not both react out of despair at the abuse they were suffering from a captor?

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