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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Stunning Synagogue Discovered in Huqoq


Huqoq mosaic with female face and inscription.

Huqoq mosaic with female face and inscription.
Photo Credit: Jim Haberman

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A monumental synagogue building dating to the Late Roman period (ca. 4th-5th centuries C.E.) has been uncovered in archaeological excavations at the ancient Jewish village of Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee.

Revealed in the excavations are a stunning mosaic floor decorating the interior of the building.  Made of small, high-quality colored stone cubes, the mosaic depicts a scene of the biblical judge/warrior Samson tying fiery torches between the tails of foxes, as described in the book of Judges 15.  In another section of the mosaic, two female faces border a circular medallion, with a Hebrew inscription praising those who perform Torah commandments.

 The excavations are being conducted by Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and David Amit and Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and sponsored by UNC, Brigham Young University in Utah, Trinity University in Texas, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Toronto in Canada. Students and staff from UNC and the consortium schools are also participating in the dig.

“This discovery is significant because only a small number of ancient (Late Roman) synagogue buildings are decorated with mosaics showing biblical scenes, and only two others have scenes with Samson (one is at another site just a couple of miles from Huqoq),” said Magness, the Kenan Distinguished Professor in the department of religious studies in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences in a press release issued by the Israel Antiquities Authority. “Our mosaics are also important because of their high artistic quality and the tiny size of the mosaic cubes. This, together with the monumental size of the stones used to construct the synagogue’s walls, suggest a high level of prosperity in this village, as the building clearly was very costly.”

Huqoq is located just  west of Capernaum and Migdal.  It was discovered in 2011 by Magness.

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About the Author: Malkah Fleisher is a graduate of Cardozo Law School in New York City. She is an editor/staff writer at JewishPress.com and co-hosts a weekly Israeli FM radio show. Malkah lives with her husband and two children on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.


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7 Responses to “Stunning Synagogue Discovered in Huqoq”

  1. Violating the Commandment against graven images, and being located in the Galilee, one wonders if this was sponsored by the Jesus Movement-Christian-Jews, though this late it might suggest assimilated Jewish-Romans…

  2. Chayim Goldberg says:

    have you ever visited the synagogues in Tzipori, Beit Alpha, Ein Gedi, etc.? They all have "graven images." Some even have the zodiac. The Beit Hamikdash also had images in it (eg. the keruvim on the paroches). The images are not necessarily a violation of the prohibition of graven images and were rather something that was common in the culture of the time. By this time, there were artistic distinctions between churches and synagogues (eg. menorah vs cross) so this is most likely not a Christian site.

  3. Part of the mosaic depicts the biblical scene of Samson placing torches between the tails of foxes, as well as another image of two human faces flanking a medallion with a Hebrew inscription about rewards for those who perform good deeds.

  4. The Synagogue at Dura Europos is quite revealing. Mosaics display various Biblical episodes, however they suffered extensive damage in antiquity. Academics have surmised that this was a Jewish " iconoclasm " – a clash between old and new ideals. The representation of humananimal form was considered strictly forbidden. However, by the 3rd century the sentiment was becoming relaxed.

  5. Chayim Goldberg says:

    Interesting example- I was only thinking of examples in Israel, but DE is a perfect example of Biblical scenery. An interesting book on this subject was published by Dr. Steven Fine of YU

  6. Oh, this naughty Samson, allways troublemaking, but vulnerable upon female perfidity.

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