New mosaics discovered in synagogue excavations in Galilee

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Fish swallowing soldier, Parting of the Red Sea mosaic, Huqoq.

 

New mosaics discovered in synagogue excavations in Galilee

 

UNC-Chapel Hill archaeologist and project leader says no other ancient synagogue contains such a rich collection of mosaics depicting biblical stories

 

(Chapel Hill, N.C. – July 5, 2016) – Excavations this summer in the Late Roman (fifth century) synagogue at Huqoq, an ancient Jewish village in Israel’s Lower Galilee, have revealed stunning new mosaics that decorated the floor. The excavations are directed by Jodi Magness, a professor in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill College of Arts and Sciences, along with Assistant Director Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

 

The mosaic panels decorating the floor of the synagogue’s nave (center of the hall) portray two biblical stories: Noah’s Ark and the parting of the Red Sea. The panel with Noah’s Ark depicts an ark and pairs of animals, including elephants, leopards, donkeys, snakes, bears, lions, ostriches, camels, sheep and goats. The scene of the parting of the Red Sea shows Pharaoh’s soldiers being swallowed by large fish, surrounded by overturned chariots with horses and chariot drivers.

 

“These scenes are very rare in ancient synagogues,” said Magness, Kenan Distinguished Professor. “The only other examples that have been found are at Gerasa/Jerash in Jordan and Mopsuestia/Misis in Turkey (Noah’s Ark), and at Khirbet Wadi Hamam in Israel and Dura Europos in Syria (the parting of the Red Sea).”

 

Mosaics were first discovered at the site in 2012, and excavations have since continued each summer. In 2012, a mosaic depicting Samson and the foxes (as related in the Bible’s Judges 15:4) was found in the synagogue’s east aisle. The next summer, an adjacent mosaic was uncovered that shows Samson carrying the gate of Gaza on his shoulders (Judges 16:3). Another mosaic discovered and excavated in the synagogue’s east aisle in 2013 and 2014 depicts the first non-biblical story ever found decorating an ancient synagogue — perhaps the legendary meeting between Alexander the Great and the Jewish high priest. A mosaic panel uncovered in 2015 next to this scene contains a Hebrew inscription surrounded by human figures, animals and mythological creatures including putti (cupids).

 

“This is by far the most extensive series of biblical stories ever found decorating the mosaic floor of an ancient synagogue,” said Magness. “The arrangement of the mosaics in panels on the floor brings to mind the synagogue at Dura Europos in Syria, where an array of biblical stories is painted in panels on the walls.”

 

The mosaics have been removed from the site for conservation, and the excavated areas have been backfilled. Excavations are scheduled to continue in summer 2017. For additional information and updates, visit the project’s website: www.huqoq.org.

 

UNC-Chapel Hill, Baylor University, Brigham Young University and the University of Toronto are project sponsors. Students and staff from Carolina and the consortium schools participated in the dig. Financial support for the 2016 season was also provided by the National Geographic Society, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture and the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies.

 

Note: Magness can be reached via email at magness@email.unc.edu. She is reachable by phone in Israel until July 10 at 011-972-52-6611542 (when dialing from outside Israel) and 052-6611542 (from within Israel); or reachable by phone in the U.S. after July 10 at 919-967-6888.

 

 

-Carolina-

 

 

Photo Links: (credit: Jim Haberman)

http://unc.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Research-and-Academics/G0000DxmvN5upqlc/I0000KvczlALUPn4/C0000tU2BX9Q38jI

http://unc.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Research-and-Academics/G0000DxmvN5upqlc/I0000EMgeoskZxAo/C0000tU2BX9Q38jI

 

About the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university, is a global higher education leader known for innovative teaching, research and public service. A member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, Carolina regularly ranks as the best value for academic quality in U.S. public higher education. Now in its third century, the University offers 77 bachelor’s, 113 master’s, 68 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools and the College of Arts and Sciences. Every day, faculty – including two Nobel laureates – staff and students shape their teaching, research and public service to meet North Carolina’s most pressing needs in every region and all 100 counties. Carolina’s more than 308,000 alumni live in all 50 states and 150 countries. More than 167,000 live in North Carolina.

 

College of Arts and Sciences contact: Kim Spurr, (919) 962-4093, spurrk@email.unc.edu

UNC-Chapel Hill Communications and Public Affairs contact: MC VanGraafeiland, (919) 962-7090, mc.vangraafeiland@unc.edu