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5th-Century Synagogue Yields Unusual Mosaic

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Israel-Synagogue-Alexander-Mosaic(Jim Haberman)CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA—The Jewish Daily Forward offers a report on the third mosaic unearthed at a late Roman synagogue at Huqoq, in Israel’s Lower Galilee, by a team from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brigham Young University, Trinity University, the University of Toronto, and the University of Wyoming. The image is thought to be the first non-biblical story illustrated in an ancient synagogue. The other mosaics depict Samson and the foxes, and Samson carrying the gate of Gaza on his shoulders. The third mosaic shows a bull pierced by spears and gushing blood, and a dying or dead soldier holding a shield in its lowest register. The middle register consists of an arcade where young men are arranged around an elderly man holding a scroll. The uppermost register depicts a meeting between a bearded, diademed soldier wearing battle dress and a purple cloak. He is leading a large bull by the horns and is accompanied by soldiers and elephants. An elderly man wearing a white tunic and mantle is accompanied by young men who are also wearing ceremonial clothes and carrying sheathed swords. “Battle elephants were associated with Greek armies beginning with Alexander the Great, so this might be a depiction of a Jewish legend about the meeting between Alexander and the Jewish high priest. Different versions of this story appear in the writings of Flavius Josephus and in rabbinic literature,” said team leader Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina.