An ongoing excavation of a 1,600 year old synagogue in the Galilee area has uncovered unique mosaics depicting Biblical scenes in ways never seen before.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) led by Professor Jodi Magness have been excavating the 1,600-year old synagogue at Huqoq, about eight miles north of Tiberias, since 2011. Their interest was piqued early on when they began to uncover mosaics dating back to the fifth century CE, a feature never encountered before in similar remains of synagogues.
Their most recent discovery is a mosaic that is believed to be the earliest known depiction of the Biblical story of the prophet Jonah. In the mosaic, Jonah’s legs are shown dangling from the mouth of a large fish, which is being swallowed by a larger fish, which is being consumed by a third, even larger fish.
According to Professor Magness, “The Huqoq mosaics are unusually rich and diverse. In addition, they display variations on biblical stories which must represent oral traditions that circulated among the local Jewish population.”
Another recently uncovered mosaic depicts the building of the Tower of Babel.
The first mosaic discovered in 2012 depicted Samson tying torches to foxes’ tails in order to burn the Philistines’ fields.
In 2013, the researchers found another mosaic of Samson, this time carrying the gates of Gaza on his shoulders
And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and laid hold of the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and plucked them up, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of the mountain that is before Chevron. Judges 16:3
Surprisingly, some mosaics depicted secular and even foreign themes. Another discovery this season was of a mosaic medallion showing the Greco-Roman sun god Helios in a four-horse chariot surrounded by personifications of the months, the signs of the zodiac, and personifications of the four seasons.
They also discovered a mosaic depicting a Greek military commander with blond hair, wearing a regal purple attire and a diadem, who is meeting with a white-bearded man clad in white robes. The researchers believe the Greek leader may be Alexander the Great. If so, this would correspond to a story told in the Talmud (Yoma 69a) which describes the dramatic meeting between the high priest, Simon the Just, and Alexander the Great at the gates of Jerusalem.
The mosaics have been removed from the site for conservation. Excavations are scheduled to continue through summer 2018.