Trinity University Undergraduate Students, Professor Return to Israel

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Jun. 26, 2013

Trinity University Undergraduate Students, Professor Return to Israel

Team once again finds stunning mosaic floor tiles in an ancient synagogue

Mosaic discovered in Israel

SAN ANTONIO - Trinity University religion professor Chad Spigel and Trinity students have rejoined a team of researchers in Israel, and once again have made an amazing discovery of mosaic floor tiles in an ancient synagogue.

Earlier this summer, Spigel and a team headed by professor Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and co-directed by Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority, excavated a fifth-century Roman synagogue at Huqoq in Israel's Lower Galilee. Following the discovery on the synagogue's east side in the summer of 2012 of a mosaic showing Samson and the foxes (Judges 15:4), this summer, another mosaic was found which shows Samson carrying the gate of Gaza on his shoulders (Judges 16:3).

Adjacent to Samson are riders with horses, apparently representing Philistines. Although he is not described as such in the Hebrew Bible, in both scenes Samson is depicted as a giant, reflecting later Jewish traditions which developed about the biblical judge and hero. While biblical scenes are not uncommon in Late Roman synagogue mosaics, only one other ancient synagogue in Israel (at Khirbet Wadi Hamam) is decorated with a scene showing Samson (the episode in which he smites the Philistines with the jawbone of an ass). The discovery of two Samson scenes in the Huqoq synagogue suggests that it was decorated with a Samson cycle - the first such cycle known in Israel.

Sara Breshears, Joshua Pedrick, Jennifer Miller and Chad Spigel with Mosaic FindJoining Spigel on the dig are Joshua Pedrick, who participated last summer and graduated in May, Jennifer Miller, and Sara Breshears. Another portion of mosaic discovered in the synagogue's east aisle preserves a scene that includes several male figures and an elephant.  Below this is an arcade, with the arches framing young men arranged around a seated elderly man holding a scroll.  The strip below this shows a bull pierced by spears, with blood gushing from his wounds, and a dying or dead soldier holding a shield.  This mosaic differs in style, quality, and content from the Samson scenes.  It might depict a triumphal parade, or perhaps a martyrdom story based on 1-4 Maccabees, in which case it would be the first example of an apocryphal story decorating an ancient synagogue.

The Huqoq excavations are sponsored by UNC, Brigham Young University in Utah, Trinity, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Toronto in Canada, and the University of Wyoming.

The mosaics have been removed from the site for conservation and the excavated areas have been backfilled.  Excavations are scheduled to continue in summer 2014.

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