For eight years, archaeologists have been meticulously uncovering the intricate mosaic floor—depicting scenes from the Bible and Jewish legend—of a 5th-century synagogue in the Galilean village of Ḥuqoq. Amanda Borschel-Dan describes their latest findings:
A recently unearthed mosaic shows two men carrying between them a pole on their shoulders from which is hung a massive cluster of grapes—quite similar to the symbol of Israel’s Ministry of Tourism. Accompanied by a clear Hebrew inscription stating, “a pole between the two,” it illustrates Numbers 13:23, in which Moses sends twelve scouts to explore Canaan [and they come back bearing the fruit of the land].
Before wrapping up the dig season last week, the team of twenty excavators uncovered a further biblical mosaic panel, which shows a youth leading an animal on a rope and includes the inscription, “a little child shall lead them.” It is a reference to Isaiah 11:6, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” . . . .
During this year’s dig, the team also continued to expose and study rare 1,600-year-old columns . . . covered in painted plaster with red, orange, and yellow vegetal motifs. Other . . . columns . . . were painted to imitate marble; . . . despite these “imitation marble” columns, this was no poor man’s synagogue. Much in the manner of King Herod decorating his palaces with painted faux-marble frescos, the columns and gorgeous mosaics point to a wealthy, flourishing 5th-century Jewish settlement. . . .
The obvious wealth and disposable income displayed in the synagogue undermines “a widespread view . . . that the Jewish community was in decline” [in 5th-century Palestine, said Jodi Magness, the archaeologist leading the excavation]. “The mosaics decorating the floor of the Ḥuqoq synagogue revolutionize our understanding of Judaism in this period. . . . Ancient Jewish art is often thought to be aniconic, or lacking images. But these mosaics, colorful and filled with figured scenes, attest to a rich visual culture as well as to the dynamism and diversity of Judaism in the late-Roman and Byzantine periods.”