Another Treasure Revealed on an Ancient Synagogue’s Mosaic

July 11 2018

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.”

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More about: Ancient Israel, History & Ideas, Jewish art, Synagogues

 

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war