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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Read more at Times of Israel

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

By Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan, the U.S. Has Freed Israel from “Land for Peace”

March 25 2019

In the 52 years since Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria, there have been multiple efforts to negotiate their return in exchange for Damascus ending its continuous war against the Jewish state. Shmuel Rosner argues that, with his announcement on Thursday acknowledging the legitimacy of Jerusalem’s claim to the Golan, Donald Trump has finally decoupled territorial concessions from peacemaking:

[With] the takeover of much of Syria by Iran and its proxies, . . . Israel had no choice but to give up on the idea of withdrawing from the Golan Heights. But this reality involves a complete overhaul of the way the international community thinks not just about the Golan Heights but also about all of the lands Israel occupied in 1967. . . .

Withdrawal worked for Israel once, in 1979, when it signed a peace agreement with Egypt and left the Sinai Peninsula, which had also been occupied in 1967. But that also set a problematic precedent. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt insisted that Israel hand back the entire peninsula to the last inch. Israel decided that the reward was worth the price, as a major Arab country agreed to break with other Arab states and accept Israel’s legitimacy.

But there was a hidden, unanticipated cost: Israel’s adversaries, in future negotiations, would demand the same kind of compensation. The 1967 line—what Israel controlled before the war—became the starting point for all Arab countries, including Syria. It became a sacred formula, worshiped by the international community.

What President Trump is doing extends far beyond the ability of Israel to control the Golan Heights, to settle it, and to invest in it. The American president is setting the clock back to before the peace deal with Egypt, to a time when Israel could argue that the reward for peace is peace—not land. Syria, of course, is unlikely to accept this. At least not in the short term. But maybe someday, a Syrian leader will come along who doesn’t entertain the thought that Israel might agree to return to the pre-1967 line and who will accept a different formula for achieving peace.

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Read more at New York Times

More about: Donald Trump, Golan Heights, Israel & Zionis, Peace Process, Sinai Peninsula, Syria