The book of Exodus, describing the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness after crossing the Red Sea, states: “And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and 70 palm trees: and they encamped there by the water.” Recently archaeologists have discovered a depiction of this scene in the elaborate mosaics of the 5th-century-CE Huqoq synagogue. Jodi Magness, who since 2011 has been leading the excavation of this Galilean synagogue, explains in an interview:
We’ve uncovered the first depiction of the episode of Elim ever found in ancient Jewish art. . . . The mosaic is divided into three horizontal strips, or registers. We see clusters of dates being harvested by male agricultural workers wearing loincloths, who are sliding the dates down ropes held by other men. The middle register shows a row of wells alternating with date palms. On the left side of the panel, a man in a short tunic is carrying a water jar and entering the arched gate of a city flanked by crenellated towers. An inscription above the gate reads, “And they came to Elim.”
Magness also describes the current season’s other major discovery, and why both matter:
Chapter 7 in the book of Daniel describes four beasts that represent the four kingdoms leading up to the end of days. This year our team discovered mosaics in the synagogue’s north aisle depicting these four beasts, as indicated by a fragmentary Aramaic inscription referring to the first beast: a lion with eagle’s wings. The lion itself is not preserved, nor is the third beast. However, the second beast from Daniel 7:4—a bear with three ribs protruding from its mouth—is preserved. So is most of the fourth beast, which is described in Daniel 7:7 as having iron teeth. . . .
The Daniel panel is interesting because it points to eschatological . . . expectations among this congregation. The Elim panel is interesting as it is generally considered a fairly minor episode in the Israelites’ desert wanderings—which raises the question of why it was significant to this Jewish congregation in Lower Galilee.
Read more at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
More about: ancient Judaism, Archaeology, Hebrew Bible, Jewish art, Synagogues