August 15, 2014

Ancient synagogue mosaic yields nonbiblical images

An ancient synagogue is discovered to have a high-quality floor mosaic depicting an rare array of nonbiblical themes — including elephants and possibly Alexander the Great — in the Lower Galilee.

A three-part floor mosaic of an ancient synagogue depicting an rare array of nonbiblical themes — including elephants — was discovered earlier this summer.

Jodi Magness, director of the excavations in the ancient Jewish village of Huqoq in the Lower Galilee, said the high-quality, 1,600-year-old mosaic panel “has been removed for conservation” until the synagogue is fully excavated in several years’ time.

Magness, a professor of Judaism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and her team have been digging at the site every July for four years.

Until now, Magness said, “all stories found decorating ancient synagogues have been taken from the Hebrew Bible.”

This mosaic shows a dying bull and a dying soldier on one level. The center depicts several armed men dressed in white and an elderly man carrying what appears to be a scroll. At the top is a Greek ruler flanked by soldiers and elephants in battle gear.

Elephants are not mentioned in the Bible.

Magness speculated that the Greek ruler could be Alexander the Great and the elderly man the Jewish high priest, but said much more research needs to be conducted.

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