by Jodi Magness
In June 2011, a multi-year excavation project began in the ancient village of Huqoq in Israel’s Lower Eastern Galilee, directed by Professor Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and co-directed by Dr. David Amit and Ms. Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brigham Young University, Trinity University (TX), the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Toronto.
One of the project’s goals was locating and excavating a synagogue building, the remains of which were suggested by scattered architectural fragments visible on the surface. In June 2011, the synagogue’s wall – which was constructed of monumental ashlar masonry – was discovered. In June 2012, work inside the synagogue brought to light sections of a mosaic floor. One section, made of tiny tesserae, depicts two female faces (one complete and one incomplete) flanking a Hebrew or Aramaic inscription that refers to rewards for those who perform good deeds.
Another section of mosaic preserves part of a large male figure dressed in a tunic with an orbiculum (an emblem characteristic of soldiers in the Later Roman army). To the left of this figure are pairs of foxes, each pair facing outwards, with their tails tied together and a lighted torch between them. This is a depiction of the episode related in Judges 15:4, in which Samson takes revenge on the Philistines by tying together the tails of three hundred foxes and releasing them as revenge on the Philistines.
Although figured motifs are not unusual in synagogues of the Late Roman and Byzantine periods (fourth to sixth centuries C.E.), few of these buildings are decorated with biblical scenes, and only one or two others contain scenes depicting Samson. One of these is a synagogue at Wadi Hamam, an ancient Jewish village that is only a couple of miles from Huqoq. Scenes depicting Samson also decorated a building in Mopsuestia (Asia Minor), although it is unclear whether this was a synagogue or a church. Excavations at Huqoq will continue in summer 2013