UNC Researchers Unearth Ancient Biblical Mosaics In Galilee

Jun 25, 2013

A group of researchers led by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Religion Professor Jodi Magness has unearthed a group of significant mosaics at an ancient synagogue in Galilee. The mosaics, which consist of hundreds of tiny stone cubes, depict scenes from in the Bible and have been dated to the fifth century.

Magness is co-directing the excavation of the late Roman/Byzantine synagogue with Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority. They began the dig in 2011 with a crew of students and staff from UNC and other schools.  Last summer, the crew found a mosaic of Samson putting torches between the tails of foxes, a story that relates to the Judges 15:4 in the Bible. This year, a mosaic that references references Judges 16:3 was unearthed, depicting Samson shouldering the gate of Gaza.

Magness says the findings are rare and hold clues about the wealth of the village during that time.

“Only a small number of ancient (Late Roman) synagogue buildings are decorated with mosaics showing biblical scenes, and only two others have scenes with Samson,” she said in a statement released by UNC at Chapel Hill. “Our mosaics are also important because of their high artistic quality and the tiny size of the mosaic cubes. This, together with the monumental size of the stones used to construct the synagogue’s walls, suggest a high level of prosperity in this village, as the building clearly was very costly.”

The ancient synagogue is located in Huqoq, a Jewish village in Israel’s Lower Galilee.

Magness is the Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism at UNC at Chapel Hill and has spent her career excavating in and around Israel.  She has published widely about her work and is recognized in the IMAX movie “Jerusalem,” slated to debut this year.