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Dr. Jodi Magness, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – Ancient Synagogue Unearthed

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill discusses an ongoing archaeological dig in Israel that recently unearthed an ancient mosaic floor.

Jodi Magness is the Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She specializes in the archaeology of ancient Palestine in the Roman, Byzantine, and early Islamic periods. Her more specific research interests include Jerusalem, Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient synagogues, Masada, the Roman army in the East, and ancient pottery. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.

About Dr. Magness

Dr. Jodi Magness – Ancient Synagogue Unearthed

In June 2011, I began an excavation project in the ancient village of Huqoq in Israel’s Lower Eastern Galilee, assisted by David Amit and Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and sponsored by a consortium of universities in the U.S.A. and Canada.

One of my goals was to locate and excavate a synagogue building, the remains of which were suggested by scattered architectural fragments visible on the surface of the ground.  In June 2011, we discovered the synagogue’s wall, which was constructed of monumental blocks of cut stone.  In June 2012, we reached the floor inside the synagogue, which turned out to be made of beautiful mosaics.  One section of the mosaic, made of tiny stone cubes, depicts two female faces flanking a Hebrew inscription that refers to rewards for those who perform good deeds.

Another section preserves part of a large male figure dressed in a Roman military-style tunic.  To his left are pairs of foxes, each 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.  We will continue excavating at Huqoq in summer 2013.  At the end of the multi-year project, the mosaics will either be removed for permanent display in a museum in Israel, or they will be left in place and the site will be turned into a national park.

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