A Late Roman (fifth century) synagogue is being excavated at Huqoq a few miles northwest of the Sea of Galilee under the direction of Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina and Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The University of North Carolina News reports on the discovery here.
Last summer, a mosaic showing Samson and the foxes (as related in the Bible’s Judges 15:4) was discovered in the synagogue’s east aisle. This summer, another mosaic was found that shows Samson carrying the gate of Gaza on his shoulders (Judges 16:3). Adjacent to Samson are riders with horses, apparently representing Philistines.Although he is not described as such in the Hebrew Bible, Samson is depicted as a giant in both scenes, reflecting later Jewish traditions that developed about the biblical judge and hero.
Mosaic showing Samson carrying the gate of Gaza. Discovered at Huqoq. Photo by Jim Haberman, University of North Carolina.
The book of Judges records the visit of Samson to Gaza, one of the cities of the Philistines. Samson’s conduct is not exemplary. When the Gazites laid a plan to kill him, he carries out his own plan.
But Samson lay till midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron. (Judges 16:3 ESV)
The mosaics from Huqoq illustrate that the members of the synagogue there knew the exploits of Samson.
A small stone seal found during the recent excavations at Tel Beit Shemesh could (!) be the first archaeological evidence of the story of the Biblical Samson.
Some scholars are suggesting that the depiction on a seal found in the Sorek Valley shows the biblical hero Samson subduing a lion. From Haaretz:
A small stone seal found recently in the excavations of Tel Beit Shemesh could be the first archaeological evidence of the story of the biblical Samson.
The seal, measuring 1.5 centimeters, depicts a large animal next to a human figure. The seal was found in a level of excavation that dates to the 11th century B.C.E. That was prior to the establishment of the Judean kingdom and is considered to be the period of the biblical judges – including Samson. Scholars say the scene shown on the artifact recalls the story in Judges of Samson fighting a lion.
But excavation directors Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz and Dr. Zvi Lederman of Tel Aviv University say they do not suggest that the human figure on the seal is the biblical Samson. Rather, the geographical proximity to the area where Samson lived, and the time period of the seal, show that a story was being told at the time of a hero who fought a lion, and that the story eventually found its way into the biblical text and onto the seal.
The story continues and explains some of the geographical connections. This discovery reminds me that while Samson’s life largely centers in the Sorek Valley, the most prominent city of that valley is never mentioned in the narrative (Judges 13-16). If the interpretation of this seal is correct, the people of Beth Shemesh remembered their local hero with some pride.
A high-resolution photo of the seal by Raz Lederman is available here.
Monumental synagogue building discovered in excavations in Galilee:
A monumental synagogue building dating to the Late Roman period (ca. 4th-5th centuries C.E.) has been discovered in archaeological excavations at Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee.
The excavations are being conducted by Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and David Amit and Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority, under the sponsorship of UNC, Brigham Young University in Utah, Trinity University in Texas, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Toronto in Canada. Students and staff from UNC and the consortium schools are participating in the dig.
Huqoq is an ancient Jewish village located approximately two to three miles west of Capernaum and Migdal (Magdala). Thissecond season of excavations has revealed portions of a stunning mosaic floor decorating the interior of the synagogue building. The mosaic, which is made of tiny colored stone cubes of the highest quality, includes a scene depicting Samson placing torches between the tails of foxes (as related in the book of Judges 15). In another part of the mosaic, two human (apparently female) faces flank a circular medallion with a Hebrew inscription that refersto rewards for those who performgood deeds.
“This discovery is significant because 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 (one is at another site just a couple of miles from Huqoq),” said Magness, the Kenan Distinguished Professor in the department of religious studies in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences. “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.”
Excavations are scheduled to continue in summer 2013.