This article is the first publication, description, and identification of the floor mosaics in the north aisle of the early fifth-century synagogue in the village of Huqoq in Lower Eastern Galilee. The north aisle is arranged in individually framed panels organized in two superposed rows of nine panels each for a total of eighteen. While many are only fragmentarily preserved, each panel seems to have depicted a figure or episode from the Hebrew Bible (aside from a Hebrew-language donor inscription at the east end of the aisle). Aided by labels in Hebrew or Aramaic citing phrases from biblical verses as well as by the regularity of the overall design of the north aisle, we have been able to identify the subject matter of eight of the eighteen panels and to propose reconstructions for three others. Most significant—and surprising—among the scenes are two groups of four panels that depict episodes from the book of Daniel: the four beasts of Daniel 7 and the story of the three youths in Daniel 3. These multipanel scenes, which were placed at the west and east ends of the aisle respectively, frame the composition as a whole. Other extant panels depict a male youth leading a leashed wild animal (Isa 11.6), two spies returning with grapes from the Valley of Eshcol (Num 13.23), and the showbread table from the tabernacle (Lev 24.6). We situate the visual strategies employed in the north aisle mosaic within the development of biblical narration across a wide range of contemporaneous media. We argue that the Huqoq panels not only participated in Mediterranean-wide practices for the representation of narrative in the visual arts but also make an important contribution to our understanding of the dynamic nature of artistic exchange across the boundaries of media in Late Antiquity. Moreover, the panels provide precious evidence regarding the religious outlook, cultural orientation, and social position of the synagogue community at Huqoq. In particular, the panels depicting scenes from the book of Daniel emphasize both the threat posed by “foreign” empires to the people of Israel and their ultimate defeat at the hands of God and his warriors. This theme is likewise present in the nave and east aisle of the synagogue, especially in the Samson panels, the Crossing of the Red Sea, and the Elephant Mosaic. We suggest that these panels, taken together, celebrate Jewish heroic and even martial values that were themselves very much in keeping with the emerging ethos of imperial Christianity in the Theodosian age.
Scenes in Stone: Newly Discovered Mosaics from the North Aisle in the Huqoq Synagogue*
The editors are pleased to have the opportunity to publish in SLA for the first time the images and analysis of these Huqoq mosaics. We would like to note that the article was submitted for peer review prior to Boustan’s tenure as co-Editor of SLA and that the integrity of the double-blind review process was maintained throughout.
Versions of this research were presented at the Archaeological Institute of America annual meeting (January 2020), the Early Biblical Interpretation Seminar of Oriel College, University of Oxford (February 2021), and the Department of History of the University of Haifa (March 2021); we would like to thank the audiences present on each of those occasions for their engaging and illuminating comments and questions. We are particularly grateful for the thoughtful feedback on earlier iterations of this paper that we received from Peter Brown, Elena Dugan, Martha Himmelfarb, Ruth Kolarik, Jodi Magness, Hindy Najman, Hillel Newman, and Nomi Schneck as well as from the two reviewers for this journal. We thank Feixue Mei for producing the reconstruction drawing included in the illustrations. We would also like to express our sincerest thanks to Dean Michael Steiner, College of Arts and Sciences, Northwest Missouri State University for photo subvention. Naturally, all errors remain our own.
Karen Britt, Ra‘anan Boustan; Scenes in Stone: Newly Discovered Mosaics from the North Aisle in the Huqoq Synagogue. Studies in Late Antiquity 1 November 2021; 5 (4): 509–579. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/sla.2021.5.4.509
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