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Archaeologists Discover 'Stunning' Ancient Synagogue & Mosaic Featuring the Biblical Figure Samson


"...a reference to Samson exacting revenge on the Philistines by sending out flame-laden foxes to burn their lands."

An image of a woman depicted in the mosaic. (Image Credit: Jim Haberman)

Archaeologists continue to make discoveries that shed further light on Biblical times. This week, the latest noteworthy finding is an ancient synagogue uncovered in the Jewish village of Huqoq in Northern Israel. The structure, dated to the fourth and fifth centuries (the Talmudic and late Roman periods, as CNN notes), includes a mosaic floor that depicts the Biblical figure Samson, women and a Hebrew inscription.

(Related: Do These Ancient ‘Biblical’ Bones Belong to John the Baptist?)

The building, discovered during a recent excavation, includes artwork that Jody Magness, a professor of early Judaism in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, calls "very high quality." She dubs the overall discovery "significant" and says that the site is "extraordinary" and "stunning."

The detailed floor is made with colored stone cubes and, as can be seen in the image above, it is vibrant and detailed. Magness notes that it's very rare to find such intriguing scenes on late Roman-period synagogues.

In this particular mosaic, Samson, the Biblical figure whose story is told in the Book of Judges, is seen placing torches between the tails of foxes. CNN has more about the depiction and about Samson:

That image, from a vignette in the Book of Judges, is a reference to Samson exacting revenge on the Philistines by sending out flame-laden foxes to burn their lands.

She said the only other images of Samson in synagogues are at one nearby place in the Galilee known as Wadi Hamam, where Samson is seen "smiting" the Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. Another is in what is now modern Turkey, depicting scenes from Samson's life.

LiveScience continues with additional information on the structure:

So far, Magness and her team have excavated only part of the eastern wall of the structure, so they don't yet know how big the synagogue was. But the building appears to be made of large, "beautifully cut" blocks of stone, Magness said, suggesting an expansive structure.

The mosaic, which is incomplete, depicts several scenes. In one, two female faces flank a Hebrew inscription about rewards for people who perform good deeds. In the other, Samson, of the biblical story Samson and Delilah, ties torches to pairs of foxes, an event described in the Book of Judges in both the Christian and Hebrew Bibles. As the story goes, Samson falls in love with a woman of Philistine origin, a people who ruled the city-states of Gaza, Askelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath in the ancient Middle East. The Philistines are depicted as enemies of the Israelis in the Bible.

Following the intriguing discovery, Magness plans to figure out why two houses of worship very close together both feature images of Samson. So far, the archaeologists behind the dig have yet to release the portions of the mosaic that depict Samson.

(H/T: CNN)

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