Researchers Uncover Ornate Talmud-era Synagogue in Israel

Ancient Jewish structure, built between fourth and sixth centuries, features elaborate floor mosaics and Biblical inscriptions.

Archaeologists working in the lower Galilee have discovered remnants of an elaborate synagogue from the Talmudic period at Khirbet Hukuk, where a Jewish city once stood.

The synagogue dates back to somewhere between the fourth and sixth centuries, during the late Roman or early Byzantine period. The site is located above the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, near Kibbutz Hukuk.

The existence and location of the ancient synagogue were recorded by Rabbi Ishtori Haparchi in his Book of Bulb and Flower, the first Hebrew geography of the Land of Israel, written in the fourteenth century, and by archaeological surveys conducted in the area in the more recent past.

The surveys revealed decorative architectural elements, which were characteristic of the elaborate synagogues built in the Galilee during the period. The recent dig unearthed sections of the synagogue, including an ornate wall made of large hewn stones and a mosaic floor.

"The jewel in the crown of the discoveries this season is the colorful mosaic floor, which is of very high quality," explained Dr. David Amit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, one of the bodies supervising the dig.

The mosaic includes a Biblical description of Samson and two pairs of foxes with a burning torch tied between their tails, as described in the stories about Samson in the Book of Judges.

The mosaic also contained Hebrew inscriptions in a medallion decorated on both sides with small medallions containing spectacular descriptions of women's heads.

In the six-line inscription, part of which was found damaged, a blessing for those who dedicate their efforts to observing religious commandments and doing good deeds can be made out, which reads: "may all your labor be good deeds peace."

The remains of the city of Hukuk, a city of cohanim (priests) from the tribe of Asher, were identified on an adjacent hill, perched above the remains of the settlement of Hukuk from the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods. The name of the town appeared in the Jerusalem Talmud, which meantioned some of the rabbis who lived there.

Last weekend marked the end of the second season of archaeological digs, which lasted approximately one month and was overseen by Prof. Judy Magnes of the University of North Carolina, assisted by Dr. David Amit and Shua Kisilevitz of the Antiquities Authority.

The dig was supported by a number of American and Canadian universities, and participated in by researchers and students from those institutions.

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A section of the mosaic floor discovered at Khirbet Hakuk.
Jim Haverman
Another part of the mosaic from Khirbet Hukuk.
Jim Haverman