Ancient Synagogue Discovered In Huqoq

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An archaeological site in Israel, the village of Huqoq, has yielded many historical treasures. And in this, its fifth season of archaeological excavation, it has revealed a Roman synagogue that was buried under another building.

The synagogue had a building constructed on top of it sometime during the twelfth or thirteenth century. The building features many of the same design flairs as the original synagogue.

Huqoq dates back to biblical times. During the Hellenistic and Roman eras, it was an agricultural community inhabited by Jews. It's actually mentioned in the Old Testament. Huqoq is described as belonging to the Naphtali.

Huqoq is not, however, mentioned in the New Testament. But Huqoq is described in rabbinic texts as continuing to be a site of Jewish habitation through the Byzantine period, before it became a Muslim village called Yaquq in the Middle Ages. This is corroborated by British and Ottoman historical records which describe Yaquq as remaining a Muslim farming village until 1948, when Israel waged its War of Independence. Yaquq was abandoned and then bulldozed in 1968.

Jodi Magness, overseer of the Huqoq project, said during a presentation to the Archaeological Institute of America and the Society for Classical Studies, “A monumental public building was erected on the same spot as the late Roman synagogue, reusing some of the earlier structure's architectural elements, but expanding it in size.”

When the synagogue was rebuilt in the 12th or 13th century, its architects reused the old synagogue's north and east walls, as well as some pedestals and columns. They also preserved the synagogue's floor mosaics, which portray biblical scenes such as Samson carrying the gate of Gaza on his back. Another mosaic depicts Noah with his Ark.

While the older structure has design elements that strongly suggest it was a synagogue, that is only one working hypothesis. It may also have been another kind of place of worship, such as a church or a mosque. During the time it was constructed, the region was under dispute by warring factions of Muslim Mamluks and Crusaders.

“So far, I've found very little evidence of a Jewish presence in the area, which makes this structure both extremely exciting and frustrating,” comments Arnold Franklin, a researcher with Queens College of the City University of New York.

The two mosaics described above, as well as a third, have been removed from the site for study and conservation.

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Matt lives in Southern California. He is interested in politics, history, literature and the natural world.