Huqoq Early Christianity Or Synagogue

There a little story behind my quest with Huqoq. Yes, I am looking for Nazara, or a school of higher learning located in Galilee. Not saying this is it, just saying that never rule out the possibility that the Nazarenes had villages of their own, places of learning, etc. While researching the dig site I found it difficult to get a good picture of the Bull slaying scene. So I emailed a couple, (the Mohr’s), who were on the dig with Archeologist Jodi Magness. They gave me the email address of the photographer. I managed to get a fairy decent photo. After emailing back and forth a few times, they asked me to volunteer for the dig next year. I would imagine they sensed my enthusiasm and love of history. Could you imagine a dream come true like that? Me on an Archeological dig in Israel? oh my, oh my. I was blown away. Visions of myself dusting off an ancient Mosaic filled my head.

Reality set in rather fast realizing just how much money I’d have to raise to be able to afford to go. Retired for the evening, still hopeful that I could find a way to make it happen. I picked up my Kindle and began to read. I was reading Manly Palmer Halls book, “The Secret Teachings of All Ages”. First thing I read is…“The Punishment of desire is the agony of unfulfillment”. Bam, how true in my case. So many times during the course of my life I’ve done that. Dreams of things I want to do, never do them and then blame the world for me not reaching my goals. All along it was only myself holding me back.

I know I could raise that money in a year. I truly believe we are capable of doing most anything we set our minds to doing. But I would never leave my family for 2 wks, or a month. The desire of an unobtainable goal, (only because my obligations are here), had to get out of my system, and I’m just very happy to have been able to see the photos, talk to the people who were there, and be able to help build interest in this wonderful find. I’d like to share it with you.

Huqoq is located in Galilee, Israel. It’s 3 miles west of Migdal, (Magdala), the said hometown of Mary of Magdala, and Capernaum (where they say Jesus taught in the synagogue) .

Here they found what they are calling a Synagogue dating from the late Late Roman and Byzantine periods (ca. 4th to 6th centuries C.E.). The dig at Huqoq began in 2011 and will continue at least through 2014. Sounds like they work the site 6 weeks during the summer from 5:00 am until noon. The stone walls of the Synagogue are huge, monumental in size. The found a stunning mosaic floor made with very small stones of high quality. These things put together suggest there was high level of prosperity in this village, and the building was very costly to construct.

They are calling this a “female” face. There are 2 faces like this, and in the middle is an inscription within a circular medallion not in Hebrew, but in Aramaic. Some authors of the articles on the internet have called the inscription Hebrew, and that’s not correct. The inscription reads something about “those that perform good deeds”.

This is the section of the mosaic that depicts Samson. I noticed his shorter hair, unshaven face and what appears to be blue eyes. He is depicted carrying the Gate Of Gaza. Another section shows the “little foxes” :wink: with their tails tied together. That the part of the story about Samson where he attaches torches to the tails of 300 foxes. The foxes run through the fields of the Philistines, burning down the wheat. Some have mentioned the design above Samsons head as being interesting.

The next section of the mosaic depicts what appears to be a man seating on something like a throne. What caught my eye was his white hair, bronze legs, and the “H” on his robe. Now he’s a bit older than what we might think of Jesus, but the symbolism there is interesting. Regarding the “H”…the soldiers with their daggers partially coming out of their sheaths also have an “H”. on their robes. The “H’ could stand for many things. It could be the Sign of The Spirit, divine spirit or active principal, the center in heart of the monogram of Christ “iHs”. It’s also the first rung of the ladder of the sages. But more than likely it is a symbol for Helios, (the sun or the son of the gods). 'H” also equals 8 in Greek,…I could go on and on with that, Hermes, Hypnos…

The other thing about him is that he is flanked by guards, not priests. Who is this rather important man being guarded holding a scroll?

Then there is the slain bull. I find this really fascinating. Much symbolism here too. The bull appears to me to have 3 spear wounds. Much like side A of the “Euphronios krater”. We can also think of Mithraism, which is also connected to early Christianity.

Side A of The Euthronios Krater 515 BC, depicts the death of Sarpedon, son of Zeus. Son of a God. This photo is not related to the dig site in Huqoq. Just trying to show a relationship.

One more photo to give you an idea of the size of the mosaics. Here too you can see the inscription that has been decided to be in Aramaic.

I just really do not think this is a Synagogue. Of course that is an opinion, and not a fact. Before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 CE, Jews did not depict any human faces – especially not in synagogues. So what is Samson and Helios doing here? And images of Helios had “religious significance” for the people who put them there. Did the Jews in the Galilee go pagan and nobody noticed? Rabbinic literature doesn’t have a single reference to these kinds of images in synagogues. But they do keep turning up. I found another early “synagogue” that is interesting too, maybe next post I’ll get into that one. Synagogues in my opinion would not have images in them that contradict Jewish law.

Under the Vatican in an early Christian Tomb we have Helios, and what looks to be a really nice Vine. Again photo is not related to the dig site, only used for reference.

In late Roman and Byzantine time, Jesus came to be depicted as Helios. Back to Samson, now what’s he doing there? Early Christian writers said that Samson was a Christ-figure. Both Samson and Jesus births were prophesied by heavenly messengers. Augustine explicitly compared Samson with Jesus (Sermon 364:3). I truly think it’s a Judeo Christian” house of worship. Either an early church type place or even a school.

Please share your thoughts, and I hope you enjoy the photos. Below is a link to the Jodi Magness site where you can find out more, and even apply to go on the dig next summer. You are also able to donate if you so choose. That’s probably what I’ll try to do to help out and remain being a little part of this great discovery.

Wow! Fascinating Diane.

Don’t dispel a potential experience based entirely on what seems apparent at the moment.

Thanks Lance. I shortened up my research on this just a bit for the post, and hope to add more. I have more photo’s etc, but these are the best of the best. I can’t kick the feeling that there is something really important here behind the symbolism. I’m working on the short sword partially drawn symbolism right now. Wow…I’ve been down the sword path before with research but it was mostly about long swords, and or if they were inverted or upright, or crossed. But never partially unsheathed short swords. Whole different ball game. :wink: The slain bull will probably be much easier, at least I hope. A fallen soldier next to the slain bull isn’t something I’ve come across before, but then again I never looked for that either. Can’t help it, this thing is fascinating. Maybe I’m making more out of it than what’s there, just don’t think so. Call it woman’s intuition. we’ll see…

I have to go off topic for just a moment. This is The Cadboll Stone-Easter Ross Scotland. I’ve been researching the number 40, (as in forty medallions) in the Aluma Mosaic, and Grapevines, (as in the grapevine connecting the medallions), and Birds, with plenty of notes, etc. Trying to find things outside the obvious. Been able to find plenty of obvious things. Then something new and fun caught my eye. It’s a distraction but it’s just too much fun not to share. There’s grapevines, crosses, birds, borders, all related. It’s all related as far as I’m concerned anyway.

[b]Game of Stones[/b]

In the seventeenth century, the 1,200-year-old Hilton of Cadboll Stone had a great fall. Now, National Museums Scotland (NMS) is enlisting video gamers to help put it back together again. The sandstone slab was carved by the Pics of northern Scotland around A.D. 800, likely to celebrate their conversion to Christianity. I disagree with that statement, but that’s a whole different story. In the 1670’s a storm toppled it and a cross emblazoned on one side was damaged. Originally discovered in 2001, the bottom portion of the 7.5 -foot-tall stone was in 3,000 pieces, ranging in size from two to eight inches. Reassembling it by hand would prove a daunting task.

Enter the techies. A Scottish company called Relicarte has transformed the fragments into 3-D virtual objects and made them available to the public in a special application. Starting in late October 2013, gamers could use their spatial reasoning skills to reassemble the slab. “The ability to manipulate 3-D images easily and interact over social media is key,” says Mahairi Maxwell, and NMS curator. “Archaeology has always had to draw upon a diverse range of skill sets for understanding the past–it is both an art and a science.” The researchers don’t know how long the process will take, but it will certainly be faster than the old-fashioned way. Nikhil Swaminathan Archaeology Magazine March/April 2014 From the Trenches Section.

Oh what fun! I truly wish I had video gaming skills now!

There’s a grapevine with birds running all around the outside edge. The right side of the photo you can see the grapes. The left side I see no grapes. I noticed if you squint your eyes and look at it, you can see a lot of crosses, and upside down crosses on the left side of the border in photo. Might not be anything, but I noticed. I’ve blown it up on my computer and been zooming in and out if and catching a lot of great little details. You might notice some familiar symbols from Aluma.

Daily Mail had a story about it.

Here’s a link to the game. I can’t make heads or tails of how to use it right now.

Hope you don’t mind a little related fun distraction. Grapevines, birds, crosses everywhere! It’s fun to make it a game. Entertaining learning tool. Too cool not to share.

I follow “The Adventures of the Mohr-Robinson family & friends on the Huqoq excavation project in the Galilee of Israel”. They recently updated with some new information regarding their interpretations of a section of the mosaic. Not exactly the direction I was going with it, but my lack of knowledge regarding Maccabees has proved me wrong before. I found the post not only eye opening, but heartwarming and inspirational. I share their frustration about the elephant in the room, and am understanding better what the people living in this area at the time mosaic was made were feeling.

[b]The Elephant In The Room![/b]

So let’s talk about the elephant in the middle of the room – oops, I mean the elephant in the middle of the synagogue!

As you know, our Huqoq Excavation Project is carefully and scientifically excavating a site perched in the hills above the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. We are exploring an industrial and residential area of an ancient village, and another area containing the remains of a synagogue in that village.

Using the latest methods in archaeology means that our site sometimes resembles a crime scene full of Crime Scene Investigators gathering evidence. In a sense, that’s what archaeologists do these days. Rather than dig around for “treasure,” as was done by archaeologists a few generations ago, these days a reputable excavation gathers minute clues, such as food residue on pot shards, a pollen count in the dirt, or tiny teeth marks on bones. Then these clues begin to tell a story of the daily life of people who lived long, long ago. But don’t hold your breath watching for a new TV series: “CSI: ARCHAEOLOGIST!” The rank and file of the population really aren’t interested in what somebody’s ancient garbage can tell the world, even if this makes an archaeologist practically foam at the mouth with excitement. Why, I’m jumping up and down in my chair just thinking about it!

Back to the elephant in the middle of the synagogue. Two years ago, we came down on a section of the Late Roman Era synagogue, which has now been dated to the fifth century AD. Lo and behold, we found some lovely remnants of a very detailed and expensive and finely made mosaic floor. Then last summer, we found a few more scenes of the mosaic floor.

Including an elephant scene. And no one at the time, standing by the stabilizing sandbags at the brim of the excavated square, and inhaling the inevitable dust of a dig, and wiping the sweat from their brows, could recall any narratives about elephants in the Scriptures. So what was an elephant doing in a synagogue?

Faith traditions have a body of symbols that are meaningful to them. Think about what we commonly see decorating churches. Stained glass windows often have Jesus as a good shepherd, and of course a cross is prominent. We see grapevines and wheat or bread interwoven around Communion tables or altars. Even people who have never cracked open a Bible know about the general narrative of Noah’s ark. And these images say a lot to the people who know all about the back-story of the images.

But there is a lot that we don’t usually see in a church. When’s the last time you saw the Daughters of Zelophehad portrayed in a church? It’s in Numbers 27, if you’re drawing a blank. Or what about Ezekiel’s two sticks, which appears right after the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37? Have you seen these carved into a pulpit? It’s not that these things cannot speak to us today, they just aren’t among the Biblical narratives that speak to us in a manner in which we want to repeat them often, and teach them to our children. Perhaps we love seeing Jesus as a good shepherd because we live in a time when communities and people are estranged, and our “future shock” is such that we want to know about the part of God that comes close to us, and the part of God that carries us safely and tenderly through confusion and isolation. This is an image that speaks dearly to us in our time and place.

Again, back to Mr. Elephant. The best preliminary conclusion we could draw is that this elephant is part of an artistic summary of a very long account of a history of Jewish martyrs found in Books 1 – 4 of Maccabees. And possibly an adjoining picture of a columned arcade framing an old man and several younger men could be Eleazar the priest from that same body of work. And Maccabees relates that the elephant would have been drunk and drugged, so as to attack Jewish prisoners more horrifically. That could explain the Harry Potter glasses/Twilight Zone character of the elephant’s eye.

So why was this incident so important to our synagogue members? The Books of Maccabees were not considered part of the main stream of the Bible, but were apocryphal writings. And to date, no other synagogue has been found using any art inspired by any of the apocryphal writings in its décor.

Add to that, we have many of the stories of Samson portrayed in a section of our synagogue mosaic floor. And some of those accounts are pretty weird! Again, why was this artwork meaningful to the synagogue congregation at ancient Huqoq?

A good question. My academic background is not in archaeology, but in pastoral ministry. If I had been given the Samson cycle and these accounts from Maccabees as the texts upon which to preach for a worship service, I would need to dig a while to find anything “preachy” in these. And, as any good preacher knows, in order to deliver a meaningful sermon, a preacher needs to know the recipient congregation. And I’ve not met the Huqoq synagogue members from 450 AD. Don’t think I’ll have that chance, either, at least not in this lifetime.

But if I did have the task of preaching upon these texts, I would probably preach about hope. Yes, hope. Hope is lying there in the dry dust of our dig. These texts describe times when the faithful felt they were outnumbered and “outgunned,” when they felt they were the voiceless citizens of a land occupied by foreigners, when their very existence and continuance seemed fragile, as if it hung upon the whims of capricious and rapacious tyrants. And perhaps that context felt like it described the lives of the Late Roman Era congregation at Huqoq. Maybe. I’m guessing, as I’d need to do more homework to confirm that, but it is a good possibility.

However, if I lived in that type of a scenario, I would find comfort whenever I left my everyday life with all its peaks and valleys, and walked for a brief respite into my house of worship. I would breathe a little easier, seeing reminders that my God was watching over me, that my God would not remain silent in the face of suffering and injustice, and that, when my people were under attack in a variety of ways, God would get them through such times, God would send leaders and visionaries, and as a result, the lives of the faithful would have meaning and hold a type of courage that ordinary people cannot muster when left alone.

So I don’t really know all about why the elephant is in the synagogue. Not yet. I do know he was a surprise to us when he was uncovered. Our Huqoq mosaics have been unique, and they have much to teach us about early Judaism, and possibly its interaction with early Christianity. And I look forward to helping unlock more mysteries waiting under the pastures of Huqoq. We have more work to do, both in the dirt and in the library. I look forward to learning more about the faith held by those who came long, long before us. Mary Robinson Mohr

My own elephant chasing took me off in a different direction. Looking at the Mosaic now from the above point of view it appears I better read over The Books of Maccabees. I have to rethink the direction I was going with it for now.

The digging will resume this summer, and I’m looking forward to new findings! Below are photos shared by Mary Robinson Mohr of some of the shards of pottery and glass from their find. Each piece has to be diagrammed.