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Biblical Samson Torches Fox Tails in Ancient Synagogue Mosaic

Huqoq Mosaic
A female face in a 1,600-year-old mosiac found in Huqoq, Israel. Photos from Israel Antiquities Authority, photographer Jim Haberman, via Bloomberg.

Biblical Samson ties burning torches to the tails of foxes, as related in the Book of Judges, and two human faces flank a medallion with a Hebrew inscription that refers to rewards for those who perform good deeds.

These images are depicted in a newly discovered 1,600-year-old synagogue mosaic, made of tiny colored stone cubes of the highest quality. The work was uncovered by archaeologists excavating the Jewish village of Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee.

“This discovery is significant,” Jodi Magness, an archaeologist from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said today. “Only a small number of ancient Late Roman synagogue buildings are decorated with mosaics showing biblical scenes, and only two others have scenes with Samson. One is at another site just a couple of miles from Huqoq.”

Magness said the discovery suggests a high level of prosperity in the village, which is several miles inland from the Sea of Galilee and is known for cultivation of the mustard plant.

“It was a surprise that the village was that affluent,” Magness said in a phone interview from the site. “I never would have thought that the mustard plant would be that lucrative.”

Archaeologists plan several more seasons of excavations at the site, and may have more information at the end of the dig, she added. The next excavation is planned for the summer of 2013, an e-mailed statement from the Israel Antiquities Authority said.

According to the Bible, Samson caught 300 wild foxes, tied burning torches to all their tails and made them run through the corn fields of the Philistines.

Muse highlights include Elin McCoy on wine and Warwick Thompson on theater.

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