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Alexander the Great Depicted in Israeli Mosaics

Professor Jodi Magness and UNC Chapel Hill students at the HuqoqThis summer, excavations directed by UNC-Chapel Hill College of Arts and Sciences professor Jodi Magness revealed stunning new mosaics that decorated the floor of the Late Roman synagogue in the ancient Jewish village of Huqoq in Israel.

The mosaic discovered in the synagogue’s east aisle in 2013 and 2014 depicts three horizontal registers containing human and animal figures, including elephants. The top register, which is the largest, shows a meeting between two men, who perhaps are intended to represent ancient Greek King Alexander the Great and a Jewish high priest, according to Magness’ findings. It was the first time a non-biblical story had been found decorating any ancient synagogue.

A new digging revealed that the inscription is in the center of a large square panel with human figures, animals and mythological creatures arranged symmetrically around it, Magness said. These include winged cupids holding circular discs with theater masks, muscular male figures wearing trousers who support a garland, a rooster, as well as male and female faces in a wreath encircling the inscription. Cupids and masks are associated with Dionysus, the ancient Greek god of wine and theater performances, she said.

“The images in these mosaics – as well as their high level of artistic quality – and the columns painted with vegetal motifs have never been found in any other ancient synagogue,” Magness said. “These are unique discoveries.”

The mosaics have been removed from the site for conservation and the excavated areas have been backfilled. Excavations are scheduled to continue in the summer of 2016.

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