Mosaic of Alexander the Great meeting a Jewish priest is the first ever non-biblical scene to be discovered inside a synagogue
Artwork was uncovered in a fifth-century synagogue in Huqoq, Israel
May depict Alexander the Great, based on the presence of elephants
Scene is the first non-biblical story to be found in an ancient synagogue
Depictions of Biblical hero Samson are also part of the decorative floor
Stunning mosaics that may depict Alexander the Great meeting a Jewish priest have been unearthed in Israel.
The artwork was uncovered in the east aisle of a fifth-century synagogue in the ancient Jewish village of Huqoq.
The scene is the first non-biblical story to be found in an ancient synagogue.
A team of archaeologists led by Professor Jodi Magness, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill came across the intriguing scene, crafted from tiny pieces of mosaic.
The floor mosaic includes three horizontal strips containing human and animal figures, such as elephants.
The largest top strip contains the scene showing a meeting between two men, who perhaps represent the legendary warrior and a Jewish high priest.
In the scene, a bearded soldier wearing battle dress and a purple cloak leads a bull by the horns, followed by other soldiers and elephants with shields tied to their sides.
He is meeting with a grey-haired, bearded elderly man wearing a ceremonial white tunic and mantle, accompanied by young men with sheathed swords, also in ceremonial clothes.
It’s thought the warrior in the rare non-Biblical scene is Alexander the Great becaise of a procession of elephants (pictured). But Professor Magness said the identification of the figures in this mosaic is unclear because there are no stories in the Hebrew Bible involving elephants
Professor Magness said the identification of the figures in this mosaic is unclear because there are no stories in the Hebrew Bible involving elephants.
‘Battle elephants were associated with Greek armies beginning with Alexander the Great, so this might be a depiction of a Jewish legend about the meeting between Alexander and the Jewish high priest,’ she said.
‘Different versions of this story appear in the writings of Flavius Josephus and in rabbinic literature.’
The Huqoq excavations, which also involved a team from the Israel Antiquities Authority, began in 2012 when the first mosaics were found at the site, including an image of Samson.
This summer, more of the floor has been uncovered, including a dedicatory inscription, figures, animals and mythological creatures arranged symmetrically around it.
These include winged cupids holding roundels with theatre masks, muscular male figures wearing trousers who support a garland, a rooster, and male and female faces in a wreath encircling the inscription.
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