Ancient mosaics depicting Noah’s ark and the parting of the Red Sea have been discovered by university scholars and students excavating a synagogue in Israel that dates to the fifth century.
They also have uncovered coins spanning 2,300 years, says Nathan Elkins, Ph.D., an assistant professor of art history in Baylor University’s College of Arts & Sciences, Waco, Texas. He specializes in the study of coins and serves as numismatist at the site in a former village called Huqoq, near the Sea of Galilee.
“The ancient coins . . . are critical for our knowledge of the monumental synagogue and the associated village,” Elkins, a member of a team of staff and students from Baylor, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brigham Young University and the University of Toronto.
The mosaics decorate the floor of a synagogue that dates to the time when the area was ruled by the Roman Empire and when Christianity had become the empire’s official religion. The mosaics show an ark and pairs of animals including elephants, leopards, donkeys, snakes, bears, lions, ostriches, camels, sheep and goats.
The images also portray Pharaoh’s soldiers being swallowed by large fish, surrounded by overturned chariots with horses and chariot drivers.
Excavations have continued in the synagogue every summer since the first mosaics were found in 2012. Since then, mosaics depicting Samson and the foxes (as related in the Bible’s Judges 15:4), Samson carrying the gate of Gaza on his shoulders (Judges 16:3), and a scene containing a Hebrew inscription surrounded by human figures, animals and mythological creatures have been uncovered.
The first non-biblical mosaic found in an ancient synagogue also was discovered at Huqoq, showing the legendary meeting between Alexander the Great and the Jewish high priest.
The mosaics have been removed from the site for conservation, and the excavated areas have been backfilled. Financial support for the 2016 excavations was provided by the National Geographic Society and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.
Excavations are scheduled to continue in the summer of 2017.