Samuel and Saul at Gilgal: A new interpretation of the Elephant mosaic panel in the Huqoq synagogue

Benjamin D. Gordon, Zeev Weiss

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The mosaic carpets decorating Palestinian synagogues in late antiquity took various forms but tend to focus on three recurring visual themes: The zodiac, a motif with origins in Greco-Roman religious art; the Jerusalem Temple, long in ruins but still very much alive in the Jewish imagination; and the Biblical story, often classics and easily identifiable to those well-versed in scripture. The latter was the programmatic focus of the frescoes of the Dura Europos synagogue and would maintain hegemony in episodic art on synagogue floors through late antiquity. The paradigm was thought to have shifted in 2013-14 when excavations at Huqoq uncovered a mosaic panel featuring war elephants that was claimed to portray the first extra-Biblical scene ever found in an ancient synagogue. Huqoq was a thriving Jewish village in the Late Roman period. Its basilica-type synagogue was paved twice with mosaic, the earlier of which is better preserved and includes the elephant panel. Most of the rest of the floor has not been fully published, although news releases and preliminary reports mention them and assign the floor a date in the 5th c. The floor does include well-known Biblical scenes along with a zodiac panel and two undated dedicatory inscriptions with decorative framing elements that include putti.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)524-541
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Roman Archaeology
StatePublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Journal of Roman Archaeology L.L.C.


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