Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Samson and the Foxes

Many know the story of Samson. We are familiar with his superhuman strength, his long hair which somehow controlled that strength, and his wickedly beautiful and cunning girlfriend Delilah who ends up getting his secret out of him.

One part that many forget is the story of Samson getting even with the Philistines for giving his new wife to another man. Apparently Samson liked to tell riddles. But when his new bride's fellow Philistine's couldn't guess the answer to one of his riddles they threatened to kill her and her family. She got the answer from Samson and told the Philistines. Samson got mad and left. When he finally decided he wanted to go back to his wife she had already been given to someone else. To get even with the Philistines Samson is said to have captured 300 foxes, tied their tails together with a torch, and let them go in the wheat fields. The Philistines lost their crops.

While this story may be more popular in a child's Sunday school class it apparently was popular enough in the fifth century to include it in a synagogue mosaic. The Israeli Antiquities Authority is reporting that archaeologist Jodi Magness  and her team have discovered a monumental synagogue with a number of impressive mosaics, one of which includes a depiction of Samson and the foxes. Here is the report.

The excavations are being conducted by Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and David Amit and Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority, under the sponsorship of UNC, Brigham Young University in Utah, Trinity University in Texas, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Toronto in Canada. Students and staff from UNC and the consortium schools are participating in the dig.
Huqoq is an ancient Jewish village located approximately two to three miles west of Capernaum and Migdal (Magdala). This second season of excavations has revealed portions of a stunning mosaic floor decorating the interior of the synagogue building. The mosaic, which is made of tiny colored stone cubes of the highest quality, includes a scene depicting Samson placing torches between the tails of foxes (as related in the book of Judges 15). In another part of the mosaic, two human (apparently female) faces flank a circular medallion with a Hebrew inscription that refers to rewards for those who perform good deeds. 
"This discovery is significant because 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)," said Magness, the Kenan Distinguished Professor in the department of religious studies in UNC's College of Arts and Sciences. "Our mosaics are also important because of their high artistic quality and the tiny size of the mosaic cubes. This, together with the monumental size of the stones used to construct the synagogue's walls, suggest a high level of prosperity in this village, as the building clearly was very costly."

You can read the full report here. The pictures of Samson have not yet been released and I will post them as soon as I have access.

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