Jodi Magness, who is a distinguished professor in the department of religious studies at UNC, is conducting an excavation of a recently-discovered ancient synagogue in the village of Huqoq, located in the Galilee region of Israel. Magness spoke to The Daily Tar Heel via email from Huqoq about the discovery, the excavation process and the mosaic floor of the synagogue, which depicts biblical passages and is made up of small stone cubes. Students and staff from UNC are joining groups from five other universities to participate in the month-long excavation process.
The Daily Tar Heel: How was the synagogue discovered?
Jodi Magness: It was discovered during our excavations at Huqoq, which began last summer and continued this summer.
DTH: How old is the synagogue estimated to be?
JM: About 1,600 years old (fourth to sixth centuries A.D.)
*DTH: *Can you tell me a little bit about the mosaic floor artwork and what it’s depicting?
JM: In one section, there is a Hebrew or Aramaic inscription in a medallion that refers to rewards for those who perform good deeds, flanked by two female faces (perhaps personifications of seasons). Another section contains a scene depicting Samson taking revenge on the Philistines by tying together the tails of pairs of foxes and placing lighted torches between them, and then letting them loose to burn the agricultural fields of the Philistines (an episode related in the book of Judges 15).
*DTH: *Are there any estimated artist or artists responsible for this floor?
*JM: *There surely were, but we do not know who they were.
*DTH: *When is the excavation expected to be completed?
JM: Not sure, perhaps in another five seasons of work (one month each summer).
DTH: What does a day of excavating entail?
JM: Lots of hard work and sweat. We get up at 4:00 a.m., start digging at 5:00 a.m. — hoeing, picking, scraping with trowels. There is also lab work — pottery washing and sorting, animal bones, data entry on computers, etc.
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