Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Helios on the synagogue floor

MOSAICS: Pagan deities in ancient synagogues. What is the sun god doing on the floor of ancient synagogues? Doesn't that violate the second commandment? (Mike Rogoff, Haaretz).
“Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness…” proclaimed the Voice out of the fire and smoke at Mount Sinai. Yet ancient craftsmen, working in the biblical Land of Israel almost two millennia after Moses, were apparently undeterred by the Divine injunction. Their synagogue mosaic floors, unearthed by modern archaeologists, boast human images and – yes – even pagan deities. Such as the Sun God.

The two best-preserved of the synagogue mosaics are the exquisite figures in Hammat Tiberias (4th century C.E.), overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and the child-like but charming art of Beit Alfa (6th century C.E., shown above), at the foot of Mt. Gilboa.

More on representations of Helios and the Zodiac in ancient synagogue mosaics here and here.