Finding Samson in Byzantine Galilee:
The 2011–2012 Archaeological Excavations at Huqoq

The study of ancient history and culture in Lower Galilee,
the area west of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River, has been greatly
enriched in recent decades by an increasing amount of archaeological research.
From the 1970s to the early 2000s, archaeologists have investigated the remains
of Galilee’s two major cities (Sepphoris and Tiberias) and many well-known
villages (such as Capernaum, Cana, and Magdala),1 producing unprecedented insight into sociopolitical dynamics, daily
life, and religious institutions during the time of Jesus and the early rabbis
(i.e., the Roman-Byzantine period). These excavations have also prompted scholarly
discussion on a number of important issues, including the chronology of
monumental synagogue buildings,2 the development of Jewish religious art,3 the dating of local pottery types,4 and the extent of rabbinic influence within the Jewish community.5 In short, research on ancient Galilee is experiencing an exciting era of
discovery that is significantly refining our understanding of early Judaism and

As a part of this research, scholars have begun to study
some of Galilee’s lesser-known sites in an effort to provide a more rounded
view of the region and bring new evidence to bear on the ongoing debates.6 One such site is Huqoq, a small Jewish village located near the northwest shore
of the lake, about 12.5 km north of Tiberias. Ancient literature indicates that
Huqoq was occupied during the biblical and postbiblical periods, and scattered
remains at the site indicate that portions of its ancient dwellings and synagogue
lie beneath the surface. The site is also currently uninhabited, making it an
ideal location for new archaeological excavations.

These considerations led to the organization of the Huqoq Excavation
Project (HEP)—a consortium of universities directed by Jodi Magness of
the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—which began excavating
the site in 2011.7 Although this project is only in its third year, it has already made valuable
contributions to our understanding of Jewish village life, art, and religious
worship in ancient Galilee. This article will highlight some of these
contributions by summarizing past and current research related to Huqoq and
considering some of the ways in which this research adds to ongoing historical
discussions. It will first survey the literary sources that sketch the
village’s history, the explorations of the site prior to formal excavations,
and the first two seasons of excavations conducted by the HEP
(2011–2012). It will then describe the most exciting discovery at the
site to date—a rare mosaic depicting a story of Samson from the biblical
book of Judges—and summarize some of the current research on the mosaic’s
historical significance, thus showing how the Huqoq excavations are enhancing
our understanding of Galilee’s ancient history, culture, and socioreligious

Huqoq in Literary Sources—A Brief Sketch
of the Village’s History

Long before archaeological excavations began at Huqoq,
scholars were aware of ancient literary references to the site that provide
information about its history and its relationship to the surrounding region.
These references indicate that Huqoq was a small agricultural village just
northwest of the Sea of Galilee that was occupied in the biblical,
postbiblical, medieval, and modern periods. The earliest mention of the site is
in Joshua 19:34, which lists "Hukkok" (חוקקה) as a village apportioned to
the tribe of Naphtali after the Israelite conquest of Canaan.8 This passage identifies the village as marking a boundary of Naphtali’s tribal
lands.9 Although it provides no further information about the village’s size,
population, or activities, it suggests that Huqoq was occupied in the late Iron
Age (ca. 1000–586 BCE, when material for the Deuteronomistic history was
taking shape), if not already in the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1550–1200 BCE,
when Joshua is said to have allotted the tribal lands). An additional reference
to "Hukok (חוקק)
with its pasture lands" exists in 1 Chronicles 6:75, but this text locates the
village much farther west in the tribal lands of Asher and likely represents an
orthographic mistake made by the Chronicler.10

Unfortunately, there are no references to Huqoq in late Second
Temple period sources,11 but archaeological surveys indicate that the village was occupied by Jews and
engaged in agricultural activities during the Late Hellenistic and Early Roman
periods (see below), making it contemporary with Jesus and his earliest followers.
Although Huqoq is not named in the New Testament, its close proximity to the
lake places Huqoq within walking distance of some of the most prominent
locations in the Gospels (including Capernaum and Magdala),12 thus raising the possibility that Jesus had some interaction with the village
during his Galilean ministry. Furthermore, some scholars have suggested that
Huqoq was located along a prominent road system in the first century and may
therefore have been easily accessible to trade and travel at that time.13 These considerations strengthen the possibility that Jesus visited Huqoq as he
"went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good
news of the kingdom" (Matthew 4:23).

The Jewish demographics
of Huqoq during the Roman period are attested in rabbinic literature, in
particular the Palestinian Talmud, which mentions "Hiqoq" (חיקוק) in several accounts
from the late second to mid-fourth century.14 These references provide the name of one rabbinic sage from the village ("R.
Hizkiyah of Huqoq") 15 and mention the agricultural activities of other
villagers, such as "Yohanan from Hiqoq," who brought a saddle bag full of bread
pieces to R. Hiyya in nearby Tiberias.16 Another passage describes a visit of R. Simeon b. Lakish to the village during
which he saw locals gathering seeds from wild mustard plants.17 These stories and the individuals associated with them point to an active
Jewish presence at Huqoq in late antiquity and show that Jews at that time
identified the village with the biblical site of "Hukkok," a claim similarly
made in contemporary Christian literature that transliterates its name as Ειχωχ (Eusebius) and Icoc (Jerome).18

The next references to
Huqoq are found in Jewish pilgrimage accounts from the Middle Ages. By then,
the Jewish inhabitants of the village had apparently abandoned the site. It was
subsequently resettled by a small Muslim population that called the village
‘Yaquq, an Arabic variation of the earlier Hebrew name. It is not yet clear
exactly when the village was abandoned by its Jewish inhabitants, resettled by
Muslims, or renamed, but these developments are assumed in the reports of
Jewish pilgrims traveling by the site to visit the nearby "Tomb of Habakkuk" in
the thirteenth through seventeenth centuries. These accounts use both the
Hebrew and Arabic names of the village, describe its proximity to the tomb and
a natural spring, and mention its Muslim demographics.19 Government administrative and taxation documents from the Ottoman and British
Mandate periods indicate that ‘Yaquq continued as a small Muslim agricultural
village until Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, when it was once more
abandoned, never to be reinhabited.20

This literary survey provides a rough sketch of the occupational
history of Huqoq, attesting to an agricultural community in the village during
the biblical (possibly Late Bronze and/or Iron Age), postbiblical
(Roman-Byzantine), medieval, and pre-1948 modern periods. Such a skeletal
history suggests that Huqoq was inhabited during all major periods of the
Jewish and Muslim presence in Galilee, but it tells us little about its
specific architectural features, economic status, socioreligious dynamics, or
the daily life of its inhabitants. Fortunately, modern archaeological research
has been able to fill in many of these gaps and flesh out our understanding of
the site’s religious and historical developments.

Archaeological Research at Huqoq—
Exploration and Surveys

Archaeological research at Huqoq has been conducted in various
ways since the European exploration of Palestine in the late nineteenth
century. This research—beginning with general surveys of the site and now
continuing with formal excavations—confirms the historical insights
gleaned from literary sources and greatly expands our understanding of the village’s
socioreligious setting. The earliest recorded explorations of Huqoq by Western
scholars included a visit in 1875 by Victor Guérin (a professor at the French
School of Athens) and a survey of the region conducted by C. R. Conder and
H. H. Kitchener on behalf of the Palestine Exploration Fund in the 1870s
and 1880s. These explorers noted the dwellings and small Muslim population of
the village, considered connections between its name and the biblical "Hukkok,"
and observed traces of the ancient village still visible on the surface, including
ashlars and columns scattered around the site and cist tombs and caves at its

Following the evacuation
of ‘Yaquq in 1948, its modern dwellings stood abandoned for nearly two decades,
during which time a more formal survey of the ancient remains was conducted by
Bezalel Ravani, the Israeli Inspector of Antiquities for the Tiberias region in
1956–57. Around the main settlement, Ravani collected pottery sherds from
the surface that attest to activity at the site from the Early Bronze, Iron,
Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Medieval periods. Unfortunately,
Ravani did not provide details of the sherds collected in his survey, leaving
the relative quantities unknown.22 He did, however, conduct limited excavations in tombs and burial caves to the
north of the site that were discovered (and partially damaged) during the
construction of a nearby water system. Four burial caves each contained a central
pit, a small ledge encircling the pit, and loculi niches hewn into the walls. Finds in the caves
included three crude ossuaries likely dating to 70–135 CE.23 Early Roman pottery, glass, and lamps, traces of wood coffins, and a coin
minted under Trajan (98–117 CE) indicate that the tombs were in use
during the first and early second centuries.24

In 1968, the Israeli army bulldozed the pre-1948 dwellings,
leaving the center of the site covered with modern rubble mixed with ancient
remains. Since that time, numerous Israeli scholars have conducted additional
surveys of Huqoq’s ancient features: Yigal Tepper and Yuval Shahar explored a
hiding complex, a miqveh, and agricultural installations (possibly connected
with mustard production) that seem to date to the Roman or Byzantine periods; 25 Zvi Ilan reported architectural fragments and a lintel carved with a menorah
clustered in the center of the site, suggesting the presence of a monumental
synagogue; 26 and, most recently, Uzi Leibner collected over two hundred potsherds from the
surface, which he recorded and dated to the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine
periods.27 Leibner also noted the presence of agricultural
installations (wine and oil presses), architectural fragments, burial caves,
and quarried cist tombs scattered around the site and its periphery.28

Related research included surveys of nearby Sheikh Nashi, a
hill located 400 m to the east of Huqoq that possessed natural defenses, the
remains of a Hellenistic fortification at its summit, and numerous agricultural
and water installations. These two settlements clearly had an important
relationship throughout antiquity, but the precise nature of that relationship
is still uncertain; they both had access to ‘Ein Huqoq (the natural spring at
the northern base of the site), shared use of surrounding agricultural lands,
and were occupied contemporaneously.29 Some scholars have suggested that Sheikh Nashi (with its natural and artificial
defenses) was a military camp supported by Huqoq (with its easier access to the
spring) as a civilian settlement,30 but this intriguing possibility has not yet been verified.

In summary, archaeological explorations and surveys have
confirmed and clarified the outline of Huqoq’s history found in the literary
sources: It appears from the material remains that the site was occupied in the
biblical period and expanded in the Late Hellenistic period (possibly in
connection with a military camp at Sheikh Nashi) and that significant growth
occurred during the Roman-Byzantine period as attested by pottery, agricultural
installations, tombs, and architectural fragments belonging to a monumental
synagogue. Huqoq then seems to have declined in the early Islamic period, was
resettled as the Muslim village of ‘Yaquq by the Middle Ages, and was abandoned
for the last time in 1948; since that time it has remained uninhabited.

Archaeological Research at Huqoq—
The Huqoq Excavation Project

Huqoq’s occupational history, the scattering of ancient remains
on its surface, its current accessibility, and the fact that it was previously
unexcavated made it an ideal location for systematic archaeological research
into ancient Galilean village life. These observations led Jodi Magness
(UNC–Chapel Hill)—later joined by Shua Kisilevitz (Israel Antiquities
Authority)—to organize the Huqoq Excavation Project (HEP) in 2010 and
direct the first two seasons of formal excavation in 2011 and 2012. The initial
goals of the HEP were threefold: (1) locate and excavate the village’s ancient
synagogue in hopes of clarifying current debates on the dating of monumental
synagogue buildings in the region; (2) excavate a portion of the ancient
Jewish village to establish a context for the synagogue and to refine the local
pottery chronology; and (3) preserve the history of the pre-1948 village of
‘Yaquq by excavating a portion of it and by interviewing the descendants of the
village’s last inhabitants. The HEP is now only into its third year of
research, but these goals are already being met and exceeded in numerous ways.
Because this article focuses on Huqoq’s ancient past, we will briefly summarize
the findings of the 2011–2012 excavation seasons as they relate to the
ancient village and synagogue. Fuller preliminary reports of the entire project
can be found elsewhere.31

The Ancient Village

One of the most
important components of the HEP in its first two seasons was the excavation of
the ancient village of Huqoq (Area 2000), supervised by Chad Spigel (Trinity University,
TX). Initial surveys of the site suggested that the modern remains of ‘Yaquq
partially overlapped ancient Huqoq, with its blocks of houses, internal
courtyards, and alleyways possibly preserving some of the layout of the ancient
village below. It also appeared that the ancient village extended to the south
of the modern remains, thus providing an area with more direct access to
earlier periods. Therefore, excavations began in the southeast quadrant of the
site in hopes of uncovering a portion of the ancient village, understanding the
context of the nearby synagogue, providing new data to refine the chronology of
the local pottery, and gleaning new insights into ancient Galilean village

In 2011 and 2012, village excavations focused on a structure
containing rooms around courtyards, separated by well-constructed stone walls.
Just below the modern surface, these rooms contained rubble collapse and soil
mixed with Byzantine, Mamluk, and Ottoman period pottery.33 Once these layers were cleared, the floors of the building were revealed; the
pottery associated with the floors dates to the Byzantine period (fifth or
sixth century CE). Coins, animal bones, glass, and large quantities of restorable
pottery (including imported Late Roman red wares) were also found in the rooms.
It appears that one of these rooms was eventually converted into a stable and
that other rooms were used for agricultural or industrial activity, as attested
by numerous grinding stones, loom weights, press weights, crushed olive pits,
and a roof roller. Fills of soil below the floors and walls of these rooms
contain pottery and other finds dating to the Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Persian
and Hellenistic periods, but excavations have not yet uncovered architectural
remains from these earlier periods.34

The team also explored,
examined, and excavated other features of the ancient village in 2011 and 2012.
In initial surveys of the site, cist graves, rock-cut tombs, and agricultural installations—including
remains of wine and oil presses—were found scattered around the site and
its periphery.35 These are difficult to date with precision, but they resemble features of other
Roman-era sites. One feature studied as part of the HEP is a cistern and underground
hiding complex in the center of the village. The cistern is located in Area
3000 near the synagogue (see below) and reaches a depth of 8.5 m. It was
explored and mapped by Yinon Shivtiel (Safed College), who discovered three
underground hiding tunnels branching off from the subterranean cistern.
Shivtiel suggests that these tunnels share characteristics with hiding
complexes used by villagers for protection during the Jewish revolts against
Rome in 66–70 and 132–35 CE, perhaps indicating Huqoq’s
involvment in one or both of those wars.36

Surveys also revealed
the location of two large miqva’ot (Jewish ritual baths) hewn into the bedrock on
the eastern and southern periphery of the village. The southern miqveh was excavated by
the HEP in 2011 as Area 4000, supervised by Byron McCane (Wofford College). It
contained a passage entering from the east consisting of twelve steps (five
made of cut stone blocks and seven hewn into the bedrock, all with traces of
wear in the center) and a rock-cut immersion room in a trapezoidal shape. A
thin layer of silt that covered the floor contained Late Roman and Byzantine
pottery, suggesting that the room ceased to function as a ritual bath in the
Byzantine period when it was converted into a cistern.37 This feature confirms that Huqoq retained its Jewish character through late
antiquity and supports recent claims that ritual purity practices continued in
some Jewish communities long after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in
70 CE.38

The Ancient Synagogue

One of the features that attracted the attention of
explorers, surveyors, and archaeologists from the beginning was the clustering
of finely carved architectural fragments and columns on a mound of rubble near
the center of the site. The high quality of these pieces and the previous
report of a lintel decorated with a menorah (now lost) suggested that a
monumental synagogue once stood in the village. The location and excavation of
this ancient synagogue became one of the primary objectives of the HEP, with
hopes that it would shed needed light on current debates over synagogue
typology and chronology in the Galilee region. To accomplish these objectives,
excavations of the rubble mound (Area 3000) began in 2011 and continued in 2012
under the supervision of Matthew Grey (Brigham Young University).39

Because of the clustering of architectural pieces near the
center of the site, the mound of rubble was the natural location to begin
searching for the synagogue. An initial clearing of weeds along the west side
of the mound revealed six large paving stones, two of which were part of a
threshold. These limestone blocks were not in situ. However, they presumably
did not move far from their original position, and they resembled similar
features associated with courtyards and entryways of other known ancient synagogues,
suggesting that Huqoq’s synagogue was located nearby. Unfortunately, these
blocks turned out to be surrounded by modern fill with no traces of the ancient
building.40 However, more successful excavations were conducted on the mound itself (closer
to the clustered architectural fragments) and to its east near the cistern,
which presumably was located in the synagogue’s courtyard.

The mound is in a part of the ancient village covered by modern
remains, so initial excavations uncovered portions of the pre-1948 village of
‘Yaquq.41 The modern features excavated on the mound included a room that had collapsed
and burned (apparently during the village’s evacuation in 1948), a courtyard
and food production area around the cistern, and numerous small finds from the
Ottoman and British Mandate periods, such as keys, bottles, coins, combs,
sandals, clay pipes, and a musket barrel with thirty-two lead balls. In addition
to modern remains, the rubble collapse and soil fills of the mound also
contained material that pointed to a large and affluent ancient structure in
the vicinity; these included pottery, tesserae (small mosaic cubes), clay roof
tiles, coins, and a decorated rim of an imported marble basin.42

In 2011, while excavating the rubble and fill on the east
side of the mound, we uncovered a massive limestone block, which at first
appeared to be a paving stone for the synagogue’s courtyard. Further excavation,
however, revealed that it was a large ashlar block in a wall running
north-south. This turned out to be a portion of the east wall of the synagogue.43 Excavations continued on both sides of the wall in 2012 in an effort to learn
more about the synagogue’s dimensions, layout, and construction date. Outside
the wall, we reached a thick and compacted layer of limestone building
chips—pieces of stone from the wall’s construction and dressing—in
the building’s foundation trench. The coins found inside and underneath this
layer are still being identified, but pottery associated with the trench
suggests a late fourth century terminus post quem for the
synagogue’s construction.44 This dating will be more precisely refined with further excavation and the
identification of the coins.45

Excavations inside the wall showed that the ancient synagogue
building was renovated in some way during the Mamluk period, as attested by a
cobblestone floor resting on top of a deep fill high above the original
synagogue floor level. This fill contained pottery from the Late Roman,
Byzantine, early Islamic, and Medieval periods. It also contained large quantities
of fine tesserae, including clusters of colored cubes still bound together by
chunks of plaster, indicating that at one point a lavish mosaic floor decorated
the building’s interior. However, the loose tesserae in the fill suggested that
the mosaic below had been severely damaged at some point before the
construction of the later Mamluk floor. Excavations also uncovered a layer of
white plaster on the inside of the synagogue wall, but it bears no traces of

By the end of the 2012 season, we reached the synagogue
floor and uncovered the most exciting discovery of the HEP to date—a
surviving portion of a beautiful mosaic containing figural decoration,
geometric patterns, and an inscription.47 The mosaic is fragmentary in this portion of the building, but the three
surviving sections provide valuable insights into the religious activities of
the community. The first section to be discovered was a pair of female faces
flanking a medallion inscription. The face on the north side of the inscription
is well preserved, showing a woman with wavy red hair and a white earring in
her left ear. The face on the south side of the inscription is badly damaged,
but shows a woman wearing a tiara (containing three green glass stones as its
diadem) with her hair tied in a topknot.48

Although the identification of these women is uncertain,
Karen Britt (the HEP mosaics specialist) has offered two possibilities:
(1) the female faces, both with lotus flowers protruding from above them,
could represent two of the four seasons, a motif depicted in other synagogue
mosaics in the region; or (2) the faces, both encircled by nimbi or haloes, could be depictions of wealthy female donors from the synagogue
congregation (a phenomenon known from Byzantine churches in the region). If the
latter possibility is correct, the Huqoq mosaic would be the first known depiction
of female donors to be found in a synagogue setting.49 This interpretation is strengthened by the orientation of the female faces
toward the medallion inscription, which promises blessings to those (such as
donors?) who perform good deeds.50

The mosaic inscription is in Hebrew or Aramaic and is
written with white letters against a black background. It once contained six
lines but is now badly damaged, leaving large gaps in the text and requiring
extensive reconstruction. David Amit reconstructed the inscription in Hebrew as
follows (restored portions are in brackets): 51

1. []And


2. [are all of the people of the town?] who       

]כל בני העיר?[ שהן

3. adhere to all

מתח ]זקי[ן בכל

4. commandments.
So may be

מצות כן יהא

5. your labor and
Ame[n Se]la[h]

עמלכן ואמ]ן ס[ל]ה[



In addition to promising rewards to those who keep the
commandments, a portion of the inscription ("so may be your labor") resembles a
midrash on Ecclesiastes 6:7 that contrasts the deeds performed by humans with
the gifts bestowed by God.52 If a relationship does exist between this image and text, it might be
significant that the midrash tells an illustrative parable of a villager
marrying a woman of royal lineage,53 a scene possibly recalled by the depictions of elite women flanking the

A second section of the mosaic survives along the wall and
likely wraps around the outer edge of the entire synagogue floor. It contains a
large white band closest to the wall, with black borders and a colorful
three-stand guilloche (braid) pattern. The mosaic is damaged beyond the borders
of the guilloche, but remnants of black frames and hints of animal features
suggest that figural scenes once existed closer to the hall’s interior. One of
these scenes contained a feline (indicated by the tip of its ear) and another
possibly contained a donkey (indicated by its mane and tail).54

Before the end of the 2012 season, a third section of the mosaic
was uncovered in close proximity to the others. It depicts the torso of a large
male figure dressed in Late Roman military garb, including a white tunic and
red cloak. The tunic was adorned with an orbiculum (roundel)—an
apotropaic symbol worn by soldiers in the Late Roman army to ward off
evil—and cinched by a thick decorated belt. Unfortunately, the head of
this figure did not survive, and there is no identifying inscription. However,
near the soldier’s feet there is a depiction of two pairs of foxes tied
together by their tails to lighted torches. This identifies the scene as a depiction
of Samson exacting retribution against the Philistines by tying three hundred
foxes in pairs to torches and releasing them into nearby agricultural fields, a
story told in Judges 15:1–5.55

The significance of this find is still being researched, but
it is clearly a rare and important contribution to the study of ancient
synagogue art and liturgy. Because of prohibitions of figural decoration in
rabbinic literature during this period, the presence of such motifs in
synagogue art has long been a surprising phenomenon. Scholars traditionally
thought that ancient Judaism was aniconic on the assumption that most Jews
followed the rulings of the rabbis as found in Talmudic texts. However,
synagogue excavations from recent decades have shown that many Jewish communities
in late antiquity either ignored or violated rabbinic rulings and used human,
animal, and cosmic art in their synagogue worship.56 These mosaics reveal strands of Jewish thought and
practice that seem to have existed outside (or at least on the margins) of
rabbinic Judaism, showing that this was a time before the legal rulings of the
rabbis were normative. Therefore, the Huqoq mosaic appears to reflect a popular
(nonrabbinic) expression of religiosity, adds to a growing corpus of figural
images depicted in ancient synagogues, and further attests to the diversity of
Jewish thought in this period. It is particularly interesting because of the
rarity of Samson imagery in ancient Jewish art.

Samson in Byzantine Galilee—A Messianic Prototype?

As exciting as it is to
have found such a rare Samson image at Huqoq, this mosaic is not the first
depiction of the biblical judge found in a synagogue; it is the second. The
first was found a few years earlier in a synagogue at Wadi Hamam, a
contemporary Jewish village only 5 km south of Huqoq. There, alongside other images
of Israel’s biblical triumphs—including the drowning of Pharaoh’s army in
the Red Sea and the building of the Jerusalem temple—the mosaic floor
depicts Samson dressed in military garb, killing Philistines with the jawbone
of an ass (Judges 15:14–17).57 This scene, along with the illustration of the foxes at
Huqoq, recalls the biblical stories of Samson wreaking havoc among Israel’s
ancient Philistine enemies. Together, the mosaics at Huqoq and Wadi Hamam are
the only known images of Samson to appear in synagogues (or any other Jewish
context) in Israel.58 The discovery of these two rare images—both in synagogues dating to the
Late Roman-Byzantine periods and located in close proximity by the northwest
shore of the Sea of Galilee—raises an important question: Why would Jewish
villages in late antique Galilee have had such an interest in the story of
Samson? 59

The answer is not
immediately obvious. Samson had no historical ties to the region; his biblical
exploits among the Philistines occurred far to the south, and he belonged to
the Israelite tribe of Dan, which settled to the north.60 Furthermore, rabbinic literature from this period consistently reflects a
negative view of Samson by emphasizing his moral failings, using his sexual
transgressions as a warning against marrying Gentiles, and claiming that he was
punished by God for his sins.61 Because of their critical attitude toward Samson, rabbinic texts do not explain
his appearance in synagogue mosaics or how he was publicly celebrated in
Galilee. Nevertheless, something about the stories of Samson’s victories over
the Philistines resonated with some Jewish communities in eastern Lower
Galilee, thus begging the question of Samson’s significance in the region.

Ongoing research into
this question suggests that the Samson mosaics at Huqoq and Wadi Hamam may have
been intended to serve as apocalyptic or messianic images—biblical
stories used by these communities to foster hope in Israel’s eschatological redemption.
Traditionally, scholars assumed that apocalypticism and
messianism—worldviews that flourished in the late Second Temple period
(ca. 200 BCE to 70 CE)62—ended
with the failure of the Jewish revolts against Rome in the late first and early
second centuries. However, recent studies have shown that this was not the
case.63 While some Jews (including rabbinic circles) did ignore,
downplay, or discourage apocalyptic and messianic thought in the destructive
wake of the revolts,64 others continued to foster these hopes throughout the Late Roman, Byzantine,
and early Islamic periods. As in the Second Temple period, a series of historical
events from the third to seventh centuries—including the rise of Imperial
Christianity, the fall of the Jewish Patriarchate, the Byzantine-Persian wars,
and the Muslim conquest of Palestine—kept strands of apocalyptic thought
alive and continually prompted Jewish communities to reimagine the
eschatological scenario that would bring messianic redemption to Israel.65

As it turns out, much of this apocalyptic fervor flourished
in eastern Lower Galilee, the region in which the villages of Huqoq and Wadi
Hamam are located. There, some Jews imagined apocalyptic scenarios in which key
messianic events would occur in the vicinity of Tiberias and Mount Arbel, about
12 km south of Huqoq.66 These included local traditions that messianic instruments and figures
(including Elijah’s "staff of salvation" and the Josephite messiah) would
emerge from Tiberias to begin the eschatological drama, that Armilos (the
Jewish antichrist figure) would wage the battle of Gog and Magog in the Arbel
Valley, and that the Davidic messiah would descend upon Mount Arbel to deliver
Israel from its enemies, restore Jewish sovereignty, and rebuild the Jerusalem
temple.67 This regional apocalypticism made Tiberias and its environs the center of
nationalistic and messianic movements that sought to overthrow the Byzantine
Christian Empire and to reenthrone the Jewish priesthood.68

In this regional
atmosphere of nationalism, localized apocalyptic hopes, and messianic
speculation, depictions of Samson wreaking havoc among the Philistines easily
could have had contemporary social, political, and religious significance; a
biblical warrior who was born "to deliver Israel" (Judges 13:5) and who fought
against an occupying force may have resonated with Galilean Jews who saw
themselves as being under foreign occupation and who anxiously awaited their
own deliverance. Such an interpretation of the Samson mosaics at Huqoq and Wadi
Hamam—both within view of Tiberias and Mount Arbel—is supported by
the fact that liturgical texts used in synagogues during this period refer to
Samson in light of apocalyptic expectations and point to him as a biblical
prototype of the eschatological messiah.

Synagogue art and liturgy in this period often facilitated
popular messianic hopes by using biblical stories of Israel’s past triumphs to
encourage faith in God’s future redemption of the community. These sometimes
included depictions of David’s victories or Ezekiel’s vision of communal
restoration on synagogue walls and floors,69 as well as prayers and poetry recited in synagogue worship services that
expressed hope for future messianic redemption by recalling past episodes of
God’s deliverance.70 A survey of liturgical texts used in Galilee during this period indicates that
some congregations drew upon the story of Samson to foster such hopes in their
worship, thus helping to elucidate his appearance in synagogue mosaics in the

For example, Samson’s triumphs are evoked in the so-called Hellenistic
Synagogal Prayers
, a collection of third-century Jewish prayers from
Palestine that were preserved in the Christian Apostolic Constitutions (compiled in fourth-century Syria).71 Prayer 6 offers petitions for God to restore the Davidic monarchy, Zion,
and the temple, and to hear the prayers of the congregation. To encourage hope
in the fulfillment of these petitions, the prayer lists many of Israel’s biblical
heroes (including Moses, David, and Elijah) who were filled with God’s power
and who stand as evidence that God can perform similar miracles in the future.
Along with these legendary figures, the prayer mentions "Sampson, in his thirst
before his error," as an example of God’s ability to assist Israel in the past
and to fulfill eschatological hopes.72 Similarly, Prayer 7 lists "the days of the Judges" (implicitly including Samson)
as an example of God’s mercy, compassion, and deliverance "generation after
generation." 73

Samson is not the
central figure in these prayers, just as he is not the central figure on the
mosaic floors at Huqoq and Wadi Hamam. Rather, he is one of many biblical
heroes whose valiant acts epitomize God’s intervention on behalf of
Israel. Yet, by recalling his divine strength and his success in fighting
against the Philistines, the prayers use Samson and "the (other) Judges" as evidence
that God can hearken to the requests for national redemption offered by the
congregation. These prayers show that some congregations liturgically
celebrated the feats Samson accomplished "before his error" (his relationship
with Delilah) as an example of God’s power to assist the community. The
probable origin of these texts in Palestine during the Late Roman period suggests
that the synagogue congregations at Huqoq and Wadi Hamam may have uttered such
prayers—illustrated by their mosaic floors—as a part of their
worship services.74

Other liturgical texts go beyond this general use of the
Samson story and point to Samson as a biblical type of the coming messiah. This
theme is most prominent in the Palestinian targums—Aramaic translations
of the Hebrew Bible used in synagogue liturgy in late antique Galilee 75—which
present Samson as a divinely empowered deliverer of the past who prefigures the
future Davidic messiah. The association between Samson and the messiah is
introduced in the targumic expansions of Genesis 49, the biblical account in
which Jacob pronounces over each son a symbolic blessing meant to foreshadow
the destinies of the twelve tribes. Targums Neofiti and Pseudo-Jonathan expand the sequence by promising that these blessings would reveal God’s plans
for Israel’s eschatological redemption.76

After blessing Judah with the promise that the Davidic messiah
would come through his lineage (expanding the text of Genesis 49:8–12),
Jacob blesses Dan that his tribe would also produce a national deliverer (פרוקא) 77 whose acts of redemption would be temporary, but who would foreshadow the
ultimate messiah from Judah:

From those of the house of Dan shall
redemption arise, and a judge
. Together, all the tribes of the sons of Israel shall
obey him
. This shall be the redeemer who is to arise from the house
of Dan; he will be strong, exalted above all nations. He will be compared to
serpent that lies on the ground, and to a venomous serpent that
lies in wait at the crossroads
, that bites the horses in the heels
and out
of fear of it
the rider turns around and falls backward. He is Samson
bar Manoah, the dread of whom is upon his enemies and fear of whom is upon
those who hate him. He goes out to war against those that hate him and kills
kings together with rulers.
(Targum Neofiti Genesis
49:16–18) 78

From those of the house of Dan there
shall arise a man who
will judge his people with true
. As one, the tribes of Israel will obey him.
There will be a man who will be chosen and who will arise from those of the
house of
Dan. He will be comparable to the adder that lies at the crossroads and
to the heads of the
serpents that lie in wait by the path, biting
the horses in the heel, and out of fear of it the rider falls, turning backwards. Thus
shall Samson, son of Manoah, kill all the warriors of the Philistines, both
horsemen and foot soldiers. He will hamstring their horses and throw their
riders backwards.
(Targum Pseudo-Jonathan Genesis
49:16–18) 79

According to this tradition, Samson is the venomous
snake of Dan who would save Israel by biting the horse’s heel and causing its
rider (the Philistines) to fall backwards. Although Samson would not be the
messiah because his deliverance would only be "the redemption of an hour"
(i.e., temporary),80 he demonstrated that God could save Israel from its oppressive enemies, just as
many Jews in Byzantine Galilee hoped the messiah would do in their own

Another passage in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan also highlights Samson in this way and situates his victories in an
apocalyptic context. In its expansion of Deuteronomy 34:1–3 (Moses’s view
of the tribal allotments in the promised land), the targum describes Moses’s vision
of biblical deliverers who would come from the tribes of Israel and demonstrate
God’s power to fight Israel’s eschatological battles. Among these heroes,
Samson is again mentioned as a divinely empowered warrior from the tribe of Dan
who instills hope in Israel’s ultimate redemption:

And the Memra of the Lord
showed [Moses] all the strong ones of the land . . . and the
victories of Samson, son of Manoah, from the tribe of
. . . and all the kings of Israel and the kings of the house of Judah that
ruled until the last Temple was destroyed . . . and the oppression of
each successive generation [of Israel], and the punishment of Armalgos, the
wicked, and the wars of Gog. But in the time of their great privation, Michael
will arise to redeem with his (strong) arm.
Deuteronomy 34:1–3)82

Once again, the targum encourages the congregation to
trust in a messianic future by listing key biblical victories—including
those of Samson the Danite—as evidence that God can deliver the congregation
out of its current "oppression" just as he had for "each successive

These sources indicate that synagogue congregations in
Syria-Palestine during late antiquity liturgically celebrated the exploits of
Samson as an example of God’s power to deliver Israel in the past and as a
demonstration of his ability to do so again. This represents a much different
view of the biblical judge than is present in rabbinic literature, which
largely focused on Samson’s moral transgressions. Whereas many rabbis
apparently viewed Samson as a failed messiah whose death was a curse from God,83 other Jewish circles saw Samson as a successful (if temporary) redeemer of the
past who foreshadowed the eschatological messiah. Between these two views, the
synagogue congregations at Wadi Hamam and Huqoq clearly showed an affinity with
the tradition that viewed Samson as a protomessianic figure by depicting Samson
as a military hero and celebrating his victories.

Considered together, the synagogue mosaics and liturgical texts
seem to reflect a popular messianic view of Samson that was at odds with the
negative assessment of Samson that existed in rabbinic circles. This popular
view was particularly at home in the apocalyptic atmosphere of eastern Lower
Galilee during the third through seventh centuries, when some Jews in the
vicinity of Tiberias eagerly anticipated the overthrow of the Roman-Byzantine
Empire and the divine restoration of Jewish sovereignty. Based on this
confluence of evidence, it is reasonable to conclude that the congregations at
Huqoq and Wadi Hamam viewed Samson as a messianic type whose biblical victories
fostered hope in Israel’s imminent eschatological redemption. Although Samson
is not the central figure in either mosaic (in both synagogues he is depicted
in the aisles alongside other scenes), his exploits were part of a larger
gallery of biblical stories that celebrated Israel’s past triumphs and
foreshadowed Israel’s future deliverance.


This article has
summarized the past and current research relating to the village of Huqoq in
the biblical and postbiblical periods. Historical references to the site, the
early explorations and surveys of the village’s ancient remains, and the work
of the Huqoq Excavation Project (HEP) have illuminated our understanding of the
site’s history and enhanced our understanding of the socioreligious dynamics in
ancient Galilee. In particular, recent excavations conducted by the HEP are
making valuable contributions to ongoing scholarly debates regarding the dating
of monumental synagogues in the region, the establishment of a local pottery typology,
and the development of Jewish religious art in antiquity. This third contribution
is dramatically represented by the recent discovery of a synagogue mosaic that
depicts, among other things, Samson’s biblical exploits among the Philistines.
Although we do not yet know the full extent of this mosaic, it appears that
this rare Samson image fits within the context of localized apocalyptic traditions
and elucidates the messianic hopes that existed in the vicinity of Tiberias.

Much work remains to be
done in each of the research goals set by the HEP: the village requires more
extensive excavation to continue refining Huqoq’s stratigraphy and pottery
types; further excavations under the synagogue’s foundations and floor are required
to clarify the precise date of the building’s construction; and the remainder
of the synagogue’s mosaic floor must be uncovered to obtain a fuller
understanding of Huqoq’s religious activities. By the time this article is in
print, the 2013 excavation season will have concluded and will likely have shed
further light on each of these issues, providing more insights into ancient
Jewish village life and perhaps additional clarity on the perceptions of Samson
in Byzantine Galilee.

Matthew J. Grey is an assistant professor in the Department of
Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University.

Jodi Magness is the Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching
Excellence in Early Judaism in the Department of Religious Studies at the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Editors’ Note: The
HEP’s 2013 season enjoyed great success. Among other discoveries, this year’s
excavation of the synagogue at Huqoq uncovered a second mosaic of Samson near
the one discussed in this article. This second mosaic portrays Samson carrying
the gates of Gaza upon his shoulders (see Judges 16:3), with a (Philistine?)
horse rider fleeing the scene. This suggests that the synagogue floor was
decorated with a Samson cycle, similar to the church or synagogue mosaic floor
found at Mopsuestia in Asia Minor (see n58 above), but previously unattested in
Israel. Another mosaic discovered in the synagogue depicts warriors, elephants
adorned with shields, an elderly man seated on a throne flanked by young men,
and additional battle scenes, possibly representing a conflation of stories
from the apocryphal books of 1–4 Maccabees. For preliminary notices, see
Jason Brown, "Galilee Excavation Unearths Significant Discoveries," The
Universe, 23 July 2013, 1, 3, and Jodi Magness, "New Mosaics from
the Huqoq Synagogue," Biblical Archeology Review 39/5
(September–October 2013): 66–68.

1.   For discussions of these and
related excavations, see Douglas R. Edwards and C. Thomas McCollough, eds., Archaeology
and the Galilee: Texts and Contexts in the Greco-Roman and Byzantine Periods
(Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997); Eric M. Meyers, ed., Galilee
through the Centuries: Confluence of Cultures
(Winona Lake, IN:
Eisenbrauns, 1999); Jonathan L. Reed, Archaeology and the Galilean Jesus: A Re-examination of the Evidence (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press
International, 2000); Mordechai Aviam, ed., Jews, Pagans, and Christians in the Galilee:
25 Years of Archaeological Excavations and Surveys: Hellenistic to Byzantine
(Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2004).

2.   See the debate between Jodi
Magness, Eric Meyers, and James Strange in Judaism in Late Antiquity, vol. 4,
pt. 3, ed. Alan J. Avery-Peck and Jacob Neusner (Leiden: Brill, 2001),
1–63, 71–91; cf. David Milson, Art and Architecture of the Synagogue in Late
Antique Palestine: In the Shadow of the Church
(Leiden: Brill,
2007), 1–83.

3.   See Steven Fine, Art and
Judaism in the Greco-Roman World: Toward a New Jewish Archaeology
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); and Lee I. Levine, Visual Judaism
in Late Antiquity: Historical Contexts of Jewish Art
(New Haven:
Yale University Press, 2013).

4.   For example, see the studies
and different positions reflected in David Adan-Bayewitz, Common Pottery
in Roman Galilee: A Study of Local Trade
(Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan
University Press, 1993), and Jodi Magness, "The Pottery from the Village
of Capernaum and the Chronology of Galilean Synagogues," Tel Aviv 39/2 (2012): 110–22.

5.   See Martin Goodman, State and
Society in Roman Galilee A.D. 132–212
, 2nd ed. (London:
Mitchell, 2000), and Lee I. Levine, The Rabbinic Class of Roman Palestine in Late
(New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1989).

6.   For example, Uzi Leibner’s
survey of the settlements throughout eastern Lower Galilee includes valuable
discussion of the villages, trade networks, and demographics of the region; Uzi
Settlement and History in Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine Galilee: An
Archaeological Survey of the Eastern Galilee
(Tübingen: Mohr
Siebeck, 2009).

7.   Jodi Magness is joined as
codirector of the HEP by Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Senior staff members include Chad Spigel (area supervisor over the ancient
village), Matthew Grey (area supervisor over the ancient synagogue), Brian
Coussens (assistant area supervisor over the modern village), and research
specialists in ancient pottery, glass, botanical remains, animal bones, and
mosaics. Universities that participated in the HEP consortium in 2011 were the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Wofford College, and the
University of Toronto. They were joined in 2012 by Brigham Young University,
Trinity University (TX), and the University of Oklahoma (without Wofford

8.   The Septuagint gives the name
as Ιακανα (LXX Joshua 19:34), either providing a highly unusual transliteration of חוקקה or listing a different village entirely. The
identification of the biblical "Hukkok" with the Arab village of ‘Yaquq
is well documented in Nurit Lissovsky and Nadav Na’aman, "A New Look on
the Boundary System of the Twelve Tribes," Ugarit-Forschungen 35
(2003): 291–332 (esp. 293–97).

9.   Joshua’s claim that Huqoq
marked the western boundary of Naphtali has caused confusion among some
scholars since Huqoq is located farther east than would be expected for this
border. However, Lissovsky and Na’aman view this as evidence that the
boundaries between ancient Israelite tribes likely contained large gaps that
are not obvious in the biblical text; see Lissovsky and Na’aman, "New
Look," 293–97.

10.   The list of Asher’s Levitical
cities in 1 Chronicles 6 includes Huqoq (חוקק [MT 6:60]; Ακακ [LXX 6:75]), but this may reflect an orthographic mistake made by the
Chronicler since the same list in Joshua 21:31 has "Helkath (חלקת/Χελκατ)
and with its pasture lands" instead of Huqoq. See H. G. M. Williamson, 1 and 2
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 76; Sara Japhet, I and II
(Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 145;
Lissovsky and Na’aman, "New Look," 294. All biblical quotations in
this article are from the New Revised Standard Version.

11.   According to some secondary
scholarship, the site was called Hucuca (a transliteration of its
Hebrew name in Joshua 19:34) during the Early Roman period, but the ancient
support for this claim is not clear; see, for example, Walid Khalidi, ed., All That
Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948
(Washington, DC: Institute for Palestinian Studies, 1992), 546. Emmanuel
Damati, "Kefar Ekho-Huqoq: The Unknown Fortress of Josephus Flavius," Cathedra 39 (1986): 37–43 [Hebrew], suggested that Huqoq was Josephus’s "missing"
fortress of Caphareccho (Kαφαρεκχω)
from the late first century CE (Josephus, Jewish War 2.573; cf. Life 37), but this identification has been rejected by most scholars; see Leibner, Settlement and
, 153.

12.   Within view of the Sea of
Galilee, Huqoq is located 3.2 miles to the west of Capernaum (the hometown of
Peter and base for Jesus’s Galilean ministry) and 2.8 miles to the north of
Magdala (the hometown of Mary Magdalene).

13.   Nurit Lissovsky, "Hukkok,
Yaquq and Habakkuk’s Tomb: Changes over Time and Space," Palestine Exploration Quarterly 140/2 (2008): 103–18 (esp. 106–7), suggests that ancient
pavement and stone steps associated with the nearby "Tomb of Habakkuk"
might date from the Roman period but acknowledges that such a road does not
appear in Yoram Tsafrir, Leah Di Segni, and Judith Green, Tabula Imperii Romani Iudaea-Palestina: Eretz Israel in the
Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine Periods; Map and Gazetteer
(Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and
Humanities, 1994), map 4. For an attempt to trace the routes Jesus traveled
along the Sea of Galilee, see Bargil Pixner, Paths of
the Messiah and Sites of the Early Church from Galilee to Jerusalem
(San Francisco: Ignatius, 2010), 53–76.

14.   Lissovsky and Na’aman, "New
Look," 294–95; Leibner, Settlement and History,

15.   y. Sanhedrin 3:10,

16.   y. Pesahim 1:4, 27c.

17.   y. Shevi’it 9:1, 38c.
This story shows that mustard seed was classified by the rabbis as a wild plant
(and not a cultivated vegetable) for halakhic purposes; see Leibner, Settlement and
, 153–54.

18.   Lissovsky and Na’aman, "New
Look," 295; Lissovsky, "Hukkok," 105; Leibner, Settlement and
, 153.

19.   Itzhak Ben-Zvi, "The
Jewish Settlement at Hukkok-Yaqûq," Bulletin of the Jewish Palestine Exploration
6 (1939): 30–33 [Hebrew]; Lissovsky, "Hukkok,"

20.   Documents show that in the
late sixteenth century ‘Yaquq had a population of close to 400 and paid taxes
on wheat, barley, olives, goats, beehives, and a grape or olive press.
According to surveys and government records from 1875 to 1945, its population
fluctuated between 150 to 200 villagers, possessed between twenty and thirty
stone dwellings, and farmed lands allotted for cereals and orchards. A kibbutz
was established 2 km to the southeast in 1943. In May 1948, Israeli Palmach
forces marched from Tiberias to Safed, resulting in the abandonment or
evacuation of many villages along the way (including ‘Yaquq); see Khalidi, All That Remains,

21.   See Victor Guérin, Description
géographique, historique et archéologique de la Palestine: Galilée
(Paris: L’imprimerie nationale, 1880), 354–59; Claude R. Conder and
H. H. Kitchener, The Survey of Western Palestine: Memoirs of the Topography,
Orography, Hydrography, and Archaeology: Volume 1: Galilee
Palestine Exploration Fund, 1881), 364–65, 420.

22.   Leibner, Settlement and
, 151.

23.   These ossuaries were made of
limestone, were roughly dressed, showed heavy chisel marks, and had vaulted
lids; see Mordechai Aviam and Danny Syon, "Jewish Ossilegium in Galilee,"
in What
Athens Has to Do with Jerusalem: Essays on Classical, Jewish, and Early
Christian Art and Archaeology in Honor of Gideon Foerster
, ed.
Leonard V. Rutgers (Leuven: Peeters, 2002): 168, 177–78; L. Y. Rahmani, A Catalogue of
Jewish Ossuaries in the Collections of the State of Israel
(Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority, 1994), 116 (no. 158/plate 22).

24.   B. Ravani and P. P. Kahane, "Rock-Cut
Tombs at Huqoq," ‘Atiqot 3 (1961): 121–47.

25.   Yigal Tepper and Yuval
Shahar, "Subterranean Hiding Complexes in the Galilee," in The Hiding
Complexes in the Judean Shephelah
, ed. Amos Kloner and Yigal Tepper
(Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1987), 279–326 (esp. 311–13)
[Hebrew]; Y. Tepper, G. Dar’in, and Y. Tepper, The Naḥal ‘Amud District:
Chapters on the Settlement Process
(Tel Aviv: 2000), 25, 84–85
[Hebrew]; Leibner, Settlement and History, 151.

26.   Zvi Ilan, Ancient Synagogues in Israel (Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defence, 1991), 122 [Hebrew]; Leibner, Settlement and History,
152. Unfortunately, the lintel fragment carved with a menorah has disappeared
from the site, and its location is presently unknown.

27.   Leibner, Settlement and
, 154–55, reported the dates and relative percentages
of his pottery sample as follows: Hellenistic (only two jars), Early Roman
(19%), Late Roman (43%), and Byzantine (roughly 25%). Based on this survey,
Leibner concluded that the Jewish settlement at Huqoq began sometime in the
Late Hellenistic period, continued to grow in the Early Roman period,
flourished to its greatest extent in the Late Roman period, and gradually
declined throughout the Byzantine period. Leibner claimed that these findings
support his position that Lower Galilee experienced a general decline in
population by the fifth century CE, a position challenged by others; see Jodi
Magness, "Did Galilee Decline in the Fifth Century? The Synagogue at
Chorazin Reconsidered," in Religion, Ethnicity, and Identity in Ancient
, ed. Jürgen Zangenberg, Harold W. Attridge, and Dale B.
Martin (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007), 259–74; and "Did Galilee
Experience a Settlement Crisis in the Mid-Fourth Century?" in Jewish
Identities in Late Antiquity: Studies in Memory of Menahem Stern
ed. Lee I. Levine and Daniel R. Schwartz (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009),

28.   Leibner, Settlement and
, 151.

29.   Lissovsky, "Hukkok,"
105; Leibner, Settlement and History, 155–58.

30.   This suggestion was first
made by Albrecht Alt in 1931 following his visit to the site; see Albrecht Alt,
"Das Institut in den Jahren 1929 und 1930," Palästinajahrbuch 27 (1931): 5–50, esp. 40n2; cf. Tepper, Dar’in, and Tepper, Naḥal ‘Amud
, 25, 45.

31.   Jodi Magness, "Huqoq—2011
Preliminary Report," Excavations and Surveys in Israel (Hadashot
) 124 (2012); Jodi Magness, Shua Kisilevitz, Matthew
Grey, Chad Spigel, and Brian Coussens, "Huqoq—2012 Preliminary
Report," Excavations and Surveys in Israel (Hadashot
) 125 (2013); for additional and more popularized
reports, see Matthew J. Grey, "Excavating an Ancient Jewish Village near
the Sea of Galilee," BYU Religious Education Review 5/1 (2012): 6–7;
and Jodi Magness, "Samson in the Synagogue," Biblical
Archaeology Review
39/1 (2013): 32–39, 66–67.

32.   Magness, "Huqoq—2011."

33.   Magness, "Huqoq—2011."

34.   The earliest and most
intriguing find from these early periods was a white stone mace head likely
dating to the Early Bronze Age. For this discovery and other data pertaining to
the structure, see Magness et al., "Huqoq—2012," and Magness, "Samson
in the Synagogue," 33–34.

35.   Magness, "Huqoq—2011."

36.   Magness, "Huqoq—2011."
For more of Shivtiel’s work on ancient hiding complexes in Galilee, see Yinon
Shivtiel, "Cliff Settlements, Shelters and Refuge Caves in the Galilee,"
in In
the Hill-Country, and in the Shephelah, and in the Arabah (Joshua 12, 8):
Studies and Researches Presented to Adam Zertal in the Thirtieth Anniversary of
the Manasseh Hill-Country Survey
, ed. Shay Bar (Jerusalem: Ariel
Publishing House, 2008), 223–35.

37.   Magness, "Huqoq—2011,"
and "Samson in the Synagogue," 34.

38.   David Amit and Yonatan Adler,
"The Observance of Ritual Purity after 70 CE: A Reevaluation of the
Evidence in Light of Recent Archaeological Discoveries," in "Follow
the Wise": Studies in Jewish History and Culture in Honor of Lee I. Levine
ed. Zeev Weiss, Oded Irshai, Jodi Magness, and Seth Schwartz (Winona Lake, IN:
Eisenbrauns, 2010), 121–43.

39.   Magness, "Huqoq—2011."

40.   Magness, "Huqoq—2011,"
and "Samson in the Synagogue," 34–35.

41.   The modern village
excavations are also in Area 3000, with Brian Coussens (assistant area
supervisor) and Tawfiq De’adle (consultant) overseeing its excavation,
documentation, and preservation.

42.   Magness, "Huqoq—2011";
Magness et al., "Huqoq—2012"; Magness, "Samson in the
Synagogue," 36.

43.   Magness, "Huqoq—2011,"
and "Samson in the Synagogue," 35.

44.   Magness et al., "Huqoq—2012."
Underneath the synagogue’s foundation trench is an earlier occupational phase
attested by a column base, but excavations have not yet explored this level.

45.   Magness, "Samson in the
Synagogue," 35–36.

46.   Magness et al., "Huqoq—2012";
Orna Cohen—the site’s conservator—treated the plaster on the wall’s
interior as well as the mosaic floor.

47.   Magness, "Samson in the
Synagogue," 32, 36, points out that the volunteer who first discovered the
mosaic was Bryan Bozung, a Brigham Young University alumnus who is currently a
graduate student studying Second Temple Judaism at Yale University.

48.   Magness et al., "Huqoq—2012,"
and Magness, "Samson in the Synagogue," 36.

49.   For depictions of female
donors in Byzantine church mosaics in Israel and Jordan, see Karen Britt, "Fama
et Memoria: Portraits of Female Patrons in Mosaic Pavements of Churches in
Byzantine Palestine and Arabia," Medieval Feminist Forum 44/2
(2008): 119–43.

50.   Magness, "Samson in the
Synagogue," 38; Karen Britt, "The Huqoq Synagogue Mosaics," at (accessed 24 June

51.   Magness, "Samson in the
Synagogue," 38. For detailed analysis and interpretation of this
inscription, see David Amit, "Mosaic Inscription from a Synagogue Mosaic
at Horvat Huqoq," at (accessed 24 June 2013).

52.   This observation is made by
Amit, "Mosaic Inscription." The possible parallel passage in Ecclesiastes
6:7 reads, "R. Samuel said: However man toils and
accumulates [merit for the performance of] the precepts and good deeds in this
world, it is insufficient [to requite the boon granted him by God of] the
breath which comes from his mouth." This translation is from Abraham
Cohen, Midrash
Rabbah: Ecclesiastes
(London: Soncino, 1983), 161.

53.   "R. Hanina b. Isaac
said: All that a man toils for precepts and good deeds is FOR HIS MOUTH
. . . [but] the soul is aware that whatever it toils for is for
itself and therefore never has enough of Torah and good deeds. To what may the
matter be likened? To a villager who married a woman of royal lineage. Though
he bring her everything in the world, it is not esteemed by her at all. Why?
Because she is a king’s daughter [and is used to comforts]. So it is with the
soul; though you bring it all the luxuries in the world, they are nothing to
it. Why? Because it is of heavenly origin" (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 6:7).

54.   Magness et al., "Huqoq—2012,"
and Magness, "Samson in the Synagogue," 38.

55.   Magness et al., "Huqoq—2012,"
and Magness, "Samson in the Synagogue," 38–39.

56.   For an overview of
scholarship on early Jewish synagogue art, see Lee I. Levine, The Ancient
Synagogue: The First Thousand Years
, 2nd ed. (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 2005), 593–612.

57.   Uzi Leibner and Shulamit
Miller, "A Figural Mosaic in the Synagogue at Khirbet Wadi Hamam," Journal of
Roman Archaeology
23/1 (2010): 238–64.

58.   There is a Byzantine period
structure in Mopsuestia (Misis) that had a mosaic floor depicting an entire
cycle of Samson scenes from Judges 14–16 in its northern side aisle,
including Samson and the foxes (scene III), Samson killing Philistines (scene
IV), and accompanying verses from the Septuagint. However, it is unclear if
this building was a synagogue or a church. For arguments in favor of the
latter, see Ludwig Budde, Antike Mosaiken in Kilikien, I (Recklinghausen:
Bongers, 1969); and Ernst Kitzinger, "Observations on the Samson Floor at
Mopsuestia," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 27 (1973): 133–44.
Arguments for the building being a synagogue can be found in Michael Avi-Yonah,
"The Mosaics of Mopsuestia—Church or Synagogue?" in Ancient
Synagogues Revealed
, ed. Lee I. Levine (Jerusalem: Israel
Exploration Society, 1981), 186–90.

59.   The following discussion
summarizes a more detailed study that will be published in Matthew J. Grey, "’The
Redeemer to Arise from the House of Dan': Samson, Apocalypticism, and Messianic
Hopes in Late Antique Galilee," Journal for the Study of Judaism (forthcoming).

60.   Elchanan Reiner and David
Amit, "Samson Follows the Sun to Galilee," Ha’aretz, 6 October
2012, claim that local Galilean tradition viewed Samson’s exploits as occurring
in this region, but the evidence they have published so far is thin and
unconvincing. Perhaps their future publications will more clearly articulate
and strengthen this suggestion.

61.   For example, m. Sotah 1:8 and t.
1:8 provide examples of how Samson was divinely punished for
his attraction to foreign women, including the claim that Samson lost his sight
because he followed the lust of his eyes by marrying a Philistine (cf. Genesis Rabbah 67:13, 85:6; Numbers
9:24); b. Sotah 10b similarly describes Samson as a cripple
who was cursed by God for his transgressions (cf. b. Sanhedrin 105a).
For more on the negative assessment of Samson in rabbinic literature, see
Shimon Fogel, "’Samson’s Shoulders Were Sixty Cubits': Three Issues about
Samson’s Image in the Eyes of the Rabbis" (MA thesis, Ben-Gurion
University, 2009) [Hebrew] and Richard G. Marks, "Dangerous Hero: Rabbinic
Attitudes toward Legendary Warriors," Hebrew Union College Annual 54
(1983): 181–94.

62.   For an overview of early
Jewish apocalypticism, see John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction
to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature
, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI:
Eerdmans, 1998).

63.   John C. Reeves, Trajectories
in Near Eastern Apocalyptic: A Postrabbinic Jewish Apocalypse Reader
(Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), 1.

64.   Rabbinic statements that
discourage apocalyptic and messianic speculation include t. Abodah
1:19; y. Berakhot 1:1, 2c; b. Sanhedrin 97b; Ecclesiastes
11:5–29. For discussion of early rabbinic resistance to
apocalypticism and messianism, see Michael Avi-Yonah, The Jews of Palestine:
A Political History from the Bar Kokhba War to the Arab Conquest
York: Schocken Books, 1976), 69–71; Joseph Dan, "Armilus: The Jewish
Antichrist and the Origins and Dating of the Sefer Zerubbavel," in Toward the
Millennium: Messianic Expectations from the Bible to Waco
, ed. Peter
Schafer and Mark Cohen (Leiden: Brill, 1998), 73–104, esp. 75; Moshe
Idel, Messianic
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 42–45; Oded
Irshai, "Dating the Eschaton: Jewish and Christian Apocalyptic Calculations
in Late Antiquity," in Apocalyptic Time, ed. Albert I. Baumgarten
(Leiden: Brill, 2000), 113–53 (esp. 124, 129, 136).

65.   For more on Jewish
apocalypticism in late antiquity, see Reeves, Trajectories in Near Eastern Apocalyptic;
Avraham Grossman, "Jerusalem in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature,"
in The
History of Jerusalem: The Early Muslim Period, 638–1099
, ed.
Joshua Prawer and Haggai Ben-Shammai (New York: New York University Press,
1996), 295–310; Irshai, "Dating the Eschaton," 135, 139–53;
Oded Irshai, "The Earthquake in the Valley of Arbel: A Galilean
Apocalyptic Tradition, Its Historical Context and Liturgical Commemorative
Setting," Jerusalem Studies in Hebrew Literature and Folklore 25
(2012): 1–26 [Hebrew].

66.   See Robert L. Wilken, The Land
Called Holy: Palestine in Christian History and Thought
(New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1992), 207–8; Reeves, Trajectories in Near Eastern
, 29–39.

67.   These traditions are
reflected in the Sefer Zerubbabel, an apocalyptic text containing
material from the third through seventh centuries CE. For its full text and
translation, see Martha Himmelfarb, "Sefer Zerubbabel," in Rabbinic
Fantasies: Imaginative Narratives from Classical Hebrew Literature,
ed. David Stern and Mark Jay Mirsky (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society,
1990), 67–90; and Reeves, Trajectories in Near Eastern Apocalyptic,
51–66. For historical commentary, see Dan, "Armilus,"

68.   Events reflecting the
activities of these movements include the involvement of Tiberian priests in
Julian’s project to rebuild the Jerusalem temple in 363, an attempt led by
priests from Galilee to restore Jewish Jerusalem under the Empress Eudocia in
the mid-fifth century, and an attempt by Tiberian priests in the early sixth
century to establish an independent state in Yemen. Sources from this period
also indicate that these nationalist priestly circles from Tiberias included
apocalyptic visionaries who speculated on the timing of the messiah’s arrival;
see Oded Irshai, "Confronting a Christian Empire: Jewish Culture in the
World of Byzantium," in Cultures of the Jews: A New History, ed.
David Biale (New York: Schocken, 2002), 180–220 (esp. 193, 207–9);
and Matthew J. Grey, Jewish Priests and the Social History of Post-70 Palestine (PhD diss., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2011), 291–98.

69.   For these and other similar
images on the wall frescoes at Dura Europos, see Carl H. Kraeling, The
Excavations at Dura Europos, VIII Part I: The Synagogue
(New York:
KTAV, 1979), 66–239; Erwin R. Goodenough, Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman
(New York: Pantheon Books, 1953–68), 9:129,
10:74–97; and Kära L. Schenk, "Temple, Community, and Sacred
Narrative in the Dura-Europos Synagogue," Association for Jewish Studies
34/2 (2010): 195–229. For "messianic" images
of David in synagogue mosaics at Gaza and Meroth, see Alexei M. Sivertsev, Judaism and
Imperial Ideology in Late Antiquity
(Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2011), 172–212; Mosche Barasch, "The David Mosaic of Gaza,"
in Assaph:
Studies in Art History
(Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 1980),
1:1–42; and Zvi Ilan and Emmanuel Damati, Meroth: The Ancient Jewish
(Tel Aviv: Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel,
1987), 53–56 [Hebrew].

70.   Many of the hopes fostered by
apocalyptic circles found popular expression in the blessings of the ‘Amidah,
the central prayer in late antique synagogue worship. These include petitions
for the (re)appearance of a Davidic monarch, the restoration of Jewish
Jerusalem, and the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple; see Joseph Heinemann, Prayer in the
(Berlin: de Gruyter, 1977), 222–24; and Wilken, Land Called
, 137–38. By the fifth century, the blessings of the ‘Amidah were supplemented or replaced by liturgical poetry (piyyutim) that often
reflected popular messianic folklore and Galilean apocalyptic traditions; see
Joseph Yahalom, "The Temple and the City in Liturgical Hebrew Poetry,"
in Prawer and Ben-Shammai, History of Jerusalem, 270–94 (esp. 275–76),
and Joseph Yahalom, Poetry and Society in Jewish Galilee of Late Antiquity (Tel Aviv: Hikibbutz Hameuchad, 1999) [Hebrew].

71.   The Greek text of the prayers
can be found in Marcel Metzger, Les constitutions
apostoliques, Tome III (Livres VII et VIII)
, Sources Chrétiennes 336 (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1987), 86–88.
For the standard English translation, see D. A. Fiensy and D. R. Darnell, "Hellenistic
Synagogal Prayers," in The Old Testament
, ed. James
H. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday, 1985), 2:671–97. Historical and
textual analysis of these prayers can be found in David A. Fiensy, Prayers Alleged to Be Jewish: An Examination of the Constitutiones
(Chico, CA: Scholars
Press, 1985).

72.   Fiensy and Darnell, "Hellenistic
Synagogal Prayers," 684–85; Hellenistic Synagogal Prayer 6.1–2, 7 (Apostolic Constitutions 7.37.1–5).

73.   Fiensy and Darnell, "Hellenistic
Synagogal Prayers," 685–86; Hellenistic Synagogal Prayer 7.2–5 (Apostolic

74.   For the dating and provenance
of these prayers, see Fiensy, Prayers Alleged to Be Jewish,

75.   For a detailed overview of
scholarship on the targums, see Paul V. M. Flesher and Bruce Chilton, The Targums: A
Critical Introduction
(Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2011).

76.   Targum Pseudo-Jonathan Genesis 49:1, cited in Michael Maher, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: Genesis (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992), 157; cf. Targum Neofiti Genesis
49:1, cited in Martin McNamara, Targum Neofiti 1: Genesis (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992), 215–16.

77.   For uses of the term פרוקא and its variants in reference to redemption or a redeemer figure, see Marcus
Jastrow, A
Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic
(New York: Judaica Press, 1996), 1148 and 1221.

78.   McNamara, Targum Neofiti,
221–22; the italicized words and phrases represent targumic expansions of
or alterations to the biblical text.

79.   Maher, Targum
, 160.

80.   Targum Pseudo-Jonathan Genesis 49:16–18, cited in Maher, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, 160; cf. Genesis Rabbah 98:14.

81.   According to some scholars,
the targumic expansion of Dan’s blessing to refer to Samson was intended to be
a "poem of messianic expectation," presenting Samson as a "messiah
figure in miniature" who was sent by God at a time when Israel’s existence
was at stake; see Roger Syren, The Blessings in the Targums: A Study on the
Targumic Interpretations of Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 33
(Abo: Abo
Akademi, 1986), 76–77, 81, 113–15; Matthew Black, An Aramaic
Approach to the Gospels and Acts
(Oxford: Clarendon, 1967; repr.
Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998), 305–9.

82.   Ernest G. Clarke, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: Deuteronomy (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998), 104.

83.   See Marks, "Dangerous
Hero," 181–94, and Shimon Fogel, "Samson as
Messiah—Another Look," Jewish Studies Internet
11 (2012): 1–25