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Sepphoris Synagogue Mosaic on Display in Jerusalem (1997)

Word comes from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem that a beautiful and rare mosaic is being exhibited to the public for the first time. The mosaic was found in Sepphoris by an expedition from the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University, directed by Dr Ze’ev Weiss and Prof. Ehud Netzer. It is a floor mosaic of a synagogue and dates to the fifth century AD. Located in the corner of a well planned quarter of the city, the mosaic shows three major themes: 1. Biblical scenes from the time of Abraham: One scene depicts the binding of Isaac on Mount Moriah; another scene depicts an angel’s visit to Abraham and Sarah.

2. A large and very detailed depiction of a zodiac, the most dazzling detail is the central scene depicting Helios’ chariot, and above it the sun and the moon. 3. Different scenes all expressing Jewish rituals: a menorah, various votive offerings, a facade, perhaps of the Temple, and a scene that illustrates the Biblical description in Exodus 29 of the consecration of Aaron and his sons to the service of

the Tabernacle.

Some of these scenes have already been found in synagogue mosaics from the Byzantine Period, and on frescoes in the synagogue of Dura-Europus, but never before have all the scenes been seen together, and so relatively well preserved.

The message of the mosaic

The excavators interpret the scenes as expressing a “single clear

message: God, Who stands at the centre of creation has chosen the

Jewish people, and because of His promise to Abraham on Mount

Moriah, he will rebuild the Temple in the future and redeem Abraham’s descendants.” They believe that this concept, which also appears in the prayer commentary and liturgical poetry (piyyut) of the time, was conveyed to the Jewish community of Sepphoris through artistic means by the mosaic.

At the end of its display in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem it will be returned to its original site, Sepphoris, and join the more than 40 other mosaics found at the tel. The Ministry of Tourism is developing the site for visitors. A more detailed description of the mosaic and its interpretation is available in the book published by Weiss and Netzer: Promise and Redemption – A Synagogue Mosaic from Sepphoris.

The central piece of the Mosaic floor from Sepphoris, depicting the Zodiac.

The central piece of the Mosaic floor from Sepphoris, depicting the Zodiac.