You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Biblical 'Spies' Revealed in 1,500-Year-Old Mosaic

National Geographic logo National Geographic 11/07/2018 Kristin Romey

UP NEXT
UP NEXT
Video provided by Newsweek

Noah's ark, the splitting of the Red Sea, perhaps even a visit from Alexander the Great: Since 2012, these colorful scenes have slowly emerged as archaeologists excavate the elaborate mosaic floor of a 1,500-year-old synagogue in Israel's Lower Galilee region.

The latest scene-stealer? Moses' spies.

a close up of an animal: The ancient Hebrew inscription "a pole between two" references the Biblical story of Moses sending spies into Canaan. They return with bunches of grapes so large they require two men to carry. © Photograph by Oded Balilty, National Geographic The ancient Hebrew inscription "a pole between two" references the Biblical story of Moses sending spies into Canaan. They return with bunches of grapes so large they require two men to carry. The mosaic scene, which depicts two men carrying a pole laden with grapes, was recently discovered during the ongoing investigations at Huqoq, the site of the synagogue excavation, according a release issued today by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. An inscription in Hebrew above the men reads “a pole between two”—a reference to the biblical passage Numbers 13:23.

In the Book of Numbers, Moses sends scouts up into the land of Canaan following the Exodus from Egypt. The spies returned with tales of an abundant land of milk and honey—with bunches of grapes so large they required two men to carry. Most of the scouts, however, were uncertain that they could conquer Canaan and wandered in the wilderness for 40 years as a result.

a group of people sitting at a beach: Archaeologists have been excavating the synagogue at the ancient site of Huqoq in Israel since 2012. © Photograph by Oded Balilty, National Geographic Archaeologists have been excavating the synagogue at the ancient site of Huqoq in Israel since 2012.

The “unparalleled” finds at Huqoq contradict the idea that Jewish settlements in Galilee suffered as the influence of Christianity grew in the region, says archaeologist Jodi Magness, director of the Huqoq excavations. Not only is the artwork in the synagogue of exceptional quality, but it also highlights a rich visual culture at a time when Jewish art is believed to have shunned images.

The Huqoq mosaics, which have been excavated with support from the National Geographic Society, even contain a nonbiblical scene that Magness believes represents a fabled visit to the region by Alexander the Great.

“This just enriches what we know about Judaism in late antiquity—how vibrant and dynamic and diverse it is,” she says.

While excavations at Huqoq will continue in 2019, Magness is reluctant to speculate what may be uncovered next: “I can't say what we expect to find, because everything we're finding is unexpected.”

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From National Geographic

National Geographic
National Geographic
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon