Ra‘anan S. Boustan, Blood on the Floor: Violence, Liturgy, and Historical Memory in the Huqoq Synagogue

2017 Zeisler Lecture:

Ra‘anan S. Boustan (UCLA/Princeton)
Blood on the Floor: Violence, Liturgy, and Historical Memory in the Huqoq Synagogue

Buchanan C203 1866 Main Mall, UBC, Vancouver

This event is free and open to the public. No RSVP required. This event is sponsored by the Itta and Eliezer Zeisler Memorial Lecture Fund, UBC Department of Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies, and the UBC Diamond Chair in Jewish Law and Ethics.

The ongoing excavations, directed by Jodi Magness, in the fifth-century synagogue at Huqoq in lower Galilee have revealed a series of impressive floor mosaics. Several of the panels employ martial or violent imagery or refer to narratives in which the Israelites or Jews inflict violence on their enemies. The theme is present in the east aisle in a pair of scenes that depicts episodes from the life of Samson as well as in a panel that portrays a military encounter between armed Judaeans and a Greek army. The theme emerges again in the nave of the synagogue, where a panel depicts the violent drowning of the pharaoh’s army in the waters of the Sea of Reeds during the Israelite exodus from Egypt. This presentation considers what this violent or imagery can tell us about the formation of Jewish community and identity in late antique Palestine. We argue that, although the Huqoq mosaics invoke a heroic past during which Jews (or their ancestors) violently confronted the threat posed by the presence of “foreigners,” they also celebrate the possibility of ritualized friendship or military alliance. In juxtaposing blood spilled in battle with scenes of mutual recognition, the mosaics reflect the complex strategies of confrontation and accommodation pursued by Galilean Jews within the context of Late Roman Palestine. The Huqoq finds thus demonstrate how idioms of violence in mosaic art served as a resource for communal self-fashioning.

Ra‘anan Boustan is an Associate Professor at Princeton University. His research and teaching explore the dynamic intersections between Judaism and other Mediterranean religious traditions. He is the author of From Martyr to Mystic: Rabbinic Martyrology and the Making of Merkavah Mysticism (2005), has published widely in leading journals such as Harvard Theological Review, The Jewish Quarterly Review, and Medieval Encounters, and has co-edited eight volumes, most recently a special issue of the journal Archiv für Religionsgeschichte on “Authoritative Traditions and Ritual Power in the Ancient World” (2015).