AIA Presents: The Zeisler Lecture: Ra’anan S. Boustan, Greek Kings and Judaean Priests in the Late Antique Synagogue: The Newly Discovered ‘Elephant’ Mosaic at Huqoq

Thursday, March 23, 7:30pm

“Greek Kings and Judaean Priests in the Late Antique Synagogue: The Newly Discovered ‘Elephant’ Mosaic at Huqoq”                

Prof. Ra’anan Boustan (Dept. of History, Princeton University)

Location: Buchanan A 102, 1866 Main Mall, UBC, Vancouver

*Itta and Eliezer Zeisler Memorial Lecture, co-sponsored by the UBC Diamond Chair in Jewish Law and Ethics*

The 2013-2015 excavations in the Late Roman (fifth century C.E.) synagogue at Huqoq (northern Israel) revealed a mosaic depicting a subject that is unparalleled in ancient art. The mosaic panel displays an enigmatic narrative over three registers of unequal size. Although there are no inscriptions identifying the episodes represented, the presence of battle elephants and period-specific dress sets the Huqoq mosaic apart in the corpus of ancient Jewish art. In all other known synagogues, the subject matter depicted in narrative scenes derives from the Hebrew Bible. In this paper, we present what we believe are the likeliest interpretations of the events portrayed in this mosaic. The iconography and composition of the mosaic, when set alongside Jewish and non-Jewish textual traditions, suggest that it portrays an historical event, either real or invented, from the late Classical or Hellenistic periods. The memorialization of a non-biblical event in a synagogue challenges conventional scholarly assumptions concerning the historical consciousness of Jews in late antique Galilee. In this presentation, we suggest that Jewish knowledge of and interest in the past were not governed solely by the reiteration of biblical narrative in liturgy, homily, and art, but also incorporated historical events and figures from the relatively recent past.

This event is free and open to the public. No RSVP required. Light refreshments to follow.