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The Wonder and Beauty of Israel’s Old, Old Mosaics

Treasures unearthed in a timeless land.

by
P. David Hornik

Bio

June 16, 2013 - 8:00 am
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In the fall of 1983 we took a sort of pilot tour of Israel, a year before moving here. For me, naturally, as someone who had never been outside of North America, it was all a breathtaking experience.

Perhaps most amazing of all, though, was our visit to Masada—the mountain fortress by the Dead Sea where, somewhat over two thousand years ago, a group of Jewish guerrillas plus their families committed mass suicide rather than be taken captive by the Romans. Masada has remains of the synagogue, storehouses, and bathhouses the rebels set up in the years they hid out there. It offers stunning views of the surrounding, austerely beautiful desert countryside.

Yet for me the most arresting thing at Masada was not any of this, but something seemingly much more plain—one (I no longer know which) of its mosaic floors, which were laid in the Herodian period about a century before the rebels were there.

As mosaics go, these—the one on this page is an example—aren’t particularly impressive. No, what got to me was a shock of intimacy—intimacy with an ancient person, very possibly a Hebrew-speaking Jew, possibly even a forefather of mine, who had once been there toiling over the details of that very mosaic floor I was looking at.

Masada with its wonders, including its mosaics, was excavated in the early 1960s. From the 1920s to the present, though, many other mosaic floors of ancient synagogues, churches, and pagan structures—generally dating back about 1500 years—have been found in the Holy Land. They offer that same thrill of communion with an unknown, ancient artist along with much richer and more artistically accomplished contents.

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All Comments   (6)
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She is more beautiful and more "modern" than Mona.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Very cool, thanks for sharing these great reports from Israel. It would be interesting to know to what degree ancient Israel was economicly and socially intergrated into the overall Roman Empire. I imagine boats sailing he Med Sea w/ people and cargo and tax collectors from Rome.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There was indeed a good deal of integration and interaction. "Judeans" - people ethnically and religiously linked to the land of Judea - were found scattered across the Roman Empire. By some estimates, 5-10% of the Empire's population were Jews or people who'd taken on Jewish practices.

Even before the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in the year 70, there were major settlements of Jews in Alexandria and Rome, in Anatolia and North Africa (including Cyrene - present day Cyrenaica in eastern Libya) and as far west as Gaul. Before the Temple's destruction they constituted a Diaspora, not an Exile, that maintained an active connection to the homeland.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
My impression is that there was a lot of integration and interaction. Thanks!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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