Biblical Archaeology Review 26:5, September/October 2000

The Sepphoris Synagogue Mosaic

Abraham, the Temple and the sun god—they’re all in there

By Zeev Weiss

Sepphoris—“the ornament of all Galilee”1—is a city of mosaics. It seems that wherever excavators dig they turn up mosaics. More than 40 mosaic floors, many of them extremely elaborate, have been uncovered to date. BAR readers are already familiar with the mosaic scene that features the lovely woman known as the “Mona Lisa of the Galilee”2 and with the scenes that decorate the Nile festival building.3 To these masterpieces we can now add another stunning example of mosaic art: a 44-by-15-foot carpet that covered the floor of a fifth- to seventh-century C.E. synagogue.

The Sepphoris synagogue mosaic is remarkable in several respects: It is large and in many places relatively well preserved. Even where it is not well preserved, we can puzzle out most of its content. Most of it is distinctly Jewish, with Biblical characters and Jewish religious objects. But some of it seems oddly pagan: It contains a large zodiac with—surprisingly—the sun god at its center. As we shall see, the mosaic as a whole bears a powerful message, one that would have reverberated strongly with the hopes of its congregants.

Join the BAS Library!

Already a library member? Log in here.

Institution user? Log in with your IP address.