Biblical Archaeology Review 37:1, January/February 2011

Strata: King David Gets a Facelift

In 1965 Egyptian archaeologists discovered a mosaic in an ancient synagogue in Gaza. Only a few distorted black-and-white photographs remain from that initial excavation.

When the excavation was first published, in 1966 in the Italian journal Orientalia, the structure was identified as an ancient church, and the mosaic’s central figure as a female saint playing the harp, surrounded by animals. When Hebrew University professor Michael Avi-Yonah saw the photos, however, he quickly read the Hebrew inscription by the harpist’s head that says “David” and recognized that this was instead a depiction of the famous Israelite king and musician, and that the structure was in fact an ancient synagogue.

Not long after Israel took control of Gaza in the 1967 Six-Day War, Israeli archaeologists hurried to the site, only to find that the mosaic had been badly damaged and several areas, including David’s head and one of his hands, were now gone.

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