News From the Field: Huqoq Excavation Project, Part I by Matthew J. Grey; Chad Spigel

Located to the northwest of the Sea of Galilee is the ancient village of Huqoq—a small agricultural site that was inhabited in the biblical, postbiblical, medieval, and modern periods. Huqoq is mentioned briefly in the Hebrew Bible as belonging to the tribal lands of Naphtali (Josh 19:34, though compare 1Chr 6:75, where it is said to belong to the tribe of Asher), and archaeological surveys indicate that it flourished as a Jewish agricultural village in the late Hellenistic and Roman eras.

Huqoq is not mentioned by name in the New Testament, but its close proximity to Capernaum and Magdala places the village in the heart of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. References to Huqoq in rabbinic literature (for example, y. Shevi’it 9:1, 38c) indicate that the village continued to be inhabited by Jews in the late Roman and Byzantine periods, before it became the Muslim village of ‘Yaquq (an Arabic variation on the earlier Hebrew name) sometime in the Middle Ages. Ottoman and British Mandatory documents show that ‘Yaquq was a small Muslim agricultural village until Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, when it was abandoned; it was bulldozed in 1968.

Huqoq was an ideal candidate for archaeological excavation for several reasons: the occupational history of the site, the visible remains among the surface rubble, its current accessibility, and the fact that it was previously unexcavated. Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill organized the Huqoq Excavation Project (HEP) and began excavating the site in the summer of 2011. HEP is a group effort that includes Brigham Young University, Trinity University (Texas), the University of Toronto, and the University of Wyoming. In 2011 the consortium included Wofford College, and in 2012–13, the University of Oklahoma.

The initial goals of the HEP were threefold: to locate and excavate the village’s ancient synagogue in order to clarify the dating of Galilean-type synagogues; to excavate part of the ancient village to provide a context for the synagogue and refine the chronology of local pottery types; and to preserve the history of the pre-1948 village of ‘Yaquq through excavation, archival research, and the collection of oral histories. The HEP has now completed three seasons of excavations, and already these goals are being met and exceeded in exciting ways.

During the first three seasons, excavations in the area overlying the ancient synagogue uncovered rooms and courtyards dating to the 19th and 20th centuries. The discoveries include tabuns (clay ovens); small finds such as keys, coins, and lice combs; and a 19th-century musket and musket balls, all shedding light on village life during the Ottoman period. Insights into the ancient Jewish village of Huqoq have come from excavations some distance to the east of the ancient synagogue, which have exposed numerous rooms and the central courtyard(s) of one or more domestic structures from the late Roman period and have provided large quantities of pottery and small finds that clarify the dynamics of Galilean village life in antiquity. Other features of the ancient village include miqva’ot (Jewish ritual baths), tombs, agricultural installations, and an underground hiding complex used by villagers during the First or Second Jewish Revolt against Rome.

Excavations have succeeded in locating the village’s ancient synagogue. This monumental building dates to the fifth century C.E. and was constructed of large ashlar blocks coated with a thick layer of white plaster on the interior. During the second and third seasons of the HEP, excavations uncovered portions of the synagogue’s mosaic floor, which contained biblical and possibly apocryphal scenes adorning the aisles. So far, these scenes have included portraits of female faces, a Hebrew inscription, depictions of Samson’s victories over the Philistines (the episodes of the foxes and the gate of Gaza from Judg 15-16), and a possible collage of martyr and battle scenes from 1-4 Maccabees. Needless to say, these mosaics will shed valuable light on our understanding of Jewish art and synagogue worship in late antiquity. In subsequent articles we will explore specific aspects of these discoveries and the impact they are having on the study of ancient Judaism.

Matthew J. Grey, Chad Spigel, "Huqoq Excavation Project, Part I", n.p. [cited 13 Dec 2017]. Online: http://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/places/related-articles/huqoq-excavation

Contributors

Matthew J. Grey

Matthew J. Grey
Assistant Professor, Brigham Young University

Matthew J. Grey is an assistant professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. He is also an area supervisor for the Huqoq Excavation Project.

Chad Spigel

Chad Spigel
Assistant Professor, Trinity University

Chad Spigel is an assistant professor of religion at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. His book, Ancient Synagogue Seating Capacities: Methodology, Analysis and Limits, was published by Mohr Siebeck in 2012.   

A site where older artifacts are dug up or otherwise revealed.

The historical period from the beginning of Western civilization to the start of the Middle Ages.

A large, hewn stone block often found in monumental architecture.

Relating to the Byzantine empire, which ruled the Eastern Mediterranean from the fifth century CE to 1453; its capital was Byzantium (modern Istanbul).

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

Of or relating to Greek culture, especially ancient Greece after Alexander the Great.

The religion and culture of Jews. It emerged as the descendant of ancient Israelite Religion, and is characterized by monotheism and an adherence to the laws present in the Written Torah (the Bible) and the Oral Torah (Talmudic/Rabbinic tradition).

Period of history between classical antiquity and the Middle Ages, roughly from 250 to 750 C.E.

Of or relating to the Middle Ages, generally from the fifth century to the fifteenth century C.E. and overlapping somewhat with late antiquity.

The historical period generally spanning from the fifth century to the fifteenth century C.E. in Europe and characterized by decreases in populations and the degeneration of urban life.

Service or a religious vocation to help others.

Artwork composed of small pieces of material—glass, stone, pottery—arranged in patterns or depicting persons and scenes.

A collection of first-century Jewish and early Christian writings that, along with the Old Testament, makes up the Christian Bible.

(adj.) Of or related to the empire founded by Turks at the turn of the 14th century C.E. and lasting into the early 20th century. (n.) One from that empire.

Of or related to history after the writing of the canonical Bible; can also mean transcending a culture that focuses on the Bible.

Related to the rabbis, who became the religious authorities of Judaism in the period after the destruction of the second temple in 70 C.E. Rabbinic traditions were initially oral but were written down in the Mishnah, the Talmud, and various other collections.

Collective ceremonies having a common focus on a god or gods.

The Jewish revolt led by Bar Kokhba against Rome, from 132 to 135 C.E. The revolt ended with the complete destruction of Jerusalem.

Related to tribes, especially the so-called ten tribes of Israel.

God as expressed in three persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit.

Josh 19:34

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1Chr 6:75

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Judg 15-16

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