Zev Radovan

Hammath Tiberias synagogue. Black basalt walls from an eighth-century A.D. synagogue scar the splendid mosaics that cover almost the entire floor of the third- or early-fourth-century A.D. synagogue. An elaborately detailed zodiac dominates the earlier building’s main hall. Above the zodiac, a mosaic panel depicts an Ark of the Law—a cabinet that housed the Torah scroll—flanked by Jewish ritual objects, including a pair of enormous candelabra (menorahs), incense shovels, shofars (ram’s horns) and palm fronds tied with other greens used during the festival of Succot. This panel is directly in front of a small room (not visible in this photo) that Moshe Dothan, excavator of the synagogue, suggests was the real-life embodiment of the mosaic scene; Dothan says that this room held a wooden Ark and was flanked by two huge menorahs (menorot, in Hebrew). As proof, Dothan points to the plain black mosaic outline of a square around a faint yellowish circle, which is aligned with the left wall of the small room. The circle has a small black dot in the center and is enclosed within a square. Dothan says this faint circle could have been a place marker for one of the real menorahs. The portion of floor where the other menorah would have stood has been destroyed. Between the two points where the menorahs would have stood, a small section of mosaic floor from an earlier synagogue, probably dating to the second or early third century A.D., has been revealed by excavation.