Amikam Schub

Sculpted pictures in high relief were all but obliterated from these stones in the eighth century by zealous iconoclasts. Originally part of an arch in the synagogue, the stones still show some details: leaves and a tipped bucket in the stone at left, and in the center stone a pomegranate, upper left, and a fish tail, lower left.

The decorative motif on this arch was probably a zodiac. In the reconstruction drawing the artist shows this arch in the pediment above the portico. The question arises, what is a zodiac doing in a synagogue? And Meroth is not the only example; zodiacs decorate other ancient synagogues. There are theories, but no firm answer. Perhaps the zodiac was used to reckon time. Or did belief in magic coexist with Judaism at the time? Or perhaps the zodiac described the divine order of the heavens as a symbol of God’s deeds on earth.