Garo Nalbandian

Synagogue at Hammath Tiberias. Beautiful and elaborate mosaics decorate the floor of a synagogue at this site on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. The name Hammath Tiberias means “Hot Tiberias” and refers to the hot springs that lie scant yards from the scene shown here.

Moshe Dothan excavated Hammath Tiberias in 1961 and 1962 and again in 1964 and 1965. The site in the photo was host to several synagogues, each built atop the other, from the first to the eighth centuries A.D. Its most arresting phase came during the fourth century A.D., when it was known as the Synagogue of Severos, after its major donor. It was at that time that the stunning mosaics shown here were created. The large circular mosaic at left features a personification of the astral deity Helios in the center, surrounded by the 12 signs of the zodiac, a not uncommon feature of Byzantine synagogues. The rectangular mosaic at right shows a Torah shrine flanked on each side by a menorah, or candelabrum. Beneath the branches of the menorah are several religious objects: a lulav, (a palm branch bound with myrtle and willow) and an etrog (citron)—both associated with the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles)—and a shofar (ram’s horn) and an incense shovel.