Collection Israel Antiquities Authority/Photo Israel Museum

Mosaic from the synagogue at Nirim, near Gaza. Similar motifs characterize mosaics in Jewish, Samaritan (see photo) and Christian (see photo) houses of worship. All three commonly feature rondels of vines, usually emanating from a vase at the base of the mosaic carpet. These Jewish and Christian examples are so close stylistically that they may have been produced in the same workshop. The detail pictured here comes from the mosaic floor (also pictured on our cover) from the synagogue at Nirim, near Gaza. The depiction of a menorah in this mosaic eliminates the possibility that it came from a church. The empty cage in the fourth-century C.E. Khirbet Samara synagogue mosaic (see photo) confirms that it came from a Samaritan synagogue—the Samaritans interpreted the Second Commandment as prohibiting the depiction of living creatures.

The church mosaic comes from Shellal, only 5 miles from Nirim. Australian soldiers found the Shellal mosaic in 1917, after the second battle of Gaza, at the base of a Turkish trench that had been cut through the mosaic. They removed the mosaic to prevent it from suffering further damage; it is now displayed at the Australian War Memorial, in Canberra.