Zev Radovan

Two incense shovels, closely resembling the shovels found at Bethsaida and in the Cave of Letters, appear to the right of the menorah stems in the mosaic. The scene decorates a floor in the fourth-century C.E. synagogue at Hammath Tiberias, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. The menorahs flank a gabled ark. A lulav, or bound palm branch, and an etrog, or citron, both associated with the holiday of Sukkoth (Tabernacles), are shown to the left of each menorah, while a shofar, the ram’s horn sounded on Rosh Hashanah, lies below each shovel. The same ritual objects are frequently depicted in ancient synagogue floor mosaics. The new Cave of Letters team suggests that such shovels may have originated within ancient Judaism—as shown by the presence of the shovel among the possessions of the Jewish refugees in the cave and in Jewish art such as this mosaic—but then became adopted in Roman religious practice, which would explain the presence of the shovel in the Roman temple in Bethsaida.