Art Resource, NY

A JEWISH HELIOS. Even after the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E., Greek art and language continued to exert considerable influence in Jewish culture, both in Palestine and beyond. Such influences are vividly illustrated in this colorful but somewhat provincial zodiac mosaic that adorns the floor of the small sixth-century C.E. Beth Alpha synagogue in northern Israel. Despite its relatively simple and unsophisticated artistry, the mosaic clearly demonstrates an amalgam of Hellenistic styles and Jewish tradition.

In the center of the mosaic is a depiction of the Greek sun god Helios riding forth from the darkness of night in his typical four-horse chariot (a quadriga). Surrounding the central panel are 12 figurative vignettes representing the signs of the zodiac. In the four corners of the mosaic are representations of the four seasons. Such scenes were apparently adapted to Jewish religious tradition. The depiction of Helios, for example, was likely a metaphorical representation of the Jewish God Yahweh, who the Bible often describes as a fiery, radiant being. Similarly, the signs of the Greek zodiac were labeled not with their Greek names, but rather with the Hebrew terms for the 12 months of the year.