Garo Nalbandian.

Liberal license. These exquisite mosaic floors from the synagogues at Hammath Tiberias (shown here), and Beit Alpha (see photo of mosaic floor at Beit Alpha), in the eastern Jezreel Valley, reflect a loose interpretation of the biblical prohibition of images, known in Jewish tradition as the second commandment: “You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exodus 20:4–5).

At the top of the fourth-century Hammath Tiberias mosaic, a Torah shrine and two menorahs are depicted along with other traditional Jewish symbols. But the mosaic’s middle panel features a zodiac wheel, at the center of which is the Greek god Helios (also shown on the cover of this issue), riding his chariot. (The stone wall cutting across the mosaic is part of a later building.) Surrounding the sun god are representations of the 12 signs of the zodiac, including an unabashed depiction of Libra in the nude. (Libra is the figure holding the scales, just below the chariot of Helios.)