Jonah Mosaic


Jonah Mosaic, Huqoq Synagogue, fifth century CE, stone mosaic, Huqoq, Israel.

Huqoq was an Jewish village north of Tiberias. There is an ongoing dig on the site led by Dr. Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The mosaic floor include several designs that incorporate Hellenistic images with biblical stories. This section illustrates the biblical Jonah story with several differences. Here a single fish doesn’t swallow Jonah; there are three fish, each devouring the other, with the last fish swallowing Jonah. One of the sailors on the ship is pointing at three figures. The bird bodies of the figures suggest harpies: spirits who cause the sudden winds and storms. But the figures are also playing instruments indicating sirens, who can lure ships with their singing. Just the fact that there were human figures in the synagogue is unusual, and the humor inherent is this image is an extra bonus.