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Shame & Disgrace – Vandals severely damage 1,600 year old mosaics

May 30, 2012

The mosaic that was vandalized in a Tiberias synagogue Monday night. Photo by Moti Dolev/Haaretz.

Among Israel’s wondrous archaeological treasures are intricate and elegant mosaics about which I wrote earlier this year. On Monday, vandals severely damaged 1,600-year-old mosaics, once part of a 4th century synagogue’s floor, in the northern city of Tiberias.  According to reports from Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post and the Associated Press (via ArtDaily), archaeologists fear some of the damage is irreparable.  Sections were smashed, scratched and spray painted. According to the Post: “It is believed to have been built in the Sanhedrin period, in the fourth century CE.  The synagogue’s mosaic floor … is the earliest such synagogue mosaic in the country, according to the National Parks Authority.”

A 1,600-year-old badly damaged mosaic. Israel’s antiquity authority says vandals have badly damaged a 1,600-year-old mosaic in the northern city of Tiberias. Authority archaeologist Gilad Kinamon says the mosaic once formed the floor of a 4th century synagogue. He says vandals smashed parts of the mosaic, grinding it to a fine powder, while other parts were badly scratched. AP Photo/IAA, HO.

As yet, no one has claimed credit or been arrested.  However, Haaretz reports: “The Israel Antiquities Authority suspects extremist ultra-Orthodox Jews who say the authority damages ancient graves during excavations.”  The report also notes: “Similar acts have been carried out at other archaeological sites; one slogan sprayed Monday night read ‘A site for every grave desecrated.'”

Photo: Reuven Riven/Jerusalem Post.

The site is important to both ancient and contemporary Jewish history as Haaretz says:

The synagogue, in Hamat Tiberias National Park, was discovered in 1921 by writer and translator Nahum Slouschz. It was uncovered in the first major archaeological dig led by Zionist Jews in the Holy Land.

“The most beautiful part of the mosaic from the fourth century was severely damaged,” said Dror Ben Yosef of the antiquities authority. “The perpetrators drilled a hole in the drawing of the holy ark and damaged the menorah drawing as well. It seems they worked very hard trying to take apart the floor.”

A zodiac wheel drawn on the mosaic appears to have been hit by a pickax. “There are Haredim who believe that if a zodiac wheel is drawn there, it can’t really be a synagogue,” Ben Yosef told Haaretz. “The zodiac wheel, in this case, is actually a judaized Helenistic motif.” One corner of the mosaic was completely taken apart.

Ben Yosef added that the synagogue was “probably the site where the Jerusalem Talmud was completed” and that the mosaic contained important symbols such as a holy ark with an ornamental curtain, along with a menorah, a shofar, a ceremonial palm frond and a coal pan.

The mosaic included inscriptions in Hebrew, Aramaic and Latin. Ben Yosef said extremist Haredim have threatened other sites. “We’ll protect the sites,” he said. “Whoever vandalized it desecrated its holiness. These people damaged our historic heritage.”

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