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Zodiac And Torah Ark

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Zodiac And Torah Ark
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A view of the central panel in the nave of the sixth century A.D synagogue at Bet Alpha.

In the center of the frame is the sun god Helios who is riding in a chariot that is drawn by four horses—a quadriga.  The sky is studded with stars and a crescent moon.

In the circle surrounding that, are 12 frames in which contain the twelve signs of the zodiac along with their names in Hebrew.  Beginning at the 3:00 o'clock position and proceeding counter clockwise are: Taleh (Aries, ram); Shor (Taurus, bull); Teomim (Gemini, twins), Sartan (Cancer, crab); Aryeh (Leo, lion); Betulah (Virgo, virgin); Meoznayim (Libra, scales); Aqrab (Scorpio, scorpion); Kashat (Sagittarius, archer); Gedi (Capricorn, goat); Deli (Aquarius, water bearer); and Dagim (Pisces, fishes).

All of this is set in a square in which, at the four corners, are representations of the four seasons of the year along with their names in Hebrew.  Beginning in the lower left and proceeding counterclockwise are: Tammuz (summer), Tishri (autumn), Tebeth (winter), and Nisan (spring).

In the upper panel, in the center, is a representation of the "ark" in which Torah scrolls were kept.  To the sides of the ark are menorahs, three ritual symbols (lulav, shophar, and incense shovel), lions, and birds.

The three steps at the top of the image lead to a raised platform on which there was a repository for the storage of the Torah scrolls.


For an excellent article on this and similar synagogue mosaics see conveniently: Walter Zanger, "Jewish Worship, Pagan Symbols: Zodiac Mosaics in Ancient Synagogues.  Bible History Daily, July 13, 2021. Accessed July 21, 2021 — https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/ancient-israel/jewish-worship-pagan-symbols/  The article was originally published on August 24, 2012 in Bible History Daily.

Information from Nahman Avigad,  "Beth Alpha." Pages 190-92 in The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land — vol. 1. Edited by Ephraim Stern, Ayellet Lewinson–Gilboa, and Joseph Aviram. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society and Carta, 1993.

The synagogue dates to the sixth century A.D. and was destroyed by an earthquake. It was discovered in 1929 and excavated by E. L. Sukenik of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  Today it is located on the grounds of Kibbutz Hetzi–Ba.