Beit Alpha – בית אלפא – Mosaic Floor
The ancient synagogue of Beit alpha, dated to the Byzantine period, was a 20m x 14M building. It was covered across its entire floor by a magnificent colorful mosaic floor. The mosaic floor, which was very well-preserved, includes a Zodiac , Jewish ritual objects and the ark, two inscriptions in Greek and Aramaic, geometric patterns and icons of animals, birds, plants and fruits, and a scene from the Biblical story of the binding of Isaac.
Beit-Alpha was a small Roman/Byzantine agriculture village, situated at the northern foothills of Mt. Giboa. It was located near the Roman road from Scythopolis (Beit She’an) to Megiddo/Legion and Caesarea. Traces of the Roman/Byzantine ruins were found around the ancient synagogue. These ruins were partially excavated in 1962, but the area around the site is populated by modern structures of Kibbutz Hefzi-Ba.
Two Kibbutz settlements were established in 1922 around the ruins of the Roman village, a place known as Khirbet Beit-Ilfa. The Kibbutz on the east side was named after the ruins – “Beit-Alpha”. The Kibbutz on the west was named “Hefzi-bah”, which is one of the Biblical names of Jerusalem.
The middle square, the first to be uncovered, was the most spectacular. Figures of four women were at the four corners, with inscriptions (in Hebrew) identifying each as a season of the year. Inside the square was a wheel, 3.12 meters in diameter, with a smaller circle (1.2 m) in its center. The wheel was divided into 12 panels, each with a figure and a name identifying it as a sign of the zodiac. And in the center, a man was pictured driving a quadriga (four-horse chariot) through the moon and stars. Rays of the sun were coming out of his head; it was clear that he was Helios, god of the sun.
Just above the central square of the mosaic, they found a mosaic panel of symbols instantly familiar to any Jew of that century (or this): the Ark of the Covenant (aron kodesh), eternal light (ner tamid), seven-branched candelabrum (menorah), palm frond (lulav), citron (etrog), and an incense shovel (mahta).
In a third panel, closer to the front door, they uncovered a scene easily recognizable to anyone who knows the Bible. We are in Genesis 22, and Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac. In case we might have forgotten our Bible class, the names of the principals—Abraham, Isaac and the ram—are spelled out in inscriptions above their heads, and the hand of God stopping the sacrifice is clearly marked with the words “do not put forth your hand [against the lad].
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