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“The Redeemer to Arise from the House of Dan”: Samson, Apocalypticism, and Messianic Hopes in Late Antique Galilee

In: Journal for the Study of Judaism
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  • 1 Brigham Young University
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Abstract

In the last five years, two mosaics depicting Samson’s biblical exploits have been discovered in Lower Eastern Galilee. Both mosaics were found in synagogues that date to the Late Roman/Byzantine period and are located in close proximity to Tiberias. Because of the rarity of Samson in ancient Jewish art and Samson’s lack of historical ties to the region, the significance of these mosaics requires explanation. This article explores this significance by considering the socio-religious context of the region in which the mosaics were discovered. Sources indicate that apocalyptic thought and messianic expectations flourished in Jewish Galilee throughout late antiquity, particularly in the vicinity of Tiberias. In addition, liturgical texts show that some Jews in this period viewed Samson as a biblical type of the future messiah—a redeemer of the past who foreshadowed Israel’s eschatological redemption. This confluence of evidence suggests that the Samson mosaics can be viewed as apocalyptic images reflecting messianic hopes that were popular in late antique Galilee.

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