Huqoq mosaics - misidentified

Dec 2012
Salop UK
The topic and meaning of the Huqoq 'elephant mosaic' is unknown, and a variety of suggestions have been made. Jodi Magness, the lead archaeologist on site, said the royal character was Alexander the Great, which is a ludicrous suggestion.

A range of interpretations of the Elephant mosaic panel at Huqoq
Introduction to a range of interpretations of the Elephant mosaic panel at Huqoq

None of the interpretations given thus far are credible. Why would Alexander the Great or a Seleucid king be depicted as wearing the Jewish payot, or side-lock of hair? Was Alexander known as Alexander the Great Jew?

However, it would appear obvious to me that this mosaic actually depicts a famous scene from the Talmud, where bar Kamza gives an imperfect calf from Emperor Nero to the Jerusalem priesthood, hoping it would be rejected in order to provoke the Jewish Revolt. (And he succeeded, which is why bar Kamza and Rabbi Zechariah Abkulas were blamed for causing the Jewish Revolt).

The question then becomes: who was bar Kamza? In the Talmud, bar Kamza is blamed for starting the Jewish Revolt. In Josephus Flavius’ Jewish War, it was the Adiabene monarchy who started the Jewish Revolt (Monobazus and Kenadaeus). However, in Syriac history Moses of Chorene and others indicate that the Adiabene monarchy were actually the kings of Edessa. (Josephus has deleted Edessa and the Edessan monarchy from his chronicle, and calls them Adiabenans instead. And there was a good reason for this.)

Ergo, via this roundabout investigation, I think we can safely assume that bar Kamza was actually King Manu VI of Edessa - who was the leader of the Jewish Revolt along with Kenadaeus. So the royal character in this mosaic was bar Kamza, the leader of the Jewish Revolt. (Kamza is simply a witty hypocorism meaning 'locust'.)

This is why this royal character wears Roman armour, a royal diadema headband, a beard, a purple cloak, and the Jewish payot or side-lock - because this was standard Edessan royal attire. (According to the Talmud, the Edessa-Adiabenan monarchy became Nazarene Jews in the mid 1st century, so would have worn the payot.)

So the two characters depicted in this mosaic are actually King Manu VI of Edessa and Rabbi Zechariah Abkulas. (Although the latter may be High Priest Phannias). But why do the many respected historians and Jewish theologians interpreting this mosaic, not know of this famous scene from the Talmud?

Ralph Ellis

Extract from the Talmud…
The destruction of Jerusalem came through a Kamza and a Bar Kamza in this way .…. (Johannan) went and said to the Emperor, The Jews are rebelling against you. (Nero) said, How can I tell? He said to him: ‘Send them an offering and see whether they will offer it [on the altar].’ So (Johannan) sent (bar Kamza) with a fine calf (as an offering). While on the way (bar Kamza) made a blemish on its upper lip, or as some say on the white of its eye. The Rabbis were inclined to offer it in order not to offend the Government. But Rabbi Zechariah Abkulas said to them: ‘People will say that blemished animals are offered on the altar.’ They then proposed to kill bar Kamza so that he should not go and inform against them, but Rabbi Zechariah said to them: ‘Is one who makes a blemish on consecrated animals to be put to death?’ Rabbi Johannan thereupon remarked: ‘Through the scrupulousness of Rabbi Zechariah our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt and we ourselves exiled from our land’. (Gittin 55 - 57)

The sad tale of a scrupulous priest…!
Johannan ben Zakkai was the leader of the Jews after AD 70.

Here is a longer article, printed in the Times of Israel.
The Huqoq elephant mosaic explained

Here is an image of the Huqoq 'elephant' mosaic, that depicts bar Kamza - the leader of the Jewish Revolt.
Incidentally, this is the only image we have of the leader of the Jewish Revolt.