In the ancient Jewish village of Huqoq, located in the Lower Galilee, a set of mosaics that allegedly depict Alexander the Great meeting with a Jewish priest have been unearthed during an excavation of the remains of a synagogue that dates back to the 5th century. If the mosaic has been identified correctly, the discovery will apparently be the first ever depiction of a non-Biblical scene to be found inside a synagogue, the Daily Mail reported on Wednesday.Tablet doesn't mention the actual Talmudic story of Alexander and the High Priest (and neither does the Daily Mail that reported this last week). Here it is:
The team of archaeologists come from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and are led by Arts and Sciences Professor Jodi Magness, and co-directed by the Israel Antiquities Authority. According to a statement on the UNC-Chapel Hill website, Magness’s team has been digging at the ancient synagogue each summer since 2012. In 2013 and 2014, the team across a mosaic in the synagogue’s that
depicts three horizontal registers (strips) containing human and animal figures, including elephants. The top register, which is the largest, shows a meeting between two men, who perhaps are intended to represent Alexander the Great and a Jewish high priest. It was the first time a non-biblical story had been found decorating any ancient synagogue.
[Shimon HaTzaddik, or Simeon the Just] was the “Kohen Gadol,” the High Priest of the Jewish People, during the reign of Alexander the Great, the world-conquering Greek Emperor. Yoma 69a presents a dramatic account of a confrontation between Shimon and Alexander. Alexander stood at the Gates of Jerusalem, with evil intentions regarding it, that caused the city’s inhabitants to tremble with fear. Shimon donned the “Bigdei Lavan,” the White Garments that he wore on Yom Kippur when he entered the Holy of Holies, and went out to meet Alexander.
When the great Emperor saw Shimon HaTzaddik, he dismounted and prostrated himself on the ground before Shimon. When his generals, very puzzled, asked him why he was bowing to the Jew, he replied that every night before a victory, he would see in a dream a figure that looked exactly like the Jewish High Priest, who would advise him on tactics to use the following day. And that advice had never failed him.
Shimon HaTzaddik took Alexander the Great on a tour of the Temple. Alexander, very impressed, requested that a marble image of himself be placed in the Temple. Shimon demurred, saying that it was forbidden for the Jews to have images, and certainly not in the Temple. He suggested an alternative way of memorializing the occasion of the Emperor’s visit to the Holy City of the Jews. That would be that all male babies born that year would receive the name “Alexander.” The Emperor liked the idea, and that is how the name “Alexander” became part of the set of names conferred upon Jewish male babies.
Alexander is still used as a Jewish name today.