Earliest depictions of biblical Deborah, Yael unearthed in ancient synagogue - The Jewish Voice
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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Earliest depictions of biblical Deborah, Yael unearthed in ancient synagogue

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By World Israel News Staff

A team of archeologists have unearthed nearly 1,600-year-old mosaics in an ancient Jewish synagogue at Huqoq in Israel’s Lower Galilee, in the first known depictions of the biblical heroines Deborah and Yael as described in the book of Judges.

The team of specialists and students who discovered the finding were led by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill religious studies professor, Jodi Magness, who has been excavating in the area for a decade, save a hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic.

The floor of the synagogue, which was built in the late fourth-early fifth century C.E, is decorated with a large mosaic panel that is divided into three parts called registers. Each one depicts the victory of the Israelite troops, led by the prophetess and judge Deborah and the military commander Barak, over the Canaanite army led by the general Sisera.

In the Book of Judges, Barak tells Deborah he will only go to battle if she joined him. Deborah prophesied that the person to defeat Sisera would be a woman. Sisera took refuge in the tent of a Canaanite woman named Yael, who killed him by driving a tent peg through his temple while he slept.

“This is the first depiction of this episode and the first time we’ve seen a depiction of the biblical heroines Deborah and Jael in ancient Jewish art,” Magness said. “Looking at the book of Joshua chapter 19, we can see how the story might have had special resonance for the Jewish community at Huqoq, as it is described as taking place in the same geographical region – the territory of the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulon.”

The first register of the mosaic shows Deborah looking at Barak. In the middle one, of which only a small section is preserved, Sisera is seated. The last register shows Sisera lying dead on the ground, bleeding from the head.

The team has unearthed dozens of mosaics at the site since 2012, including depictions from the book of Daniel, images of the Israelite spies, and Jonah and the whale.

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