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July 6, 2022 4:23 pm
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1,600-Year-Old Mosaic Depicting Biblical Heroines Found in Ancient Synagogue in Israel

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The Israelite commander Barak depicted in a mosaic in the ancient Huqoq synagogue in northern Israel. Photo: Jim Haberman

The first known portrayal of biblical heroines Deborah and Yael has been uncovered in a mosaic panel that decorated an ancient synagogue in northern Israel.

A team of archeologists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found the panel in the southwest section of the synagogue in Huqoq, dating to the late fourth century or early fifth century CE, the school announced Tuesday.

Excavations in the synagogue — located in Huqoq, north of Tiberias in the Galilee — have been ongoing since it was first discovered in 2011 by a team led by Professor Jodi Magness of UNC-Chapel Hill, albeit with disruptions due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The artwork unearthed this year relates an episode from the Book of Judges, when the Israelites were oppressed for 20 years by Jabin, the king of Canaan. Under the leadership of the prophetess Deborah and military commander Barak, the Israelite forces ultimately trumped the Canaanite army, headed by general Sisera. After the battle, the general fled to the tent of a woman named Yael, who drove a long stake through his temple.

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In the uppermost part of the mosaic, Deborah is depicted underneath a palm tree, looking at a shield-wielding Barak. Its middle scene, only a limited portion of which is preserved, appears to portray a seated Sisera. The third shows a fallen and bleeding Sisera, as Yael hammers his temple with a stake.

The mosaic joins multiple others that have been found in the Huqoq synagogue over the past decade. The nearly 1,600-year-old artwork includes Hebrew inscriptions and intricate biblical scenes, such as an episode from the Book of Judges showing Samson exacting revenge on the Philistines, and another portraying him with the gate of Gaza. Other mosaics have depicted Noah’s Ark, the parting of the sea from the Book of Exodus, and the story of Jonah and the fish.

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