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Biblical Archaeology Review 48:4, Winter 2022

Deborah and Barak at Huqoq

Excavations at the site of Huqoq in northern Israel continue to amaze with the discovery of the earliest known depiction of Deborah the Judge. Uncovered by a team led by archaeologists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a section of the expansive Huqoq synagogue mosaic depicts the victory of the Israelites over the Canaanite general Sisera (Judges 4), in which the Kenite woman Jael kills Sisera by driving a tent peg through his head.

The Huqoq mosaics, which cover the entire floor of an ancient Galilean synagogue, date to the late fourth or early fifth century C.E. Since their discovery, these mosaics have revealed many firsts in the history of ancient Jewish art, including the earliest nonbiblical scene in synagogue art. The newly discovered scenes, however, have provided archaeologists with the only known depiction of Deborah as well as Jael, the story’s Kenite hero. Although women were occasionally depicted in synagogue mosaics, depictions of biblical stories with female heroes like Deborah and Jael are rare.

The scenes consist of three horizontal registers, which make up the narrative of Judges 4. The upper register depicts Deborah under a palm tree, gazing at the Israelite commander Barak, who is equipped with a shield. The middle register shows Sisera, the Canaanite general. The final register depicts Sisera lying on the ground, bleeding from his head, as Jael hammers a tent peg through his temple.

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