In an ancient synagogue long abandoned, archaeologists stumbled upon 1600-year-old mosaics. These images told scholars the true story of Deborah and Jael. In the Old Testament Book of Judges, Scholars now know the truth about how it happened. What is depicted on the mosaic, and how modern science interprets it? This is further in this article.
Biblical history on the walls of an ancient synagogue
A team of archaeologists led by Jody Magness made a startling discovery. They were investigating an ancient Jewish synagogue in Hukkok. There were well-preserved examples of mosaic art on the walls of the building, which had been abandoned as early as the 4th or 5th centuries. They depict paintings illustrating the stories of two famous heroines from the biblical Book of Judges, Deborah and Jael. By God’s will, these two brave women helped the people of Israel defeat the Canaanites.
The mosaics depict the prophetess Deborah inspiring the Israelites, led by Barak, to fight the Canaanites. God, through the woman, blesses the people to victory. The Israelite army defeats Sisera’s army, forcing him to flee in shame. The commander seeks refuge in the tent of Jael. The woman promises to help. She feeds and waters the enemy and offers to hide by wrapping him in a rug. When Sisera falls asleep, Jael kills him by hammering a tent peg into his temple.
All of these narratives are illustrated in mosaics. The image is divided into three parts. The uppermost part shows the viewer Devorah under a palm tree, looking menacingly at the warrior Barak. In the next image, which is only partially preserved, Sisera is first shown seated. At the bottom, he is already lying on the ground, bleeding. Jael is bent over him. On the floor beneath all this splendour is an inscription in Hebrew. Embellishing the letters are symbolic representations of four grape-eating animals.
Elsewhere in this ancient synagogue, other mosaics depict biblical scenes from the Book of Judges. All of these aspects are of crucial importance to scholars. After all, the existing rabbinic literature of the time does not describe the structure of the synagogues. This is why the newly discovered archaeological evidence is so important to science.
Priceless discoveries for science
Archaeologists state that the value of these discoveries, and the value of archaeology in general, is that it helps fill in the gaps in history. In this case, it is incredibly important information about the Jewish people and Judaism at a particular time. The discovery vividly demonstrates a vibrant and diverse range of views among the Jews.
Over the years, researchers have already discovered a mosaic of Moses’ spies exploring Canaan. There were also images of Noah’s ark and the parted Red Sea. There were also mosaics of Alexander the Great. This suggests that the paintings in the synagogue are of historical significance, not religious. The excavations continue. Scientists believe many more exciting discoveries are waiting for them at the site.
Quarantine restrictions have severely hampered excavations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Such an ancient land as Israel’s Galilee promises much more than has been studied. Scientists meticulously document each of their findings, which slows down the process. The data are then entered into a computer database via an iPad, which can assemble a visualization in three dimensions. Currently, excavations are on hold because too much data has been collected.