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The Deborah Panel in the Huqoq Synagogue: Gender and Heroism in Late Antique Judaism

Monday, October 16, 2023 at 5:00pm to 6:30pm

White Hall, 106
123 Central Ave., Ithaca, NY 14850, USA

Lecture with Dr. Ra'anan Boustan (Princeton U.) and Dr. Karen Britt (NW Missouri State). 

Recent mosaic discoveries in the synagogue at Huqoq (c. 400 CE) continue to challenge conventional scholarly assumptions concerning the limited range of imagery used in Jewish art from late antiquity. This lecture will focus on the exciting discovery during the 2022 excavation season of a mosaic panel that depicts episodes from the book of Judges about the defeat of the Canaanite general Sisera under the leadership of the prophet, judge, and leader Deborah and the killing of Sisera at the hands of Yael, the wife of Heber the Kenite (Judges 4–5). Like a number of scenes discovered previously at Huqoq, this panel celebrates Israelite military victory over “foreign” rulers. Moreover, the Deborah panel is located in the south end of the west aisle across from two other episodes from the Book of Judges—both from the Samson cycle (Judges 13–16)—that were found in the south end of the east aisle. We suggest that this kind of contrapuntal symmetry between thematically related panels is characteristic of the Huqoq mosaics and suggests rich interconnections among the various spaces in the synagogue. The commemoration of heroic women in the Huqoq mosaic stands in sharp contrast to the broadly negative treatment of Deborah and Yael in rabbinic literature and suggests that local communities in the Galilee may have held quite different views of women as exemplars of heroism.

Britt and Boustan have been collaborating since 2014 on the publication of the floor mosaics of the synagogue in the village of Huqoq in lower eastern Galilee. Their work at Huqoq has thus far generated a monographic study, The Elephant Mosaic Panel in the Synagogue at Huqoq (2017), and a series of articles published in such venues as the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, Journal of Late Antiquity, Studies in Late Antiquity, Mediterranean Studies (forthcoming, fall 2023) and in popular journals such as Qadmoniot and Biblical Archaeology Review. Their collaboration represents a close partnership between a specialist in late antique material culture who has worked on mosaics at archaeological sites in the eastern Mediterranean 

Lecture sponsored by Jewish Studies Program.

Photo Credit: Huqoq inscription and face from the ancient Synagogue By Jim Haberman - Jodi Magness., CC BY-SA 3.0,

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