The Battle Against the Amalekites

5th century, with medieval and modern restorations
Nave, Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome

In the foreground the Israelites defend themselves against the forces of Amalek. As long as Moses (above, center) holds up his hands the Israelites prevail against the Amalekite army. He is flanked by Aaron and Hur, who help him keep his hands up. See Exodus 17:8-13.

Early Christian commentators taught that in this battle Moses is a type of Christ, who vanquished sin and the devil when he stretched his hands out on the Cross (Glossa Ordinaria, I, 647-48). Accordingly, the artist has Moses stretch his arms out into the same straight horizontal that one sees on crucifixion images of the period. To enhance the typological import of Moses' posture he also suppresses the detail that the man was sitting, not standing, during the greater part of the battle (Exodus 17:12).

As leaders of the Israelites, Moses and the others wear togas, a mark of senatorial rank in Rome at the time.

This is part of the extensive series of Old Testament scenes portrayed in mosaics along the two walls of the nave. Follow this link for links to the others.

Read more about images of Moses.
Read more about images of Aaron.

Photographed at the basilica by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.