Edwin Goodenough, Symbolism in the Dura Synagogue, 1964/Princeton University Press
Although the Bible states that “Baal’s prophets number 450” (1 Kings 18:22), the Dura artist reduces their ranks to eight: This painting may represent the synagogue’s counterattack on the church’s painted propaganda presenting the eighth day as the proper day of worship.
The small man standing inside the altar does not appear in the biblical story, but rather in a later midrash, or rabbinic elaboration on the story. According to this midrash, when the prophets of Baal realized they would fail, a man named Hiel agreed to hide within the altar to ignite the heifer from below. The Israelite God foiled their plan by sending a snake to bite Hiel, who died.