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Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Synagogue at Dura Europos


Ruins of the synagogue structure: the main elements were taken to Damascus


An interior wall of the Dura Europos synagogue, with beautifully well-preserved 3rd-century frescoes. The paintings depict the stories of Abraham, Moses and other biblical figures. This is now on display in the National Museum in Damascus.


Fresco of Moses and the Exodus, from the Dura Europos synagogue


Worship of the Golden Calf


Fresco of baby Moses' rescue from the bullrushes in Egypt

Near to the Christian Church at Dura Europos was the Synagogue.

It is considered to be the world's oldest preserved Jewish synagogue. It was dated by an Aramaic inscription to AD 244. It was preserved, ironically, when it had to be infilled with earth to strengthen the city's fortifications against a Sassanian assault in 256.

It contains a forecourt and house of assembly with frescoed walls depicting people and animals, and a Torah shrine in the western wall facing Jerusalem.

The frescoes are now displayed in the National Museum of Damascus.

The large-scale pictorial art in the synagogue helps to dispel narrow interpretations of historically prohibited visual images. The commandment prohibiting "graven images" was not being extended by Dura-Europos' Jews to all pictorial representations.


References:

EARLY CHRISTIAN AND BYZANTINE ARCHITECTURE
http://www.pitt.edu/~tokerism/0040/chrbyz.html

The "Clash of the Gods" between the 1st and 3rd Centuries
http://www.wisc.edu/arth/ah310/01.html

Dura Europos
http://www.philthompson.net/pages/icons/duraeuropos.html

EIKON Image Database for Biblical Studies at Yale Divinity School
Gives images for all the frescoes at the Synagogue
http://research.yale.edu:8084/divdl/eikon/subjects.jsp?subjectid=464

Dura-Europos, 'Pompeii of the Syrian Desert'
http://www.le.ac.uk/ar/stj/dura.htm