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.



The "Clash of the Gods" between the 1st and 3rd Centuries

Dura Europos

EIKON Image Database for Biblical Studies at Yale Divinity School
Gives images for all the frescoes at the Synagogue

Dura-Europos, 'Pompeii of the Syrian Desert'

1 comment:

  1. I just completed The Hebrew Goddess by Raphael Patai and he discusses the imagery of this synagoge in some detail.
    He argues against Goodenough's view that the goddess in the mural is Anahita or Aphrodite and argues it must be the Jewish Shekhina, since, as even Goodenough argues, the Jews of that time would not have accepted a new (hellenic) deity as one of their own.

    A fascinating issue.