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Women and the Dura-Europos Synagogue Paintings

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image of Religion and the Arts

Between 1928 and 1937, during excavations at a site in Mesopotamia, archaeologists uncovered an ancient city, Dura-Europos, on the Euphrates River. Among their many findings, which included numerous pagan temples, were a Christian house and a synagogue. A room in the house had been converted into a baptistery with frescoes. In a large assembly room of the synagogue, murals depicting biblical narratives were painted in three registers on all four walls. The Second Commandment forbids the use of imagery, and the finding, the earliest and only one of such magnitude to date, caused a stir and has generated an extensive literature. Many scholars attribute this phenomenon to the rise of Christianity. But there is an aspect of the paintings that has not been investigated. In the most visually accessible and most holy area of the room, the Torah shrine, heroic Jewish women of the Bible were depicted. In light of the patriarchal nature of historical Judaism, this paper examines the murals and the architectural and archeological findings in an effort to understand this anomaly.

Affiliations: 1: New York City


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