Early Rabbinic Judaism: Historical Studies in Religion, Literature and Art

By Jacob Neusner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN
JUDAISM AT DURA-EUROPOS

[History of Religions. An International Journal for Comparative Historical Studies, IV, 1, pp. 81-102.]

When the painted walls of the synagogue at Dura-Europos emerged into the light of day in November, 1932, the modern perspective on the character of Judaism in Greco-Roman times had to be radically refocused. Until that time, it was possible to ignore the growing evidence, turned up for decades by archaeologists, of a kind of Judaism substantially different from that described in Jewish literary remains of the period. Those remains specifically contained in the Talmud and Midrash were understood to describe an aniconic, ethically, and socially oriented religion, in which the ideas of Hellenistic religions, particularly mystery religions, played little or no part. Talmudic Judaism had, by then, been authoritatively described in such works as George Foot Moore Judaism, and no one had reason to expect that within what was called "normative Judaism" one would uncover phenomena he might, in other settings, have interpreted as "gnostic" or mystical or eschatological in orientation. It is true that archaeological discoveries had long before revealed in the synagogues and graves of Jews in the Hellenistic worlds substantial evidences of religious syncretism, and of the use of pagan symbols in identifiably Jewish settings. But before the Dura synagogue these evidences remained discrete and made slight impact. They were not explained; they were explained away.

After the preliminary report, the Dura synagogue was widely discussed, and a considerable literature, mostly on specific problems of art but partly on the interpretation of the art, developed; in the main, the Dura synagogue was studied by art historians, and not, with notable exceptions, by historians of religion or of Judaism. When, in 1956, Carl H. Kraeling published The Synagogue,1 it seemed that

____________________
1
A. R. Bellinger, F. E. Brown, A. Perkins, and C. B. Welles (eds.), The Excavations at Dura Europos Conducted by Yale University and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Letters, Final Report, Vol. VIII, Pt. 1: The Synagogue by Carl H. Kraeling , with contributions by C. C. Torrey, C. B. Welles, and B. Geiger ( New Haven, 1956).

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