Goddesses in the Synagogue?

In: Journal for the Study of Judaism

This note deals with two panels of the west wall of the Dura synagogue, the details of which were interpreted by some scholars as probably connected to depictions of goddesses. Close investigation of these details, however, does not substantiate this view. The images, both in themselves and as parts of a larger composition, need not be interpreted as displaying conscious allusions to pagan female divinities.

  • 4

    For a detailed description, see KraelingThe Synagogue169-78. See further Erwin R. Goodenough, Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period, 13 vols. (New York: Pantheon, 1956-1968), 9:197-226 (the figures for this paper are taken from Goodenough’s volume 11, figs. 336 and 338); Kurt Weitzmann and Herbert L. Kessler, The Frescoes of the Dura Synagogue and Christian Art (Washington: Dumbarton Oaks, 1990), 26-34.

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  • 10

    GoodenoughJewish Symbols9:200-203.

  • 11

    See, e.g., Mary Boyce“Anāhīd,” Encyclopaedia Iranica 1 (1983): 1003-9; William W. Malandra,An Introduction to Ancient Iranian Religion (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 117-20; Albert de Jong,Traditions of the Magi: Zoroastrianism in Greek and Latin Literature (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 268-84.

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  • 12

    GoodenoughJewish Symbols9:203-26.

  • 13

    See, e.g., Susan B. DowneyTerracotta Figurines and Plaques from Dura-Europos (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press2003); Jennifer A. Baird,The Inner Lives of Ancient Houses: An Archaeology of Dura-Europos (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 179-80. The Aphrodite from the “House of the Roman Scribe” is published by P. V. C. Baur, “The Fragment of a Painting of Aphrodite,” in The Excavations at Dura-Europos Conducted by Yale University and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Letters. Preliminary Reports: Sixth Season of Work, ed. Michael I. Rostovtzeff et al. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1936), 279-82; pl. xliii.

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  • 19

    Weitzmann and KesslerThe Frescoes30; similarly Moon, “Nudity and Narrative,” 596.

  • 21

    See KraelingThe Synagogue151-64.

  • 23

    KraelingThe Synagogue160; similarly du Mesnil du Buisson, Les peintures, 118.

  • 24

    Cf., e.g., Lucinda DirvenThe Palmyrenes of Dura-Europos: A Study of Religious Interaction in Roman Syria (Leiden: Brill1999), esp. 99-127; or H. J. W. Drijvers,Cults and Beliefs at Edessa (Leiden: Brill, 1980).

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  • 25

    GoodenoughJewish Symbols9:179. On the figure of Tyche, see, e.g., the collected papers in Susan B. Matheson, ed., An Obsession with Fortune: Tyche in Greek and Roman Art (New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 1994).

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  • 27

    GoodenoughJewish Symbols9:186.

  • 29

    Cf., e.g., RostovtzeffDura-Europos62-69; Nigel Pollard, Soldiers, Cities, and Civilians in Roman Syria (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000), 142-47; Ted Kaizer, “Religion in the Roman East,” in A Companion to Roman Religion, ed. Jörg Rüpke (Malden: Blackwell, 2007), 446-56, esp. 454-55; Kaizer, “Religion and Language in Dura-Europos,” in From Hellenism to Islam: Cultural and Linguistic Change in the Roman Near East, ed. Hannah M. Cotton et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 235-53.

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  • 31

    See, e.g., Peter Calmeyer“Mauerkrone,” Reallexikon der Assyriologie vii/7-8 (1990): 595a-96b.

  • 32

    See, e.g.Catalogue of the Cabinet of Coins Belonging to Yale College, Deposited in the College Library (New Haven: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor1863), 59-61; Aurelie Daems, “The Iconography of Pre-Islamic Women in Iran,” Iranica Antiqua36 (2001): 1-150.

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