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should always serve a religious function.92 Public religious buildings covered with scenes illustrating the most important events in a cult's history, mythical and actual, are commonly found in temples throughout Syria.93 In fact, of the Mesopotamian temples which have been discovered thus far, each has been decorated in much the same manner as Dura's synagogue and the other temples in the city.94

This syncretism even extended to the Torah niche in our synagogue. It was located in the western wall of the building (west being the direction in which Jerusalem lay with respect to the city).95 While such a shrine or niche was common to Jewish assembly rooms, it is only at Dura where we actually get a glimpse of its possible eastern origins. Mesopotamian cults had developed the tradition of erecting, within the religious space, a portrait or statue of the deity inside a painted representation of its temple.96 From the evidence provided by many extant Mesopotamian religious structures, we know that the cult niches prevalent at Dura may have evolved from this attempt to depict an idealized model of the temple and the cult's holiest image inside the prayer space.97 For most of the religions at Dura, the holiest image was the deity itself, but for the Jews, who prohibited the figural representation of their god, the shelf that would have normally held a statue or other symbol, instead held the Torah scrolls. That the Torah was of utmost importance to the Jews at Dura is confirmed by the painted figures depicted on either side of the niche praying and reading from written scripture.98 Such niches and their placement seem to have been the norm at Dura. During their construction, each of the other religious structures standing along the city's western wall also had cult niches built into their respective western walls, suggesting that it was the convention for newly established cults to conform to a program of religious expression specific to Dura.99

But conforming to the overarching local normative mode of expression sometimes produced results which seemed to contravene a cult's own tradition of self-expression. The Mithraeum, for instance, which represented the very popular Roman military cult of Mithras and which was normally built underground in a cave-like structure, was erected above ground just like every other religious building at Dura-Europos.100 By a similar token, some early scholars


92. Gates, 168, 181.
93. Bickerman, 136.
94. Gates, 166, 169-170.
95. Gates, 172-173.
96. Gates, 171.
97. Gates, 170-171; Seager, 166.
98. Goldstein, 119; Gutmann, 222-3; Kraabel, 87.
99. Gates, 172-173.
100. Gates, 176-177.

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