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found the frescoes in the synagogue at Dura shocking because they believed that this community, in its ambition to create a competitive place of worship within the city, had blatantly disregarded the biblical command and the prohibition found in rabbinic texts which forbid the use of certain figures in the decoration of synagogues.101 So why did our community pursue the type of religious decoration it did? First, we should realize that the Talmud of the 3rd and 4th centuries C.E. did allow for some figural representation on the walls and floors of sacred spaces and that evidence of such decoration has been found both in Palestine and in other Diaspora synagogues.102 Furthermore, passages in the Bible can be interpreted as allowing the illustration of figures if there is no intention to worship them.103

The 3rd century C.E. witnessed a tremendous explosion of religious activity. Persian religions such as Zoroastrianism and Manichaeanism were growing, and Mithraism was expanding, as well.104 Because of its location on a major eastern trade route and at a crossroads between civilizations, Dura-Europos had a wide array of religious communities, representing nearly every major cult in the area. Worshipers of the Syrian gods Aphlad, Atargatis, and Hadad existed alongside those of Bel Shamin, a deity with origins in Palmyra.105 Mithraism, Christianity, and major Hellenistic religions were also prominent in the city during the period of Roman rule.106 Each sought not only to add new members to their numbers, but also to avoid losing the ones they did have to other cults within the city. The Jews were no exception. At least one Aramaic inscription from the synagogue refers to a prominent proselyte, which means that the community was not exclusive.107 Rather, it was an attractive religious option open to participation by interested non-Jewish residents of the city. In other words, each religion was challenging the others for supremacy.

Jacob Neusner believes that the designer of the synagogue's paintings (Samuel?) responded to these developments by creating a grand scheme of renovation and redecoration clearly meant to champion the Jewish faith and to assert the superiority of Judaism over every other cult of superstition.108 Indeed, artistic expression seems to have been the means of competition between cults in Dura's dynamic religious atmosphere.109 This becomes obvious when we consider the ideas that dominate the synagogue's frescoes. They emphasize the


101. Levine, 159.
102. Goldstein (1990), 100; Levine, 159, 171.
103. Goldstein (1995), 154. Exodus 20:5 and Deuteronomy 5:9.
104. Neusner, 100-101.
105. Gates, 167-168.
106. Ibid.
107. Hachlili, 405; Hopkins, 146; White, 97.
108. Hopkins, 142-143; Neusner, 101.
109. Bickerman, 145.

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