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meant the use of scenes from ancient texts in new allegorical contexts.140 So we should not assume, then, that modern scholars who read analogies into material evidence from the Roman period are grasping at straws.

But is it realistic to expect that the leaders of the Jewish community at Dura imparted this ideology, if it existed at all, to those who attended services? Though elements within them may have conveyed ideological underpinnings, the main thrust of the scenes as a whole was to serve a narrative function--they told stories.141 The paintings decorating the assembly room of the synagogue at Dura were probably used, in fact, to educate a largely illiterate community, something that was typical of the period in general.142 The paintings could have been used as reminders or visual cues during recitation of the Torah.143 Synagogues in the Diaspora played more of a central role in daily life than in Palestine, so it is not difficult to accept the idea that the paintings were used as teaching tools, probably in a regular program of introduction and reinforcement of the scriptural tradition.144 Major figures, like Moses and Esther, are labeled in the paintings, and the Exodus scene has a longer inscription which describes the action ("Moses after he had gone out from Egypt and cleft the sea").145 There is also the hint that a broader thematic scheme was created to present to the community the easily understood contrasts between good and evil behaviors and the glory or consequences of each.146 To the left of the Torah niche, the scenes are concerned overwhelmingly with the acts of the righteous in maintaining the covenant with the Jewish god, while to the right the action takes place largely in a pagan context.147 Using local artistic themes from both the Hellenistic and Roman traditions ensured that illiterate members of the religious community could visualize these contrasts clearly and understand their implications in a meaningful way.148

It is clear that our community was very concerned about maintaining its own spiritual and cultural identity at Dura, which was threatened by more than the general expansion of religious practice in Mesopotamia during Rome's period of occupation of the area. Jews and Christians were themselves embroiled in a scriptural and historical debate centered on God's protection of his chosen people and the restoration of Israel through a messiah descended from David.149


140. Kraabel, 86.
141. Gates, 174; Goranson, 24-25.
142. Moon, 588, 590; Neusner, 85.
143. Moon, 609. 144. Kraabel, 82-83.
145. Bickerman, 139; Moon, 599.
146. Moon, 604. 147. Moon, 598.
148. Kraabel, 83.
149. Weitzmann and Kessler, 178-180.

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