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Dura. But fortunately for archaeologists and historians, the Persians did not occupy the city permanently after the Romans were defeated so that the structures, particularly those along the western wall, were greatly preserved for centuries under ever-increasing layers of earth. When the dirt which covered the synagogue's painted walls was first removed in the 1930s, archaeologists immediately noticed that many of the figures had been defaced, particularly their eyes had been gouged out. Carl Kraeling, the archaeologist who reported on the site at the time, believed that the defacement had occurred during the city's preparations for attack, and it seems to be true that this defacement was completed just at the beginning of the fortification of the western edge of the city.158 Most of the eye gouging was done on the lowest register of frescoes, though there is also some evidence of destructive activity in the second register, as well.159 Christopher Pierce Kelley has theorized that the defacement of figures inside the synagogue may have been done by one Roman officer installed in the building as the last stage in the bucket brigade set up to fill the building with dirt.160 He bases his conclusion on a pattern of evidence which suggests no other explanation. First, he noticed that the majority of figures affected were wearing eastern-style clothes.161 This is especially evident in two adjoining scenes which both feature Ezekiel. In one, an Ezekiel wearing Hellenistic clothes has been spared, but three depictions of Ezekiel in eastern dress within close proximity have all had their eyes gouged.162 But it was not eastern dress alone which motivated this soldier: animals in oriental garb in the first register of frescoes were spared, and other temples at Dura had similar illustrations of people in eastern dress which were not defaced.163 Kelley noticed that the synagogue was the only place in Dura where eastern dress coincided with Persian inscriptions and concluded that the Roman had assumed that the Jews of Dura were Sasanian sympathizers.164 However, there is a more likely explanation for the defacement of the paintings given the randomness of the occurrence. One of the decorated ceiling tiles put in place during the synagogue's second renovation was painted with an eye which may have symbolized a superstitious belief in the "evil eye."165 The eye gouging may have been done by a Roman soldier, or more likely, a general civilian with a propensity for belief in this spiritual taboo.166


158. Kelley, 58, 61. Goodenough later surmised, probably incorrectly, that the defacement had occurred earlier at the hands of fellow Jews who disapproved of the figural scenes on the walls of the synagogue. 159. Kelley, 61.
160. Ibid.
161. Kelley, 65.
162. Ibid.
163. Kelley, 61, 67.
164. Kelley, 65, 67.
165. Hopkins, 141.
166. Hopkins, 142.

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