Waves Dura-Europos synagogue Sharon

  • Issue: February 1996
  • Designer: A. Vanooijen
  • Stamp size: 25.7 x 30.8 mm
  • Sheet of 3 stamps
  • Printers: E. Lewin-Epstein Ltd.
  • Method of printing: Offset

The remains of the ancient synagogue at Dura-Europos (from the third century CE) were unearthed during extensive excavations carried out near the Euphrates in Syria, from 1928 to 1932. The remains had been discovered by chance in 1921, when British soldiers were digging trenches in the area.

Dura-Europos (Dura, the original Syrian name; Europos, a Seleucid addition, honouring the birthplace of Nicanor, governor of Seleucis) was a city that had known the vicissitudes of war and the domination of many different powers. In 256 CE, facing a Persian siege, the Romans, who were ruling the city at that time erected a defensive rampart over the buildings adjacent to the city wall. The synagogue, which was attached to the wall, was covered over by grit and debris, saving it from total destruction and preserving its fine murals.

This synagogue was the second to be built on this same site. Beneath it were discovered the remains of another, more modest one (dating from the end of the second century CE), whose walls were decorated with geometric patterns and drawings of flowers and fruit.

According to an Aramaic inscription discovered on the site, the construction of the upper synagogue was completed in 244-245 CE According to a Greek inscription, this synagogue was built by one Samuel ben Idi, the Elder of the Jews. The walls of the wide synagogue structure are richly decorated with paintings on biblical themes, some of them clearly influenced by Midrashic interpretations of the Bible.

To this day, the Dura-Europos synagogue murals are considered an extraordinary and exceedingly important find in the history of art. The synagogue was located in an area on the border between the Roman and the Persian Empires - a meeting point for Hellenistic and Eastern cultures. The influence of Hellenistic and Parthian art is recognizable in the pictures covering all four walls of the prayer hall. The depiction of the figures and their dress, the organisation of the space and the proportions show an intermingling of Roman and Eastern approaches to art, a fusion which constituted a springboard for the development of medieval art in Europe.

Since the murals were not arranged in chronological or narrative order, the paintings have been the subject of diverse interpretations by historians of Jewish and Christian art. Various portrayals of Moses are repeated on the main wall facing west towards Jerusalem In the centre of this wall there is a niche, probably used as a Torah Ark. Above the niche can be seen a building symbolising the Temple, the Temple Menorah (candelabra), as well as a depiction of the Binding of Isaac. The synagogue walls bearing the murals were dismantled and reconstructed in the Damascus Museum.

The souvenir sheet was issued to mark the 3000th anniversary of Jerusalem, the City of David. On the background of the sheet, paintings from the western wall of the synagogue can be seen. The middle Stamp shows the Torah Ark niche In the wall; the stamp on the right shows the Temple and the Walls of Jerusalem; and the stamp on the left depicts the anointing of David as king by the Prophet Samuel.

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Murals, Dura-Europos synagogue Syria, 3rd century