While ancient graffiti were much more difficult to create than their modern equivalents—requiring carving in stone rather than spray-painting—they were nonetheless plentiful. Some of these scratches and doodlings can be attributed to Jews, as the historian Karen Stern has documented in a recent book. Eve Kahn writes in her review:
[Stern] has documented graffiti written by Jews, dating back as early as the 8th century BCE, at archaeological sites from modern-day Croatia to the Persian Gulf. Clusters survive at the Dura-Europos synagogue in eastern Syria, el‐Kanaïs in Egypt along the Nile near Aswan, the Beit Shearim necropolis in northern Israel, and the Aphrodisias ruins in western Turkey. They come in a babel of languages, including Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Lihyanite, and Nabataean. Some people who carved the walls were clearly uneducated, while others used neat handwriting that indicates an elite upbringing. Interspersed are markings from non-Jewish neighbors: pagan sayings, Byzantine crosses, and praise for Allah. . . .
Travelers with Jewish names wrote on el‐Kanaïs’s cliffs to record how many times they passed through the area. At Aphrodisias’s theater, Jews used graffiti to label and reserve some rows of seats close to the stage. At the hippodrome complex in Tyre, in southern Lebanon, a female merchant named Matrona painted a wall with a menorah outline plus her name and references to her market stall’s inventory of purple cloth. . . .
Relatives of Jews buried in Beit Shearim’s tombs etched its passageways with crude pictures of ships, tear-stained mourners, and armed gladiators, intended, respectively, to transport, comfort, and protect the dead. In one catacomb, an inscription in Greek wishes visitors “Good luck in your resurrection.” Stern says she does not know if the graffiti author was sincerely hoping to impart good fortune or instead showing signs of a “morbid sense of humor.”
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