The Artwork of One of the World’s Oldest Synagogues

In ancient times, the city of Dura-Europos, located on the Euphrates River in modern-day Syria, was an important stop for Mesopotamian Jewish pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem. Thus this Roman frontier city was home to a magnificent 3rd-century synagogue, most of which is now preserved in a museum in Damascus. The archaeologists who discovered it, fortunately, brought a careful catalogue of their findings back to the U.S. Lawrence Schiffman describes this lost place of prayer:

The shul contains a forecourt and prayer area with painted walls depicting various figures and events from Tanakh. The last phase of construction was dated by an Aramaic inscription to 244 CE, making it one of the oldest shuls in the world. It is unique among the many ancient shuls that have emerged from archaeological excavations in that the structure was preserved virtually intact.

All four walls were covered with exquisitely beautiful wall paintings in tempera, a permanent, fast-drying painting medium made of colored pigments mixed with a glutinous material such as egg yolk. These paintings were rich in content, drawn from Tanakh and from what then was a body of still orally passed-down tradition.

The illustrations of this shul were arranged in three horizontal layers to enable inclusion of many scenes. Here are a few examples of some of these: the Exodus and crossing of the Red Sea, Solomon receiving the Queen of Sheba, Hannah and [her son the judge and prophet] Samuel, the Ark in the hands of the Philistines, Jerusalem and the First Temple, the Tabernacle and the kohanim, and several scenes pertaining to Elijah, Mordecai and Esther, Ezekiel, and the fall of Babylon. Scholarly books and articles are full of debate about which interpretations of Tanakh underlie the details of these illustrations.

Read more at Ami Magazine

More about: Archaeology, Jewish art, Jewish history, Synagogues, Syria


How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus