Introductory Bibliography for Dura Europos

Brody, Lisa R., and Gail L. Hoffman, eds. Dura-Europos: Crossroads of Antiquity. Chestnut Hill, Mass: McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College, 2011.

This recent publication accompanied the exhibition Dura-Europos: Crossroads of Antiquity at Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art (February 5-June 5, 2011). The work is dedicated to a study of the methodological approaches of past and contemporary scholars, and to the history and archaeology of the town from an interdisciplinary perspective. Some studies explore the synagogue, its paintings and the Jewish community, providing updates on the latest state of research.

Elsner, J. “Viewing and Resistance: Art and Religion in Dura Europos.” In Elsner, J., ed. Roman Eyes: Visuality and Subjectivity in Art and Text. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2007: 253–287.

This articles focuses on the plurality of ethnicities in Dura-Europos during the Roman period and on their relation to the dominant Roman culture, with particular attention to the Mithraic, Jewish and Christian religions. The local, so-called “provincial” art is considered an attempt “to resist” the dominant Roman model in the name of a diverse identity. The frescoes of the synagogue are analyzed as being in opposition to the Durene cults, although the controversial and subjective idea of Jewish self-promotion and “denigration” of other cults is biased.

Fine, Steven. Art and Judaism in the Greco-Roman World: Toward a New Jewish Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

This general work about “Jewish archaeology” deals with the art and identity of the Jews from the SecondTemple period to late antique Palestine and the Diaspora communities. It contains a chapter about the Dura-Europos Synagogue and its liturgical parchment.

Goldstein, Jonathan A. Semites, Iranians, Greeks, and Romans: Studies in Their Interactions. Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1990.

From a prominent Jewish Studies scholar, this book provides an analysis of the complex relations between the populations that lived together in the Roman Empire and in Dura-Europos.

Millar, Fergus. The Roman Near East, 31 BC AD 337. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

The history of the Roman Near East provides the background for Dura-Europos. The work spans from the Battle of Actium (31BCE) until the fourth century CE. The author explains the literary sources and papyri, offering a detailed account of Dura-Europos in the Hellenistic, Parthian and Roman periods. As he pointed out in 1992, the year of publication, this work needs to be supplemented by an analysis of the great quantity of inscriptions, graffiti and other archaeological artifacts, etc. from the excavations of Dura-Europos.

Urman, Dan, and Paul Virgil McCracken Flesher. Ancient Synagogues: Historical Analysis and Archaeological Discovery. Leiden: Brill, 1995.

A comprehensive study on ancient synagogues from the Second Temple to the rabbinical periods in two volumes. Providing a survey of all extant remnants of ancient synagogues, with references to public structures and Jewish communities, the book contains an analysis of the paintings of the synagogue connected with King David and messianism.

Wharton, Annabel Jane. Refiguring the Post Classical City: Dura Europos, Jerash, Jerusalem, and Ravenna. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1995.

A keen analysis and a critical new perspective about holy spaces in late antiquity, with a section dedicated to the synagogue in Dura-Europos and the relation between the form of religiosity it exemplifies and the rabbinical perspective.


Excavation Reports

Kraeling, Carl H., and Alfred R. Bellinger. The Synagogue. The Excavations at Dura-Europos Conducted by Yale University and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Letters, Final Report 8, pt. 1. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1956.

This represents a monumental work on Dura-Europos, with all the original excavation reports on the synagogue. It is fascinating and clearly written, and contains original plans, drawings, figures and photos. Although the book was written in 1956 and is based on studies from that time, it still has fundamental value due to its accounts of the excavation and state of preservation. It has sections on the building, the decorations, the furnishings and interior appointments, and the inscriptions. The last chapter, “Interpretation,” offers a history of the Jewish community. The work also includes a study of the relation between paintings and the prohibition of images, another about technique, style and composition, as well as an essay about the origin and antiquity of the synagogue’s biblical scenes.


Information about the Paintings

Du Mesnil du Buisson, Robert. Les Peintures de la Synagogue de Doura-Europos, 245-256 Après J.-C. Rome: Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1939.

Du Mesnil du Buisson, Robert. L’Inscription de la Niche Centrale de la Synagogue de Doura-Europos. Paris: P. Geuthner, 1963.

Count Robert Du Mesnil du Buisson was one of the first scholars to go to the Dura-Europos area as part of the French Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (partner of Yale University). He had the possibility to see firsthand the paintings when they were still intact and had not been exposed to light and was able to draw some designs, conveying precious information to modernity.

Gutmann, Joseph. The Illustrated Midrash in the Dura Synagogue Paintings: a New Dimension for the Study of Judaism. Jerusalem: The American Academy for Jewish Research, 1983. This text is also available on line via:

An interpretation of the paintings using Midrashic texts as tools.

Sonne, Isaiah. The Paintings of the Dura Synagogue. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College, 1947.

Steinberg, Faith. Women and the Dura-Europos Synagogue Paintings. Leiden: Brill, 2006.

Many women are represented in the paintings of the synagogue. This fact, which the author considers very uncommon and anomalous, forms the object of investigation of this book.

Sukenik, Eleazar Lipa. 1947. The Synagogue of Dura-Europos and Its Frescoes. Jerusalem: Bialik Foundation, 1947.

The book is in Hebrew. In this work, Sukenik places Dura-Europos in the larger context of the Babylonian exile and the Talmudic centers of Nehardea and Sura and uses Midrashic and Aggadig sources to interpret the paintings.

Weitzmann, Kurt, and Herbert L. Kessler. The Frescoes of the Dura Synagogue and Christian Art. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1990.

The author connects Jewish and Christian art based on an assumed parallel between the synagogue’s painting and Greek miniature paintings (Byzantine book illuminations). H. Kessler writes about the structure of the paintings.

Wischnitzer, Rachel. “The Samuel Cycle in the Wall Decoration of the Synagogue at Dura-Europos, Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 11, (1941): 85-103.

Published by the American Academy for Jewish Research, this article is available at Jstore.

Wischnitzer, Rachel. The Messianic Theme in the Painting of the Dura Synagogue. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948.

A Jewish Russian scholar who emigrated from Berlin during the Nazi period, Rachel Wischitzer offers not only a detailed discussion about the themes of the paintings but also a clear summary of the story of the synagogue’s environment by integrating Jewish sources. Her main thesis is that every episode in the paintings is part of a cycle conveying the ideas of Return (Teshuva), Restoration and Salvation.


The Synagogue

Gutmann, Joseph, ed. The Dura-Europos Synagogue: A Re-evaluation (1932–1992).Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1992.

This brief but very well written book provides a nice summary of twentieth century studies about the synagogue. The book contains several essays, including a brief account of one of the first archaeologists at the site, Clark Hopkins; critical evaluations by Michael Avi-Jonah of one scholar’s (Goodenough’s) views about the synagogue’s paintings; finally an essay about the relation between the costumes and Parthian art in the paintings.

Hachlili, Rachel. Ancient Jewish Art and Archaeology in the Diaspora. Leiden: Brill, 1998.

With this work, this renowned Israeli scholar offers a comprehensive survey of the main archaeological ancient Jewish sites outside Israel, including funerary burial sites, catacombs and sarcophagi. A wide range of information enables comparative studies regarding the architecture, mosaics and paintings of (almost) all extant ancient sites. Two relevant sections deal with the Dura-Europos Synagogue and Jewish symbols. The geographical subdivision and list of archaeological sites permits fast and easy consultation.

Levine, Lee I. The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

This exhaustive volume about the history of synagogues from their beginning in the SecondTemple period until late antiquity takes a classical historical approach, describing all possible topics relating to the synagogue. From a Jewish perspective, the author discusses rabbinical sources at length, furnishing useful insights on the problem of iconography in Judaism.

Levine, Lee I., and Ze’ev Weiss, eds. From Dura to Sepphoris: Studies in Jewish Art and Society in Late Antiquity. Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplement 40. Portsmouth, R.I.: Journal of Roman Archaeology, 2000.

 A diverse book of essays from many modern scholars with a comparative approach, this work analyzes transversally topics such as iconoclasm, Jewish art, women in Jewish public life. Regarding Dura-Europos, there is an analysis of the “Purim” panel and the “Akeidah” (= the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham) in early synagogue art.

Obermann, Julian. Inscribed Tiles from the Synagogue of Dura: with an Excursus on their Dating and Classification and Four Plates. Brattleboro, Vt.: E.L. Hildreth, 1950.

This is one of the first works about the tiles and inscriptions on the synagogue’s ceiling.

Pearson, Henry F. A Guide to the Synagogue of Doura-Europos. Beirut: Musée national de Damas, Imprimerie Catholique,1939.

Henry Pearson formed part of the Yale University excavation expedition. As a graduate student at Dura-Europos, he was responsible for lifting and removing the paintings from the synagogue site. The paintings were later moved to the Museum of Damascus.

Stern, Karen B. “Mapping Devotion in Roman Dura-Europos: A Reconsideration of the Synagogue Ceiling,” American Journal of Archaeology 114 (3) (2010): 473-504.

This article aims to study the tiles and inscriptions of the synagogue’s ceiling in detail. The author stresses the importance and beauty of the paintings, which usually are overlooked in comparison with the wall’s frescoes. Furthermore, the dedicatory inscriptions furnish a lot of important information about the synagogue’s history.

Stern, Karen B. “Tagging Sacred Spaces in the Dura-Europos Synagogue,” Journal of Roman Archaeology 25 (2012): 171-194.

This is a reconsideration of the graffiti found on the walls of the synagogue, comparing the devotional graffiti (also in a regional context) to that in other cultic buildings in Dura-Europos.


Inscriptions and Texts

Frye, Richard Nelson. Inscriptions from Dura-Europos. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955.

From the author of the famous Corpus Inscriptionum Judaicarum (CIJ ), this was the first work from the excavation period that dealt with the whole city.

Kraeling, Carl H., and Alfred R. Bellinger. The Synagogue. The Excavations at Dura-Europos Conducted by Yale University and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Letters, Final Report 8, pt. 1. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1956.

The “Inscriptions” section of this book contains four parts: I. “The Aramaic Texts” by C. Torrey; II.  “The Greek Texts” by B. Welles; III. “The Middle Iranian Texts” by B. Geiger; and IV. “Pictorial Dipinti and Graffiti” by C. Kraeling.

Naveh, Joseph. On Stone and Mosaic. The Aramaic and Hebrew Inscriptions from Ancient Synagogues. Tel Aviv: Pel’I, 1978.

Noy, David and H. Bloedhorn. Inscriptiones Judaicae Orientis. Vol. 3, Syria and Cyprus. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004.

The volume (=IJO)provides a collection of Jewish inscriptions from the Graeco-Roman period in Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Hebrew, Palmyrene, Middle Persian, Parthian and Phoenician. It includes the inscriptions of Dura-Europos and updates Frey’s Corpus Inscriptionum Judaicarum (CIJ) (Palestine/Judaea, Arabia and Yemen are not covered by Frey).


1 thought on “Bibliography

  1. adam blitz

    Dear Madam,

    I am currently writing another piece on Dura. Unfortunately my images of the synagogue are not very good, at least not for my purpose. May I please ask where you r image is from and whether there is permission to reproduce it? Thank you.

    Happy New Year and regards from London

    Adam Blitz

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