The Ceiling

It is worth mentioning in conclusion the remarkable ceiling of the synagogue, which was furnished with beautiful tiles decorated with ornamental motifs. This is the only known ceiling of a synagogue to have survived and is nonetheless “one of the most overlooked components of the building.”1 Tiled ceilings were widespread in the town in large chambers and were found in five other structures (Kraeling 1956, 52). Some synagogue tiles are painted with women’s faces, identified as Core or Demeter, or “the vegetative power of nature”(Kraeling 1956, 42), a conventional practice based on local tradition. Twenty-three female faces and astral symbols, animals, flowers, fruits and grain and in addition two apotropaic “evil eyes” constitute the ornamental motifs of the tiles. Commemorative tiles bore inscriptions relevant to the history of the Jewish community.

While a ceiling tile in the House of the Scribe in Dura depicts an impressive portrait of a man called Heliodorus, tiles used in the synagogue avoided personal portraits. Similarly, nothing comparable to the picture of Conon and his family in the Temple of Bel in the act to sacrifice is present in the synagogue. The only references to persons are in the inscriptions, dipinti and graffiti.

The original tiles were brought to the Museum of Damascus but were not used in the construction of the ceiling. Instead, copies were placed in the reconstructed synagogue’s ceiling, because the original tiles were broken and the colors faded.[42 . Stern 2010, 483 n. 52.] While 40 tiles were acquired by the Yale University Art Gallery, the rest should be in the National Museum of Damascus. Photos of the tiles are in the “Photographs” Section.

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