Visual Catechism in Third-Century Mesopotamia ; Reassessing the Pictorial Program of the Dura-Europos Synagogue in Light of Mani's Book of Pictures

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract

This study explores a previously overlooked aspect of the Mesopotamian context of the synagogue at Dura-Europos. It considers the function of the Jewish murals together with that of the contemporaneous pictorial art of the Manichaeans and thus brings a fundamentally new perspective to the most famous and commented-upon aspect of the synagogue. While the archeological records of the painted synagogue are silent, various characteristics of the mid-thirdcentury Manichaean paintings are documented in literary records, including what they portrayed and the pedagogical reasons for how and why they were used. As evidenced by Iranian, Coptic, and Syriac textual sources from between the mid 3rd and the late 4th/early 5th centuries, the founding prophet of Manichaeism, Mani (active from 240 to 274 or 277 C. E.), wrote down his teachings and commissioned visual representations of them on a solely pictorial scroll - the Book of Pictures - used for oral instructions while missionizing across greater West Asia and the East Mediterranean region. When accessed together, the available evidence demonstrates that correlations between the religious function of Durene Jewish and Sasanian Manichaean art go beyond surface similarities: they both displayed a visual library of doctrinal subjects, that is, they capture in the pictorial form a large sample of core tenets, which were also recorded in the sacred texts of their respective religions; and they both fulfilled a primarily instructional role since their scenes were sermonized about and discussed in light of living interpretations. c 2018 [2019] Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH & Co. KG, Gottingen.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-229
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Ancient Judaism
Volume9
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies

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