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 The story of "Dura Europos" on the Euphrates  (circa 3rd Century 256 CE)

"The Pompeii of the desert":Dura Europas is a remarkable archaological site in Mesopotamia.
On the banks of the Euphrates it was a cosmopolitan Romanised city which fell to the Persians in 256 CE.

Best Preserved ancient Synagogue, Oldest Christian building and a Temple of Mithras

(also some interesting well preserved Roman Armour).

The defenders piled up mud ramparts to try to save teh city but the Persians took the town and the mud filled houses were preserved - including the earliest Christian Building ever found a "house-church", and the Synagogue which is the best preserved ancient synagogue in the world.  to the surprise of everyone the synagogue is covered in murals depicting stories from the Tenach (Bible).
The pictures provide a wonderful insight into Jewish dress in the approximate  time and place where the Rabbis of the Babylonian Talmudic were living.  

 Some pictures here:

From most of the studies of writings of the period we have the impression that Jews covered their heads or at least wore head coverings much of the time.  

However contrary to this  in most of the pictures the men are wearing Roman garb and are bare headed (even Moses). None of the men (apart from the High Priest) seem to have their heads covered and tsitsit are only worn by Moshe Rabenu.  (In the Persian scenes from Daniel and the book of Esther men are in Persian style dress including head covering. Dura was a Roman garrison on the border of the Persian Empire so the people were familiar with Persian dress).

I am unsure how to reconcile this with accounts from the Talmud Bavli that Rabbis or married men wore a head covering called a Sudar in Hebrew or Sudra in Aramaic (the Sudarium was a Roman "sweat cloth" worn by Legionaries).  Maybe this only came in later. Maybe it was worn in some regions but not in others.

Another feature of the pictures in the Synagogue at Dura is the pose adopted for prayer - a formal pose where the hands are uplifted and apart in petition.  I speculate whether this could be the reason we say "al netilat yadayim" (who has commanded us concerning the raising of our hands) when we wash before worship (prayer or eating bread).  Just a thought. 


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February 2017

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