When the remote Roman fortress of Dura-Europos, overlooking the Euphrates, came under attack in the mid-third century C.E., the residents hastily fortified the city’s vulnerable western wall. They piled up a massive dry-fill buttress that covered the numerous buildings directly inside the wall, including a house-church and a synagogue. But their desperate efforts were not enough: The Persian Sassanian army besieged and conquered the city in 256 or 257 C.E., and Dura-Europos was abandoned to the desert sands.
While the dry fill failed to save the city from the Persians, it did help later archaeologists by preserving the buildings it covered. Excavators have discovered beneath the fill a carefully laid-out city, with the best-preserved Christian 1 As I shall show, the intriguing painting that has survived, in part, in the baptistery may best be understood as part of a major dispute between Jews and Christians over which day—Saturday or Sunday as we would call them—is the proper day of worship.house-church and baptistery from antiquity.