Sacred Realm: The Emergence of the Synagogue in the Ancient WorldEdited by Steven Fine (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press and Yeshiva Univ. Press, 1996) xxix + 203 pp., 51 color plates, 105 b&w illustrations, $25 (paperback)
Just a century ago, many scholars deemed the Jews of antiquity artistically deficient. By strictly adhering to the second commandment’s prohibition of images, these Jews, the theory went, had lost the ability to create great art. Even some Jews agreed. The Jewish Encyclopedia of 1902 explained: “It was the religion of the Jews that precluded the full development of the art of sculpture … The same reason … prevented any development of painting.” And in 1905, when the pioneering German investigators Heinrich Kohl and Carl Watzinger explored the ancient synagogues of Galilee, they concluded that Rome must have built these structures for the Jews, who could not have done it themselves.