Biblical Archaeology Review 37:1, January/February 2011

Strata: Graven Images No Problem for Nabateans

A recently restored painting from the Nabatean city of Petra in southern Jordan shows that Nabateans were much more comfortable with graven images than their Jewish neighbors in Judea.

The masterful first-century C.E. painting, known to scholars since the 1980s but only recently and painstakingly restored, was found in a cave outside the ancient city in the area of Beidha, more commonly referred to as “Little Petra.”

Amid the colorful painting’s naturalistic and intricately detailed backdrop of twisting, climbing vines and grape leaves are several depictions of winged, cupid-like children who play flutes, pick fruit from the vines and fend off birds who’ve come to nibble at grapes. Until the three-year restoration project was completed last summer, the painting’s brilliant colors, extraordinary details and luxurious craftsmanship—including the use of gilding and translucent glazes—had been almost completely obscured beneath a blackened veneer of soot and grime that had built up in the cave over the centuries.

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