Do you recognize this biblical scene?
The fresco of The Ark and the Temple of Dagon, from the synagogue of Dura-Europos in modern Syria, was painted by an unknown artist c. 240 C.E. This scene, from 1 Samuel 5:1-8 in which God uses the Ark of the Covenant to destroy the statue of Dagon in the Philistine temple at Ashdod, is one of many biblical scenes found in the synagogue. Others include the Crossing of the Red Sea, Sacrifice of Isaac, and Elijah and the Prophets of Baal, to name a few. All are beautifully preserved, thanks in large measure to the synagogue being filled in with earth and incorporated into the city’s defenses prior to the attack of the Sasanian Persians around 256 C.E.
Discovered in 1932, the synagogue’s frescoes (paintings on fresh, or wet, plaster) are some of the most sophisticated to be found at Dura-Europos. An artist may have been brought in to paint them, which could indicate that other synagogues in the Roman Levant had similarly brilliant frescoes. We know from rabbinic literature that Jews in Roman Palestine commissioned such wall paintings in the third century.