Dura Europos

Dura Europos or Fort Europos is an important is an important archeological site found in Syrian desert and was a Hellenistic and roman walled city that was built on an escarpment some ninety metres above the right bank of Euphrates river. The world oldest Jewish shrine was dated to 244 BCE by the Aramaic description and was discovered by Clark Hopkins in 1935. The synagogue was found to contain a fore court as well as a house of assembly with frescoed walls that depicted people and animals and a torah shrine located in the western wall that faced Jerusalem.

In the middle of the third century of the Common Era, the Synagogue was reconstructed although its actual year of beginning is not specified excerpt for the year of its completion known based on the inscriptions that were carved refinished building. The year indicated was 245 CE which marked definitive changes within the Synagogue. A not worth noting is that the reconstruction only made adjustments to the Synagogue and therefore did not change the physical structure or the preexisting building in any way at. The initial and the most significant part of the reconstruction was relocation of the prayer hall into the women's worship room after which the walls and the ceiling of the room were totally transformed.

The ceiling that was once flat and composed of series of some square bricks was decorated and painted with depictions of animals, vegetation, astrological symbols as well as the two evil eyes. The dado and registers which were once modestly decorated and painted were then painted with decorations that were biblically themed walls. In addition to that, the Torah niche was located on the western wall but it maintained the original size and remained in the same location that it had been in the previous room before its relocation.

 The most prominent and the best preserved feature of the synagogue was the prayer hall located in the centre of the building. The prayer hall constituted of the Torah niche which was located in the centre of the wall in the western part of the hall and it was constructed out of marble arch and a column that featured vegetal designs. In addition to that the fascade which was above the arch was decorated with significant Jewish symbols. At the left hand of the viewers was a seven branched candelabrum with the palm branches as well as lemon know in Hebrew as lulay and etrog.

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More over at the centre of the viewer was the building that represented the temple in Jerusalem and it connected it to the Dura Europos synagogue. A scene from Torah was at the far right of the fascade and it was know as the sacrifice of Isaac and its serves as test of worshipers faith and its depicts Isaac's father Abraham when he was instructed by god to offer his only son Isaac. The symbols were inherently understood especially when looked at with the symbols ant avoided being a mere symbols of Judaism as the decorations exemplified relations ship that existed between the people and their god.

Right in front of the niche were the animals that were symmetrically arranged on each if its side and were intended to serve as protection. In addition to that a seat was placed on the right side of the niche which served for man leading the services or rabbi/elder. The seat had a lion painted right above it and it was meant to protect rabbi while at same time incorporating them with the niche.

Ever since it was discovered the central fresco located above the prayer niche in the synagogue of the Dura Europos has been paid a keen interest both by historian of religion as well as the archeologist as its belied by many that the painting is a messianic picture with three or four of its execution connected to similar subject. It looks like three to four series of paintings were done on the frescoes on the wall above the torah shrine. The fresco has been argued to suggest a messianic subject an opinion first suggested by Grabber and later adopted by several other commentaries.

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Execution of the fresco

Three or four phases are identified in the execution of the fresco and the first stage involves the coveting of the entire panel with braches of a large tree with a backless trunk on its left side. The truck had a cushion on which diadem perhaps rested on with a round object on placed underneath the chair. On the right side of the tree was a table that was supported by two lions which were rampant and had a richly decorated pedestal al of which have been interpreted as the table of the messiah and the tree described as the vine.

The second phase of execution to the fresco saw it being given a more realistic form making it more precise. During this phase the upper part of there was obliterated replacing it with the painting of the messiah seated upon his throne in a Parthian dress accompanied by two scribes who are standing before the throne. In the branches of there is a lion advancing towards the left and belief to be the lion of Judah.

The third phase of executing the fresco involved painting of the throne and the lower part of the table in red layer with a band below the scene of messiah dividing the panel into two parts. Above the thrown are thirteen figures are added to the group that attended to the messiah while below the messiah is the representation of the two scenes of blessing i.e. two sons of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim and on the right and the twelve sons of Jacob on the left hand side. The fresco serve to correspond to the text of messianic prophecy carried in the old testament which tells of power transmission from patriarch to his descendants as well as the fulfillment of the prophesies  on coming of the messiah.

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More over the additional of thirteen characters surrounding the throne in the painting serve to represent the twelve leaders of the tribe of Israel with the figure of Joseph having been duplicated thus represented by two figures i.e. Manasseh and Ephraim. The story of the bible is a medium by which the messianic hope of the Jewish community in are expressed.

In the fresco is a controversial detail of a figure of a singer among the braches of the large tree, a figure which has not been satisfactorily interpreted and fully explained. The figure constitutes of a figure of a singer sitting on the left of Jacob blessing his sons and he is turned towards the right side. The figure has short chlamys, Phrygian cap, long Persian trousers and is holding a lyre that has a characteristic shape i.e. a rounded body, curved horns with the strings stretched between them with several animals.


The frescos have been explained by different scholars to means difference things. One of the scholars definition of the David's scene is Grabar who makes a comparisons between the painting and those of David forming the title page of the 'aristocratic' Byzantine Psalters as the future king sitting an playing his harp amid his flock, Grabar in his explanation entertains the possibility of depiction of Orpheus, a mythological figure from Greek who was taken over to some extent by the Alexandrian Jews during the second century BC.

It was possible to find a representation of judasized Orpheus in third century synagogues because at the time there were a number of orphic poems which were all philosophical and half religious and present in the Greek quotas. Most of the Christian authors described it as either a pagan poems which was modified towards the Jewish monotheism or a product of Hellenized Jewish literati. In the poem orphic declares he had been converted to one true god after worshiping multiple divinities of the pagans which he then transmitted to his son as hermetic teachings on monotheistic Hebrew.

Another scholar who defined the scene of harp singer in the frescoes is Mr. Kraeling who identified David and describes him as a king instead of a shepherd and he base his explanation on his mode of dressing which he say is similar fashion just like the rest of the sovereigns portrayed in the frescoes found in the Dura synagogues like the pharaoh and Ahasuerus. The scholar says that David is singing a song victory which is mentioned in the book of second Samuel xxii.

According to interpretation of the frescoes on the scene of a harp player, another religious scholar Mr. Goodenough make sit even appear more complicated as all of his explanation on the meaning of the entire frescos is inclined on the judasizied orphic poem. The explanation of the scene is based on poem which contains of a vision of god sitting upon his throne amongst stars which served as an inspiration to the painter of the fresco thus the scene is depicted as an illustration of the orphic song where the figure on the throne is taken as the lord while the lyre player as the poet.

Based on the computer analysis of image of the lyre singer, the singer is found to be seated with his legs crossed and resting the lyre on his left leg. His torso takes a triangular shape and this is attributed to tunic drapes that down David's front and rests across his knees. The entire painting s suffused by a red wash that also may be responsible for the light red color that the tunic takes in the painting. In addition to that there is a Phrygian cap sits on top of David's head upon which dark hair covers. Chlamys is fastened below his neck and goes down on either side of David's back to appear on either side of him. The analysis also reveals that the right arm of David comes down right in front of the viewer then bends at the elbow crossing to the lie on the left with the tunic sleeve ends ending just below his elbow.

The figure wears dark trousers that end below his knees just above light colored boots. The stool in which David is sitting on has crossed legs and covered by a cushion ending in a roll on his left side. In addition to that David is balancing the large lyre on his left knee with his left hand. The upper ends of the lyre curve towards each other and the left ending even with David's hair and the right one being a little bit higher with a hole appearing in the sounding box on levels of David's shoulder. In addition to that computer enhanced pictures reveals the controversial details behind David's right shoulder as a shepherds crook instead of eagle as claimed by some previous scholars. The shepherds crook is along and staring pole with three quarters of circle on its end and this feature of the painting had not been observed by previous viewers.

The use of computer analysis on the painting contradicts some of the features previously seen by various artist for instance the enhancement fails to reveal any signs of eagle in the David's scene which contradicts what Guts painting depicts which were an eagle, a lion and a dove and has been a controversial school because Du mesil saw a monkey ,a lion and a bird while Kraeling claimed that it was not a bird but instead an odd shape which the red wash failed to cover in the scene, Goodenough  accepted all the animals claimed by other scholars including the lion which is accepted by all schools. The analysis reveals that the doves was repainted in the paintings and find no traces of both the monkey and the eagle as depicted by some earlier scholars. Therefore the David scene in the frescos only shows to animals which are the lion and the dove.

Meaning of the frescos

Based on the enhanced computer analysis of the redo of the David's scene in the Dura's synagogue frescos, David is depicted as a biblical David as the scene fails to fit into the Orpheus playing to the animals thus it doesn't represent him Orpheus in anyway as claimed by earlier scholars. One of the evidence revealed by the analysis that supports the statement that the scene do not depict David as Orpheus is the presence of the shepherds crook behind the back of David a feature believed not to appear in Orpheus and this is evident by the elements of Orpheus mythic stories that depicts him as a musician and a singer rather as a shepherd. Orpheus used music in persuading the gods of the underworld to enable him bring back to life his dead wife from Hades, a morning that wooed animals, plants and rocks. Therefore considering the Orpheus mythic as well as  his artistic representation  as a singer, the presence of the herdsman crook on the David's scene on the wall of the synagogue identifies David as a biblical one rather than as Orpheus.

Another aspect of the David's scene that holds that David's is not Orpheus is the number of animals presented in the painting, from the analysis of the painting David is depicted alongside two animals that is the lion and the dove a feature that contradict what the Orpheus myths depict of the Orpheus who is presented with multitude of animals ranging from eight to twenty depending on the type of the scenes considered.

Given the cat that the scene of David in the upper wall  of the frescos does not depict David as Orpheus its therefore arguable that the features depicts him as a composite of difference stages of his life presented in biblical record. For instance presence of the shepherds crook in the scene represents his early life as a boy when his occupation was tending f his fathers sheep, the lion in the scene represents the beast that he guarded his father's sheep against and this is evident when he mentions his prowess against lions to the king Saul as mentioned in the old testament book of Samuel. More over the harp or the lyre that he plays symbolizes his early relationship with the king especially when he was called in to the king's court to play his harp to help calm the troubled emotions of the king. In the scene David is depicted putting on a kingly hat as well as a dress which serve to clearly represent him as the king of Israel.

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In addition to that some elements in the David scene in the upper walls of Dura's synagogue represents David in duality for example the presence of the shepherds crook apart from depicting him as a shepherd it also points him as a benevolent ruler over his people as he is identified as the shepherd of the people a role mentioned in the book of psalms 78:71. The verse mentions that David was chosen by God as his servant and took him from the shepherds and made him to be the shepherd of the Jacobs people of Israel thus the presence of David with a shepherd crook in the scene symbolizes his royal shepherding. Other elements that carry dual representation in the David scene include the presence of lion argued to represent the lion of Judah that symbioses Israel under the care of David and the presence of the dove serve to symbolize the peace that characterizes the David's reign in Israel.

In conclusion the scene of David in the wall of the frescos in the Tohran synagogue portrays the important roles that David played during his life and that all the elements depicted I the painting don't carry orphic representation. Its evident that identifying of David as orphic or messianic by the past schools of thought prompted the rereading and reanalysis of the scene to yield better understanding of the fresco in the tohran synagogue and the meaning it carries considering the Jewish religion and belief. The reanalysis of the scene using computer enhancement serve as evidence that the presentation of David by scholars as being messianic or Orpheus has been in correct thus identifying him that way was a serious misunderstanding of their character.



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