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Dumbarton Oaks Studies
The Frescoes of the Dura Synagogue and Christian Art
Herbert L. Kessler, Kurt Weitzmann

The extensive fresco cycle discovered more than fifty years ago in the synagogue of Dura Europos has generated decades of scholarly debate over the role played by Jewish traditions in the initial development of Christian Bible illustration. Kurt Weitzmann returns the question to the primary evidence, the Dura synagogue frescoes themselves. Untangling the transformations introduced when the pictorial narrative was translated into the local idiom and adjusted to the monumental context, he argues that the fresco painters based their compositions on lost illustrated manuscripts of the Septuagint. By presenting numerous close parallels to these compositions in later Middle Byzantine and Western representations, he demonstrates that such lost Jewish manuscripts must have served as the foundation of Christian Bible illustration. Herbert L. Kessler considers the frescoes’ program and structure in the context of pagan and Christian sanctuary decoration.