National Museum of Damascus
February 17, 2016
The Dura-Europos synagogue (or “Dura Europas”, “Dura Europos” etc.) is an ancient synagogue uncovered at Dura-Europos, Syria, in 1932. The last phase of construction was dated by an Aramaic inscription to 244 CE, making it one of the oldest synagogues in the world. It is unique among the many ancient synagogues that have emerged from archaeological digs as it was preserved virtually intact, and it has extensive figurative wall-paintings. These paintings are now displayed in the National Museum of Damascus.
Dura-Europas was a small garrison and trading city on the river Euphrates, and usually on the frontier between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Parthian and finally the Sassanid Empires of Persia. It changed hands at various points but was Roman from 165 CE. Before the final Persian destruction of the town in 256-257 CE, parts of the synagogue which abutted the main city wall were apparently requisitioned and filled with sand as a defensive measure. The city was abandoned after its fall and never resettled, and the lower walls of the rooms remained buried and largely intact until excavated. The excavations discovered also very important wall-paintings from places of worship of Christianity and Mithraism, and fragmentary Christian texts in Hebrew.