A new book by Brooklyn College of CUNY professor Karen Stern seeks to change all that. In Writing on the Wall: Graffiti and the Forgotten Jews of Antiquity, she gives us a glimpse into the lives of the ancient Jews forgotten by historians but who left their mark on their environment. She draws together the evidence for Jewish graffiti from synagogues, tombs, theaters, and public spaces to build up a picture of what it was like to be a Jew in the Roman empire.Past PaleoJudaica posts on Dr. Stern's book and her work are here and links.
Her explorations found graffiti of numerous kinds: some are just texts (recording the names of the writers); some, she argues, are prayers demanding the attention of those who might pass by the spot; others have imagery of menorahs, obelisks, horses, ships, and even shrouded skeletons. Some of the graffiti is pious and poignant: a graffito from catacomb 20 in Beit Shearim reads “Be of good courage, pious parents! No one is immortal!” Another graffito close by almost flippantly wishes the occupants “Good luck in your resurrection!” Communicative inscriptions like these are found all over the ancient Mediterranean, in Southern Europe, Mesopotamia, and what is now Israel. Graffiti is and was omnipresent.
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