Friday, September 18, 2020

Pagan imagery in late-antique synagogues

DECORATIVE ART: The Metamorphosis of the Sun God in Ancient Synagogues in Israel. What are the zodiac and other images doing in those bastions of monotheism? The answer lies in a Judaism we don’t know anymore (Elon Gilad and Ruth Schuster, Haaretz premium).
To return to the metaphor of the dinosaurs and the tiny furry animals from which we evolved, we could say that Hellenistic Judaism with its zodiac mosaics was like the dinosaurs: great at the time but destined to go extinct – in the calamitous Early Middle Ages. It was the small, at the time almost imperceptible, Rabbinic Judaism that survived these disasters and became the Judaism of later periods, much like the rodents that survived the dinosaur-killing disaster from which we eventually evolved.
The article offers a high-flyover overview of the development of Greco-Roman and late-antique Judaism, as summarized in the quoted paragraph. I don't necessarily endorse everything in the article. I have no opinion about some parts. But the general idea is sound.

For PaleoJudaica posts on ancient synagogue zodiac mosaics and related matters, see here and links. The late antique Hebrew magical tractate, Sefer HaRazim (the Book of the Mysteries) contains much literary evidence for what this article calls "Hellenistic Judaism." For posts on the Mithras cult (Mithraism), see here and links. And posts involving those elusive god-fearers (godfearers, god fearers) are here and here.

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