Thursday, April 17, 2008

Jewish Mosaics from the Roman Empire

In 1884, a French Army captain having a garden dug on his property in Tunisia made a startling discovery: the beautiful and well preserved mosaic floor of a synagogue which dated from the late Roman Empire.

As for the Jews themselves, they were by this time capable of becoming Roman citizens, and they assimilated well into the local cultures which surrounded their Diaspora communities, doing business in and with them, maintaining civic identities that were commensurate with this high level of assimilation. We see this demonstrated in the most immediate fashion by the mosaics before us in this exhibition.

Roman Jews were indeed Roman, with Roman sensibilities and virtues as well as Jewish ones. This applies to their aesthetic sense as well as to their civic and religious ideas. Mosaics are a Roman art form, not particularly a Jewish one; yet on this synagogue floor, in beautiful synthesis, we see the blending of the two cultures. Moreover, this blending is typical of the entire Roman Mediterranean at the time.

Legend for mosaics

Mosaic of Date Palm Tree: Right end of lower center, pavement of main sanctuary,Synagogue of Hammam Lif.Upright oblong panel, date palm.3rd Century-5th Century A.D.Terracotta, glazed

Mosaic of Round Basket with Bread: 3rd Century-5th Century A.D.Mosaic

Mosaic of Fish's Head Facing Left:3rd Century-5th Century A.D.Mosaic

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