16. Dura Europos


We will concentrate on the Jewish synagogue and its famous pictures. Several pictures on the ceiling showed a bull being attacked by a lion. In the picture of Mordocai on horseback approaching the throne of Esther and the Persian king. Goodenough has already recognised the type of the Syrian Cavalier God, and in the men dressed in white clothes greeting him, Goodenough recognised those who had already reached apotheosis. To this could be added that the throne of the high king (acc. to Goodenough dressed in the same attire as God sitting on his throne in the central scene above the large wine-tree) is a small stepped Ziggurat/mountain of god, and the queen sitting next to him makes the apotheosis into an androgynous state. In the description of the flood by Berossos, it all ends on a mountain where Xis-uthros and his wife, his daughter and his captain, two couples, are taken up to eternal life[1].

The greeting gesture could be compared with the gesture of the same group in the picture above from Palmyra.



The same “ideas” have governed the interpretation of Sura 17,1 in the Koran, resulting in the tradition about Muhammad travelling to Mt. Zion, and from there up to the throne of God on the back of Alborac.

Goodenough has also shown how Moses is transformed into Heracles, his staff being changed into a club. He is the sun hero leading Israel out of Egypt, out of darkness. Egypt is shown as a pitch- dark world behind an open gate (the gate of the underworld). The pillar of smoke and the pillar of fire have become two Heracles pillars standing next to the “Egyptian gate”. They are marked out as opposites: black and red. The pillar-symbols are important: also Moses himself is seen as the pillar supporting the vault.


C.H.Kraeling, Synagogue 236,fig. 61


On North African stelai Saturn is seen between sun and moon. They are the duality united in Kvn, the world pillar. On a fragment of the typical Jupiter Dolichenus (a North Syrian location) plate is seen the bearded Saturn with polos at the top of the pyramid uniting the duality of sun and moon (Cook,Zeus II,fig.491). Also Moses is the centre of sun, moon and seven stars. He is, as shown by Goodenough, seen as approaching the light, but has only a small remnant of a shadow. But also in the three pictures of Moses placed together with the dead Moses in a composition beside the niche of the Thora shrine, he is shown as a pillar with a square-like construction over his head. He is the triple sun hero, finally being changed into the mystical world pillar.

The triple sun is also seen in a picture of the three gods, Malakbel, Dusares, and Juppiter Baalbeck (du Mesnil du Buisson, Tess.). The three pictures of Moses show him as the young, green life-giving column, the mature reader of the law - red as the strong, burning sun and at last, as the dead Moses, the black pillar supporting the vault.















The facade of the small temple over the Torah shrine has a gate supported by three pillars. Two Heracles-like pillars, and at the centre a pillar with seven discs as its only decoration (the semeion as symbol of the world pillar and of mystical ascent), cf the picture of the closed heavenly temple behind the seven walls. Important is also the “valley of death” in contrast to the “valley of life” (this is the interpretation by Goodenough): the valley of death is flanked by the split world mountain, the valley of life by the united world-mountain. The picture-cycle dedicated to Ezekiel shows first the valley of the dead with the split mountain bathed in sunlight, then the valley of life where the dead are coming to life again bathed in a mystical reddish light. The split mountain is this visible world where death rules, but behind it there is the mystical primordial unity enlightened by the supernatural fiery light.

The main scene is the large wine over the Torah niche, and at the top God enthroned with a woman on his right hand and a man on his left (androgynous polarity). Below David is sitting in the vine like Orpheus taming the wild animals with his play on a harp (a lion and a bird are seen among the leaves). Also Resheph with the lute was identified with Orpheus[2]. The scene is obviously a mystical one as proved by Goodenough, and the vine is the symbol of the "sober intoxication" treated in the famous book by Hans Lewy, Sobria Ebrietas, 1929. In the hymns of David the community lifts their hearts and souls to ecstasy before the throne of god. But perhaps even more than that, for the man sitting on the throne is dressed in exactly the same red Persian costume as the Persian king and as Mordocai. We are dealing with a mysticism which experienced unity even with God himself.

In Dura we are perhaps dealing with a synagogue belonging to the Essene party. We know that they considered the entrance into heaven as something that “had to be fought for”[3]. The gate out of Egypt is adorned with two statues of Nike with wreaths of victory standing on the cosmic globe and the war god Ares. This design seems to indicate “a sort of mystery which led to the victory of eternal life”[4]. The background is the ideology of the sun hero who struggles to reach paradise and the tree of life, Rev 2,7. He has already gone through death and shall not be touched by it a second time 2,11, but be enthroned with God 2,26ff & 3,21, he shall be clad in the white clothes of light 3,5, taste the ambrosian food of the angels 2,17, and have part in the holy Jhvh-name (ibd) and become a pillar 3,12. He is “he who has victory”[5].


The closed temple behind seven walls in Dura


The gate leading out of Egypt in Dura. Outside the pillar of fire and the pillar of smoke as Heraclespillars



In the synagogue of Dura Europos there is a picture of the closed temple surrounded by seven walls each of different colour, and outside the walls a central entrance flanked by two doors: an ascension through the seven heavens is linked to a symbolism pictured in the 3 doors. Duality (the 2 lion doors) contra unity (the central bull door). On the central door Adam is painted as the sun warrior holding the holy rosette in his hand and followed by the typical sun warrior's Dioscouric helpers (here Cain and Abel). He stands between the divine sacrificial bull and Eve depicted as Gaia, the earth-goddess with the horn of plenty. Adam-man is the sun warrior bringing the bull-sacrifice and celebrating holy wedlock with the "mother of all living”, thereby completing his journey to heaven. Herodot tells us that the tower of Babel had 8 stories and on the top a woman would spend the night as bride for the god.   She has to be an indigenous (epichôríôn).

Jesus is pictured as the sun warrior. He is born among shepherds, hidden from the king of chaos. He has to journey the magical three days until he reaches the top of the universe (Jerusalem), clearing the way of demons. He is followed by the Boanerges. He is the shepherd, the lamb with Jerusalem as his bride. He is also the ideal man, “the Son of Man”, like Adam in Dura.

The holy bride is a symbol of the town, country or earth (therefore indigenous). In the Far East, in the country of Pandaia with Nysa & Mt. Meros, Heracles takes his daughter Pandaia (“All-earth”) as his bride[6].

The small calathos on the head of Adam indicates that he is seen as world pillar.




[1] Euseb excerpt. Syncellus, ed.Dindorf, pp.53, 19-56, 3

[2] C.Picard, "Sur l´Orphée de la Fontaine monumentale de Byblos", Miscellanea Guillaume de Jerphanion I, 1947, pp.266-81

[3] Josephos. ant. jud.

[4] Goodenough, X, p.9

[5] Rev 2-3

[6] Solinus, polyhist. 52,14ff.