Ancient Art of the Biblical World
Art provides an unparalleled record of purposeful expression in the ancient world. Hellenistic and Roman-era art from the Biblical world shines a spotlight on Judean identity and cultural influences during a formative period in the region’s history. From the fourth century B.C.E., when Alexander the Great conquered Judea, through the Roman occupation in the first century B.C.E. and onward, Jews were exposed to Greco-Roman culture. Much of the population adopted western ways of life to elevate their political and social standing in the eyes of their rulers. Hellenistic and Roman-era art is an expression of the reconciliation of Biblical and Greco-Roman culture. BAS editors have arranged a special collection of articles on ancient art in and of the Biblical world in a BAS Library Special Collection.
Scroll down to read a summary of these articles.
In “Under the Influence,” Martin Goodman provides an overview of how Greek culture permeated Judea from the time of Alexander the Great to the end of the Roman Empire. Hellenism brought with it new artistic styles, architectural forms and literary genres that helped give new expression to traditional forms of Jewish identity and culture. This article provides a framework for understanding the Jewish world during a critical period in its history and presents examples of the art produced during a time of great cultural fluidity.
Some of the most spectacular examples of Hellenistic art in Judea are the tomb paintings from the site of Tell Sandahanna (Biblical Maresha, Hellenistic Marisa). Until recently, our only record of the wall paintings had been fanciful—and inaccurate—color lithographs made at the time the paintings were discovered over a century ago. In “Marisa Tomb Paintings,” David M. Jacobson presents newly-available photography revealing long-lost details of these important artworks.
Winter rains uncovered a mesmerizing Hellenistic relief of the Greco-Roman god Hercules at Hippos/Sussita, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Arthur Segal and Michael Eisenberg’s “Hercules in Galilee” contrasts this symbol of Hellenization with Jewish Tiberias on the other side of the lake.
Helios, the Greco-Roman sun god, was a popular subject in ancient synagogue mosaics. Did some Jews worship him? In “Helios in the Synagogue,” Lucille A. Roussin examines a floor mosaic in a Late Roman synagogue in Sephhoris that depicts Helios surrounded by the 12 signs of the zodiac. The author explores why such blatantly pagan symbols would appear so frequently in ancient synagogues.
Theodore H. Feder presents an example of reverse cultural influence during this time. “Solomon, Socrates and Aristotle” discusses a painting found at Roman Pompeii that contains the earliest known depiction of a Biblical scene. Two famous onlookers in the crowd reveal much about the place of Biblical culture in the Greco-Roman world.
These five Biblical Archaeology Review articles reveal ancient expression during a seminal period in Biblical history. Every article ever published in Biblical Archaeology Review, Bible Review and Archaeology Odyssey is available online in the BAS Library.
How and why and to what extent Greek culture was absorbed into the ancient Jewish world is not always clear, but that it was is undeniable. To some extent, the answers depend on whether we study Judaism primarily as a separate culture, developed from its Biblical roots in an unbroken line, or whether we […]
Just over a hundred years ago, an American archaeologist discovered a series of spectacular tomb paintings dating from about 200 B.C.E. at a site in the foothills of the Judean mountains. Yet, within a few years, these precious works of art had faded into oblivion, and since then they have been known to the […]
Sometimes nature is a better archaeological excavator than humans.
Archaeologist Zeev Weiss has described in these pages the extraordinary synagogue mosaic recently uncovered at ancient Sepphoris.a Its most striking feature is a zodiac in whose center is an abstract depiction of the Greek sun god Helios (represented as a radiant sun disk) riding in his quadriga, or four-horse chariot. What in the world […]
Is it possible that the earliest existing picture of a scene from the Bible also includes the philosophers Socrates and Aristotle as onlookers? It is not only possible; I believe that is the case. The earliest depiction of a Biblical scene comes from a site that is perhaps better known to some for its […]