Photo by Alain Mahuzier

ON THE COVER: The sun god Helios looks out from his chariot in this detail from a floor mosaic that once adorned the synagogue at Hammath Tiberias, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Dating to the fourth century A.D., the mosaic demonstrates the profound influence that Greco-Roman myths and motifs exercised upon Jewish art of the period. Its presence in a synagogue also suggests a liberal attitude toward the commandment “You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth” (Exodus 20:4).

As author Steven Fine points out in “Iconoclasm: Who Defaced This Jewish Art?” Jewish interpretation of this commandment was fluid over time. A more conservative attitude within Judaism may have catalyzed the wave of iconoclasm, or the destruction of sacred images, that swept across the region in the eighth and ninth centuries A.D.