Lectures on Jewish Art and Archaeology at Temple Israel, Boston

These essays were written at the invitation of Mrs. Lewis (Miriam) Braverman, to be delivered in April of 1978 as part of the Continuing Education Program of Temple Israel in Boston. Chapter or Lecture II, "The Jewish Experience in Roman Visual History," was given in a more preliminary form, in September, 1977 at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, CA. Thanks are due to Dr. and Mrs. Braverman, to Dr. and Mrs. Leonard (Florence) Wolsky, Prof. Jiri and Mrs. (Faya) Freh, Miss Kristin Anderson, Miss Mary B. Comstock, Mr. and Mrs. John (Ariel) Herrmann, Prof G. W. Bowersock, Mrs. Estelle Brettman, Mrs. Millicent Jick, Dr. Gideon Foerster, Dr. Vassos Karageorghis, Prof. Emily D. T. Vermeule, and the staff of Complete Photo in Cambridge for a variety of help, including information and visual aides.

If a dedication may be allowed, it should be to the memory of Prof. Michael Avi-Yonah, who understood so much and wrote so eloquently about Hellenistic, Greco-Roman, and Lat Antique art in the Holy Land.

Boston, February, 1978

A Synagogue in Boston (?)

In 1960, the Museum of Fine Arts acquired a handsome, large rectangle of mosaic, part of a larger floor, as a gift from a group of private citizens. The panel was found in Tunisia and wa laid on its bedding in the late third or fourth century of the Roman Empire. In a number of publications including the Museum's 1976 Illustrated Handbook, it was stated that the unusual subject, a hefty she-ass nursing two lion cubs, was a "Bacchic parody of the Roman Wolf and Twins. It is also a symbolic reference to worship of Bacchus at a time when Christians were closing the pagan temples."(Illustrated Handbook, Boston, 1976, pp. 126-127; Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art, The Classical Collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1972, p. 227, fig. 249 (color).) New insight suggests that the iconography may still be based on the imperial tradition of the Lupa Romana, but the subtle symbolism may be Jewish rather than Christian. Other fragments found with the panels and comparisons with the famous mosaics from Hamman-Lif near Tunis itself, taken together, may indicate the mosaic in Boston came from the floor of a synagogue in Tunisia.